Recently, over an oyster lunch on the patio of Row 34, I sat down with cocktail empress and gowns-with-pockets enthusiast Maureen Hautaniemi and, after a brief interlude about custom oyster shucking belts in Amsterdam, chatted about fashion, fishing, and what exactly The Thing is.
Kyle Thomas Hemingway Dickinson: Hello Maureen!
Maureen Hautaniemi: Wait—before we get to this, do you want oysters?
KTHD: Is that even a question?
MH: Let’s get a half dozen of the Howland’s Landings. They’re my favorites.
KTHD: Perfect, that was easy. So, I’ve known you since before I started lying about the size of my waist. I don’t know if I’ve ever interviewed anyone I’ve known for so long and through so many different permutations of our lives! We met way back in the day when we were working together on a design project. How did you find your way into graphic design?
MH: When I was in high school, my art and photography teacher taught me Adobe Illustrator. I taught myself how to use it by tracing a VW Bug on a poster for a car wash fundraiser. When I was choosing something to do with my life, I originally wanted to do photography. I loved it, but I didn’t really see a good career path for myself in it, so I went into graphic design as the “marketable art.”
KTHD: That’s almost exactly why I did it.
MH: So, I went to MassArt. I really liked it. Somewhere along the way I got started in restaurants. I really got started working in restaurants when I was 17. They wouldn’t let me serve alcohol until I was 18 so I started waitressing two weeks before my 18th birthday at this seafood place in Niantic, CT. And then when I came to Boston I started working in an Italian place, and that was my job throughout school that helped me pay the bills. All of my projects for school ended up being very food-centric. I did things like an animation of how to make my great-grandmother’s secret cookie recipe. Just weird projects. Then I graduated in 2008 and the stock market crashed and I could not get a job. [laughs] But I was working in a restaurant as a waitress, I quickly moved into working as a bartender and then just fell totally in love with the spirits industry. I remember I got thrown into bartending because the staff quit and I was Googling all of the cordials on the back bar, like “What’s Campari?” So I just researched the shit out of Campari and taught myself how to bartend on the fly, with Wikipedia and a little bit of know-how.
KTHD: So you’ve really been orbiting the food and beverage industry forever, and then you turned that into your career now.
MH: I would say so, yes. I was always peripherally involved in the food and beverage industry, whether it was part time or full time, and when it came time to really pick a thing I wanted to do, I was most interested in the spirits industry. My very first non-restaurant job was working on The Second Glass, and I was already having a blast learning about wine and teaching people about wine, and that just helped kick it up a notch. From there, it’s just been all day every day booze education!
KTHD: So you’re now with a company called Offsite.
MH: My business partner Nick Korn started this company and brought me on about a year ago. We run educational events and marketing initiatives for spirits companies in the Boston area and internationally—we are having an event in Canada. [laughs] We work all over the place doing different whacky events: a lot of educational events, outreach with bartenders, cocktail karaoke championships, all sorts of things.
KTHD: And your passion project, Thirst Boston.
MH: Yes. Thirst started in 2011, really, with the first Thing. The one at Locke Ober. We wanted to have an event that was going to showcase the Boston community in a big, splashy, fancy, “Old Boston” way. And we found the perfect venue in Locke Ober (that closed down two days later and never to be seen again). After that, the opportunity arose for us to expand on that and do a full weekend of events, and we took that opportunity and started Thirst. We had two successful years in November, and over the past year my other co-founders stepped down to pursue their own careers, and I decided to continue the festival myself with the assistance of Offsite. We moved it to May so we would have better weather so please, better weather! Stay here! Stay!
KTHD: So. The Thing. Where the hell did the name came from?
MH: Oh my god. Okay, so, when we were deciding what to call this insane party, I was going to about 80% of the beverage festivals in the country. I was travelling with a bunch of my friends including TJ, who was at all the stuff with me. We were always calling events “The Stuff” or “The Thing.” People would ask “Where are you going right now?” and I’d say “I’m going to The Thing at The Place.” It’s kind of where it came from, so we decided to just call it The Thing at...the place! Locke Ober, the Fairmont, the Hampshire House.
