Doli-er Than Thou
by brandy rand
Like a beloved regular, the glass jar of intricately stacked pineapple rings dominates the bar at The Capital Grille. If you’ve passed through the doors at least once, you’ve likely been seduced by this made-in-house elixir. It’s both potent and magically soothing upon first sip. This regular has launched copycat versions around the country and inspired other bars to create their own infusion, but there’s only one true Stoli Doli, created right here in New England.
This pineapple-soaked libation has endured through the eras of Cosmopolitans and candy-flavored vodkas with a simple recipe created in the late 1980s. It all began when John Martin, now president of The Capital Grille, visited a bar in Newport that served vodka and pineapplejuice shots. The flavor profile captivated him. At the time, most martinis were strong, often for the heartiest of drinkers. So Martin, along with Ned Grace, founder of The Capital Grille, decided to polish up the shot and turn it into a smooth-tasting martini.
They started by using premium Stolichnaya (“Stoli”) vodka and eventually settled on fresh Dole (“Doli”) pineapples flown in directly from Hawaii. After much experimentation, they discovered the vodka became naturally infused with the sweetness of the fruit in a mere seven to 14 days. The combination also lent itself to a playful name—the Stoli Doli—and made its debut on the menu in 1990 at the first Capital Grille in Providence. Now a staple at more than 40 locations nationwide, the Doli’s impact is widespread, especially in Boston.
“Let’s just say it was the drink of the times,” says Howie Rubin, general manager for Bauer Wine & Spirits on Newbury Street. He fondly recalls when The Capital Grille opened in 1991 across the way from his store. “It was a mecca for everyone who lived and worked in the neighborhood. You’d walk in, eyeball that jar on the bar with the rings of pineapple floating in it, and join the crowd of thirsty Doli-ers.”
Even today at its new location at the Hynes Convention Center, The Capital Grille shakes up approximately 350 Stoli Dolis a week. The recipe has remained unchanged, weathering fancy flavored martini fads right through to the current classic cocktail culture. Even with the trend toward brown spirits, vodka is still king at the bar in Boston. “Time and again, the Stoli Doli proves itself to be a customer favorite,” confirms Christopher Scott, managing partner for The Capital Grille in Boston.
Despite the cocktail’s appearance on other bar menus across town and several do-it-yourself versions online, The Capital Grille’s Stoli Doli is a true original that can’t be replicated. So some Boston bartenders have taken to creating their own unique infusions, like the lemongrass-infused Grey Goose Le Citron at Red Lantern or the house-infused horseradish vodka at Brookline Village’s Stoli. L’Espalier reserves a special tequila infused with Dundicut peppers from Pakistan (as hot as Scotch bonnets) for fire-loving customers. In the South End, The Gallows makes several funky flavors, including banana- and spice-infused vodka. Infusions have moved beyond vodka now, so carnivores can sink their teeth into the Fig’n’Pig at Post 390 with bacon-infused house-smoked Bulleit bourbon or Towne Stove and Spirits’ Back-Bacon Manhattan made with bacon-infused sweet vermouth. Too adventurous? Stick to the drink repeatedly given national Best Cocktail accolades, the original Stoli Doli.
The Capital Grille, Hynes Convention Center, 900 Boylston St., 617- 262-8900; 10 Wayside Road, Burlington, 781-505-4130; 250 Boylston St., Chestnut Hill, 617-928-1400; One Union Station, Providence, RI, 401-521-5600.
photography by william brinson; styling by Mariana Velásquez for Big Leo productions