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In the depths of a New England winter, Birds of Paradise whisks drinkers to other lands

Ran Duan’s cocktails are all over the map, in the best possible way

Negi Toro handroll at Birds of Paradise, fatty tuna, scallion, and shoyu wasabi.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Where to: Birds of Paradise at The Speedway in Brighton.

Why: For transportive drinks, hand rolls, and atmosphere from Ran Duan, a noted mixologist and creator of stylized euphoria.

The backstory: Duan, a Johnson & Wales grad, is one of the Boston area’s most influential mixologists. He comes from a family of restaurateurs. His father started as an opera singer in China, relocating to this area for an advanced degree from Boston University. Restaurant work was more lucrative.

The interior of Birds of Paradise in Brighton. Erin Clark/Globe Staff

In Woburn, Duan turned his family’s classic Chinese restaurant, Sichuan Garden, into a drinking destination. He expanded the business with The Baldwin Bar, a tiki-style hideaway on the first floor, and The Baldwin & Sons Trading Co., a leather-and-mahogany affair on the second. Those drinks are unusual, creative, and beautiful (think smoke, foams, golden swans).


Duan then did the same with Sichuan Garden’s decades-old Brookline Village location. He created Blossom Bar, with a focus on cocktails that pair imaginatively (grasshoppers, anyone?) with Sichuan food. He also runs Brookline’s Ivory Pearl Bar, which started as a seafood restaurant and raw bar. There, Duan has shifted into comfort-food-plus: shrimp and grits, fried fish — and a healthy dose of caviar.

Birds of Paradise is his tribute to the golden age of air travel, inspired by the confines of COVID: Picture Don Draper of “Mad Men” winging westward to Los Angeles circa 1969, full of repressed wanderlust.

The interior of Birds of Paradise in Brighton.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

“The whole concept behind Birds of Paradise is traveling and escapism,” Duan told me last year, and he kept his promise. While the Speedway looks a bit like a college campus — and Birds of Paradise’s building would remind you of a student union on the outside — a flickering amethyst light above Birds of Paradise’s front door promises more exciting things once you step within.

The narrow bar looks like a space-age airport lounge: backlit amber walls that resemble a first-class cabin; cobalt booths with chromatic resemblance to Jet Blue seats ... but comfier, especially after a cocktail.


Aburi Maguro, Karamayo Sake, Negi Toro hand rolls at Birds of Paradise bar in Brighton. Erin Clark/Globe Staff

What to eat: Unlike Duan’s other locations, food isn’t the focus here. (I wish he’d add a few more things to the menu, like a gourmet spin on peanuts.) Instead, you’ll find a small menu of “Airline Snacks.” On this airline, the food in question isn’t chips or granola bars but succulent, cone-shaped hand rolls: uni, fresh tuna and chili sauce, seared scallop, Japanese sweet egg, and a few others depending on availability. They’re a lovely one-bite indulgence. Really, though: Plan a snack after you leave or coat your stomach before arriving to ward off a hangover.

What to drink: Drinks are modeled after plane tickets, both conceptually and in execution: Choose a flight path and pick your poison: Each cocktail’s ingredients are derived from both locations. The Lima to Dubai is probably the only drink in town that mixes whole egg, acidified cantaloupe, Pisco, cardamom tincture, and cold-brew coffee liqueur. The vaguely calico pattern (each drink has a strong aesthetic) might look like your mom’s couch from the 1970s, but the frothy, rich, savory-fruity layering is decidedly modern.

Will Isaza sprays bitters onto a Lima to Dubai cocktail at Birds of Paradise in Brighton.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Another worthy destination is the Rio to Tokyo, incorporating South American and Japanese touches: earthy yet punchy miso pineapple, wasabi coconut, woody sherry, and Brazilian rum-like cachaça, whose sugarcane base gives the combination a tropical jolt.

Turn the page for a flight of drinks from Guadalajara, the best of which is the Parsnip Alejandro, a pleasingly soapy, rootsy concoction with heavy cream, Grey Goose, and just the notion of macadamia. Will Isaza, a familiar face at many of Duan’s establishments, is recognizable behind the bar here, too. You’re in good hands.


Rio to Tokyo, Big Apple in Lil’ Jalisco, and Lima to Dubai cocktails at Birds of Paradise in Brighton.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

One note about your trip, though: Such travel doesn’t come cheap. My companion and I enjoyed a few hand rolls and two drinks apiece; our bill came to $183. Still, this is far more economical than a flight from Logan, with far superior food and spirits.

The takeaway: Leave your baggage at the door. Birds of Paradise is a portal to another place. Just make sure you fortify properly for the trip beforehand.

525 Western Ave. #2, Brighton. 617-903-4298, www.birdsofparadisebar.com

Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.