by Dale DeGroff
There is a new breed of bartenders who are re-thinking the cocktail and the cocktail bar. Similar to innovators in other fields, we find them in small pockets in countries around the world. The style bars of London in the last ten years have contributed mightily to the movement, with bartenders from other countries exploring the scene and migrating back home to spread the cure for bad cocktails.
We are seeing the influence of the style bar scene in Australia, South Africa, the Far East, the United States, all over Europe, and even Russia, where cocktails were once considered a symptom of the decay of the decadent west.
I visited two bars in Moscow on a recent visit that would be packed nightly with cocktail aficionados if they were in New York City. HELP, owned by Dimitry Sokolov, aka “The Russian Cocktail Machine,” has been open for only a little over a year, but is already celebrated as a benchmark in the fledgling cocktail bar scene. Sokolov’s cocktail list is organized in a unique fashion beginning with an ambitious 32 drink tribute to the classics. The menu features a tropical series with recipes for the Mai Tai and the Zombie. And he even features pages of winning cocktails from past International Bartenders Guild Worldwide Competitions.
I presented a Masters Class at the first and most serious of the cocktail bars called 30/7, a 24 – hour saloon that doesn’t bother with trivialities like a food menu. Presided over by a fascinating fellow named Marat, 30/7 displays vintage cocktail shakers and antique crystal glassware. Marat’s bar is stocked with exotic berries, spices, herbs, and all fresh juices.
Chefs are getting into the act as well. Ferrán Adrià in Spain strayed from the kitchen of El Bulli to the bar and brought us cocktails like the Gin Fizz, which is frozen and hot at the same time. He freezes Caipirinhas into ice cream and repackaged a dry gin martini in a personal mister. Chef Daniel Boulud at restaurant Daniel created a series of canapé and cocktail matches working closely with cocktail stylist Francesco La Franconi.
Outside of the bar, the major newspapers and magazines throughout the 1980’s and 90’s featured wine columns; the new millennium has brought us cocktail columns. Theme, a design magazine, went from an occasional mention of the cocktail to regular monthly columns dedicated to the cocktail. Tatler’s John Graham brings us frequent cocktail updates. The New York Times Style section has a regular cocktail column, which has spawned a book by the writer William Hamilton. As of September this year, even The Wall Street Journal inaugurated a twice monthly cocktail column called “How’s Your Drink?” Gary Regan has also been holding forth for a year now as the cocktail columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Additionally, glass manufacturers from Libby Glass, the largest, to Riedel, the most exclusive, have introduced hundreds of new styles of cocktail glasses in the last ten years. Copies of classic Deco cocktail shakers are finding their way into Williams-Sonoma, department stores, and even Wal-Mart. Innovation in the world of cocktails seems to be summed up by the phrase, ‘What was old is new again, except when it comes to the drinks.’ Young bartenders regularly pay homage to the classics but more often than not give them a personal twist. Audrey Saunders’ Tantris Sidecar is a perfect example of all the elements of the original being present but with a twist, and a dash or two of additional flavors. Barry Chalmers, an alumnus of Match Bar, couldn’t resist the urge to turn the White Lady into the Italian Lady with a touch of Aperol and egg white. My tribute to the great barmen of Havana, The Anejo Highball is actually inspired by the Dark ‘n Stormy.
Garnish at the bar these days looks much more like the garde manger station of a fancy restaurant kitchen. The lemon and lime garnishes, lemon zest, and candied maraschino cherries have been augmented with chunks of mango, black and red currants, berries, lemon and orange zests cut in several different ways, from spirals to wide swatches of peel used to flame over the top of a cocktail. Savory ingredients like mint, basil, and thyme-laced salt for frosting the glasses keep company with ground nutmeg, whole cinnamon and fresh horseradish root for grating.
At Milk and Honey New York and London the bartender asks what spirit you prefer and what flavors you like not what drink you want. In New York at Flatiron Lounge Julie Reiner offers a flight of three two ounce cocktails on a different theme everyday. Audrey Saunders, brimming with unusual concepts at her newly opened Pegu Club, has provided a cocktail condiment at each table to allow the guest to adjust their cocktails with bitter, sweet, sour, and spice. Her back bar is filled with bottles and vials including a liquid spice rack of one flavor tincture infused in vodka that she has been experimenting with for months in the laboratory that she sometimes refers to as her ‘apartment’. You could say that the cocktail bar is morphing into a 21st century shape that looks the same but tastes much different.
The Tantris Sidecar
1/2 oz Cardinal Fine Calvados
1 oz Courvoisier VS Cognac
1/2 oz Cointreau
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/4 oz pineapple juice
1/4 oz green chartreuse
Shake all and strain into a martini glass. Garnish: Gold Sugar Rim
1 1/2 oz gin
3/4 oz Cointreau
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz Aperol
1/4 oz simple syrup
Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
1 1/2 oz anejo rum
3/4 oz Orange Curacao
3 oz ginger beer
1/4 oz lime juice
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Build in a highball glass and fill with ginger beer. Garnish with lime wheel and orange slice. Note: The cocktail originally called for a dash of Wray and Nephew’s Pimento Liqueur, which was imported from Jamaica, but is no longer
* Dale DeGroff original
View all Articles