KTHD: So it’s this fabulous black tie party, lots of awesome cocktails…
MH: The main thing for me is that it’s a showcase of all of the best bartenders from all across Boston. It’s incredibly rare in a banquet setting that you get to have a party with all of these amazing bartenders. First of all, it’s tricky to get them all in the same room at the same time…
KTHD: ...on a Friday night…
MH: Yep! And then second, a lot of banquet facilities don’t like it when you bring in your own staff. So to get this perfect storm of all the best bartenders in the same room, Friday night, fancy dresses, great cocktails, is all kinds of whackiness.
KTHD: And you made it happen!
MH: I did!
KTHD: You’re a magician. A very well-dressed magician! And the rest of the weekend is educational events and parties?
MH: The daytime programming is very educational, and that’s where my passion and planning goes. Saturday is more introductory, it’s not really super-beginner but definitely more entry-level. There’s tequila 101, an intro to mezcal, effective entertaining at home, that sort of thing. Sunday kicks things up a little higher, we’ll talk about things like the history of Caribbean rum and how to make margaritas from scratch (tools included). Monday’s classes are much more industry focused, career education things for bartenders.
KTHD: When do you sleep?
MH: Right now? Never.
KTHD: So, it doesn’t sound like you do much outside the spirits world, but do you?
MH: You mean like hobbies?
KTHD: Yes! I feel like a lot of people I know like you and I have been lucky enough to turn their passion into their day job; but at the same time, you need to sometimes take a step away from that and do something totally different, you know?
MH: I often find myself accidentally planning more parties. [My boyfriend] Anthony and I throw a New Year’s Eve party every year, but this year it outgrew our house so we threw it on the roofdeck of Felipe’s in Harvard Square. We covered it with tarps and invited all our friends to join us—on a roof deck—on December 31st. And people showed up!
KTHD: That’s because you’re amazing! People will follow you wherever you go!
MH: In the summer, I love gardening. I’m obsessed with the idea that I can have a hobby that also creates food for myself. My two favorite hobbies are gardening and fishing (even though I have only started fishing) the reason being that they are both activities that I can drink beer at, and then get food from.
KTHD: And I’m assuming you’re not dressed to the nines when you’re fishing.
MH: No! I went to Puerto Rico recently on vacation, and we hired a boat to take us out fishing, it was awesome. I caught this one really epic fish, though it wasn’t epic in the traditional “fish story way.” I was reeling in this fish, I’m pulling it in, and all of a sudden I feel this boom, this pull on the line, and I keep reeling in. It looks like a big mackerel and as I’m pulling it up, half of it is gone! The fish was still alive but it was chopped in half, flopping on my line. What ended up happening was that I caught the fish, and while I was reeling it in, another fish came and ate it! So I got two and a half mackerel that day. It was a great day.
KTHD: This isn’t even real. Who’s going to believe this?
MH: That’s the beauty of fish stories!
KTHD: So here’s the wrap-up “James Lipton” part of our chat. Number one: Other than what we’ve just talked about, what’s one thing people probably don’t know about you?
MH: That’s a great question. My last name, Hautaniemi, is Finnish, and it means “grave digger on the peninsula.”
KTHD: Whoa. That’s a really good one. Two: What’s the last really cool Boston arts thing you’ve experienced?
MH: I’ve been a hermit recently, but our offices for Offsite are in the Boston Design Center, there’s a lot of cool art stuff that happens there. It’s such a totally interesting place to check out inside that crazy huge industrial building. Down the hall from us are these beautiful showrooms with all of this gorgeous interior design and custom furniture. You can just walk around and look. It’s really cool to just be around it all and be inspired by it.
KTHD: And finally, which might be the hardest question for you to answer, what’s your favorite cocktail?
MH: Ooooooh. Gosh, I get asked this all the time. I feel like I have a few favorites, but the overall thing I like about all of them is a really sessionable cocktail. One with a low ABV crusher that I can just have six of and hang out and still be totally reasonable. Since this is my business, it’s important to me to be able to sit around and have a few cocktails and still function as a human and not be a drunk wasted person. Things like an Aperol spritz or an Americano. And sherry. Anything with sherry. I will crawl a cocktail list and find the lowest ABV sherry cocktail and order it immediately.
KTHD: We should call it a Grave Digger On The Peninsula! That needs to be a cocktail!