She wasn’t sure what and if she should post on Instagram when the coronavirus first washed over Boston.
But for Claudiane Philippe, known in the Boston food and drink scene as Nail the Cocktail, creating content is part of her livelihood.
April 29 marks three years and 30,000 followers tuning in to Philippe’s timeline. Her perfectly posed photos almost always feature her meticulously manicured nails and cocoa brown hand clutching a chic cocktail. She lets fans know where to get the drink, and what’s in it, too.
But in a shut down city, where no one can go out for Bloody Mary brunches and margaritas, what does a cocktail blogger do?
“Sometimes it feels pointless when so much is happening in the world,” Philippe says. “But I had someone comment and say, ‘I miss seeing your posts,’ and when the world is upside down there are people who do want that small distraction. Everyone is on the Internet right now. It’s a good time to be posting. But bringing value to my audience is important."
Born and raised in Waltham, the 29-year-old was supposed to go into medicine. She went to undergrad (anthropology, pre-med) and grad school (global health) at Brandeis University and was a bartender on the side.
Now, she works in both worlds. Her full-time career is in telehealth as a UX designer, making it easier for patients to have doctor’s appointments during these unprecedented times. And the rest of her time is spent crafting cocktail content.
She has three accounts: Nail the Cocktail, a beauty blog, and a lifestyle page. Between all three she has about 95,000 fans logging on to see what she’s eating, drinking, the makeup she uses, and where she shops. She’s one of Boston’s it-girl influencers. And one of a handful of Black influencers in Boston.
How did she get here?
“To be really honest, I felt like bloggers of color were underrepresented in Boston,” she says. “I loved bartending and I was looking for a cocktail-type blog and didn’t find any run by Black or Hispanic people."
So she started her own. Her photos went viral instantly. There was a desire for a drink-driven blog and she found herself invited to previews, parties, and even judging bartending competitions. But now, everything looks different through the lens of coronavirus.
“I have content to post that I shot before this skyrocketed, but I feel it’s really weird to post the way I used to,” she says, referring to her weekly visits to new bars and restaurants, scoping out secret menus and soft openings. “It’s been difficult for me to find ways to connect with my audience during this timeout.”
Instead of going to the new, chic bars and restaurants, she started looking for ways to help the local food scene survive. Thousands of workers have been furloughed or laid off. Delivery services are eating the lion’s share of restaurants’ already dwindling profits. Some businesses are closed and may not reopen.
First, she bought a gift card to one of her favorite places, Citrus & Salt, and hosted a giveaway to encourage others to buy cards, too. Then, as more local businesses started to offer carryout and delivery, she shared the options from places like Yellow Door Taqueria and Saltie Girl. She’s even teamed up with Blossom Bar and Boston Harbor Distillery to craft DIY recipes at home.
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My gift to you: Nail the Cocktail’s Spiked Whipped Coffee. I’m sure you’ve seen the latest coffee craze on Instagram & TikTok. Whipped Coffee (aka Dalgona Coffee). Decided to put my bottle of Putnam New England Rye Whiskey by @bostonharbordistil to use! Highly recommend you grab a bottle and make your own. It’s life changing. My iconic gold bar spoon can be snagged from @cocktailkingdom 🙌🏾! I mean...I kinda snapped 💁🏾♀️. Let me know if you try it and tag me in your at home drink recipes. I’d love to share them in my stories! #nailthecocktail #supportlocal
“I have made relationships with a lot of these people who are laid off and who are struggling to find out what’s next,” she says. “It’s really hard to hear and I know it’s their reality. The people who are the faces of the restaurant, who curate the experience, are being hit the hardest and it sucks.”
Colleen Hagerty, managing partner at Citrus & Salt, says influencers like Philippe will help keep local restaurants alive.
“Claudiane is a force,” she says. “With our doors shuttered by COVID-19, influencers are immensely important to the local food and beverage scene. Even now, having a social media presence is the only heartbeat our business has at the moment."
Hagerty says Philippe’s unapologetic approach and focus on women and cocktails make her stand out in the crowd of influencers, and the fact that she only works with brands she believes in gives her credibility.
“I tend to lean toward businesses who are helping their staff,” Philippe says. “Yellow Door is selling mugs and the proceeds go to the staff. At the end of the day, it’s not just grabbing three drinks and photos and leaving. It’s about people.”
And people love Philippe.
Bethany Everett-Ratcliffe, known online as Twenty Something Plus, is another beloved Boston influencer. She says Philippe’s content matters, both to local businesses and her fans of all colors, but especially to Black women.
“A lot of what you see from influencers is just them putting out the best parts of their lives. Claudiane keeps it real,” Everett-Ratcliffe says. “It’s great to have influencers who look like us that we can relate to. We need more of that.”
It’s more than seeing her brown hand wrapped around a glass. Philippe uses skin care and cosmetics that complement brown skin and shares tips with her followers. In Boston, if she is having a good time at a restaurant, her followers trust that the food and drinks are good. But her endorsement also affirms a place as welcoming in a city where hospitality is not always easy to find. As a Black woman, seeing her, in some ways, is seeing yourself in places you might not have thought to go before.
For Philippe, it was always a matter of representation and being herself.
“My identity will always be tied to being a woman, it will always be tied to being Black, and it will always be tied to being Haitian. Being myself is being all three of those things. It’s how I see the world. The empathy I have for people and my desire to help people is because it’s how I was raised.”
The thing is, in this time of fear, uncertainty, and endless days of being isolated, Philippe makes a difference. And it’s not just her work in telehealth that’s essential. Nail the Cocktail reminds people we still have a reason to raise a glass.
Right now, as we grieve losses both big and small, it’s important to remember to toast the lives we still have to live.