Through the Looking Glass: Wow Guests with Unusual Glassware
The bar at The Square Restaurant in Moultrie, Georgia, serves Baileys out of a glass shoe, “which tickles people,” says Carrie Viohl, who co-owns the venue with her husband Phillip.
Viohl stumbled across the shoes in a junkshop and bought a whole case. “We don’t want to be too serious so it’s fun to have silly things. And from a marketing standpoint this is something for customers to talk about.”
There was another reason for the shoes, she says. Her employees are aficionados of a funny video, “Old Gregg,” which was the inspiration for Baileys in a shoe, so it helps morale, says Viohl.
The shoes don’t stand alone against a backdrop of standard glassware at The Square; Viohl has a panoply of unusual drinking vessels.
“We have some modern glassware with extremely clean lines to serve more streamlined drinks like a glass of wine. If we’re going to serve a fun or a sexy drink we try to find a glass that complements it.”
One of these is Big Granny’s Pepper Jelly, made with jalapeno-infused vodka, Midori, sour mix, heavy cream and simple syrup garnished with ground cumin. “It’s an old-fashioned taste — a hot, sweet drink with a creamy top, a very traditional drink in South Georgia,” she says. “So we do it in a heavier crystal glass, like something you’d see in a grandmother’s cabinet. We try to make the glass shape and look match what’s in the glass.”
Then there’s the Nosferatu, which the bartender created to fit some beautiful cocktail glasses of which Viohl could only procure four. They’re delicate cocktail glasses, each balanced on 4 crystal balls. “As soon as I showed my mixologist these glasses she knew exactly what she wanted to serve in it: a very elegant, slightly gothic drink, and the Nosferatu is a very bloody looking drink.” The drink contains mescal, vanilla-infused vodka, Cointreau and Malbec.
Having nice and unusual glassware also adds to your décor, Viohl says, and the glasses take up half of the visible space behind the bar. “People always ask about our glasses. It also adds nostalgia for people, because they say their mom or grandma had it and sometimes people ask to have their drinks in certain glasses.”
It really elevates the feel of a bar, Viohl says. “When somebody orders a special drink they want to be delighted and feel it’s special, and more of an experience. People love watching our mixologist to see what she’s going to pick. Sometimes she matches a glass to the personality of the guest. It’s nice to see them enjoy the look of the glass in their hand. Everything adds to the experience: a comfy chair, the paint on the wall, and this is an extension of that.”
The Square, she says, is more expensive than other bars and restaurants in the area. “I think we can pull that off; I think people can tell we are putting a lot of creativity and love into everything we do. It’s all curated; we don’t put anything slapdash together.”
Jeffrey Moll, bartender at Randolfi’s in St. Louis, is a big fan of coupes, which he especially likes for cocktails with egg white that are larger in volume. And in the spring and summer he does a version of Pimm’s in a coupe. “The glass is so wide that I can create a more composed version of a cocktail. So, instead of just throwing it all in a glass, this one is on crushed ice with rolls of cucumber and fruit and spirals of orange. You can’t really do that with a smaller surface area on a tall glass.”
Moll buys his glasses at thrift stores, antique malls, estate sales, and occasionally ebay, mostly in sets of four, which means a party of 6 ordering the same drink wouldn’t all get the same glass. However, Moll would probably use 2 sets of 3 glasses, he says, for consistency.
“Special glasses add a nice character to what you’re serving,” Moll says. “It’s more aesthetically pleasing and gives a level of uniqueness. It helps showcase your own personality and the personality of the drink.”
Priscilla Young, beverage director for Travelle Kitchen + Bar in The Langham hotel in Chicago, agrees: “We eat with our eyes so special glassware gives guests instant gratification.”
Young finds glasses on Etsy or ebay as well as antique stores, thrift shops, and finds from friends.
Travelle serves Midnight Train to Portland (Pinot Noir, espresso tequila, pear wine, aromatic bitters, Lemonhead drink mix) in a gold-rimmed hand-blown tumbler. “I needed a wide-mouth glass for the aromatics of the coffee and the wine to show through,” says Young. “It’s much like why a Pinot Noir is best in a Burgundy wine glass. Also the glass’ gold rim offers a beautiful contrast to the dark-colored drink.”
All hot cocktails are all served in Moroccan hot cups, which are 8-ounce glasses that are a cross between a tumbler and a Collins glass, which sit in a metal cup holder with a handle.
The Irish Cobbler (Jameson Irish Whiskey, sherry, China-China Amer liqeuer and honey shrub) is a basic cobbler served in a cut-off Jameson bottle. “I take a 500-ml. Jameson bottle to a glass shop and grind off the top to have smooth edges and a gorgeous bottle with J&J at the bottom,” Young explains. “It’s in the shape of a cobbler cup, narrower at the bottom. It’s garnished with mint and half grapes and some dusted sugar so it looks like snow over the green. It’s perfect for winter.”
Travelle also serves the Bluetopia (Oxley gin, Cocchi Americano, lavender-cacao, lemon, sugar, Pernod Absinthe) in this glass. “The absinthe in the green glass looks great,” she says. “We use powdered sugar over this too, and etch words into the sides. It’s served on a mirrored coaster so when the sugar falls it’s beautiful.”
Young serves Cornbread and Butter (brown butter fat-washed Middleton, Wisconsin Moonshine, cranberry, marmalade) in a copper mug. She had these etched with Langham’s trademark “L” and now also sells them to customers for $25 apiece. She has sold a dozen in the past couple of months with no marketing.
“I’m not a fan of branded products unless it’s our own product,” she says. “This is a form of marketing because customers take it with them and always remember us, and talk about us when friends come to their home.”
Specialized glassware, she says, “is a conversation starter, a talking point. It also allows the server to educate the guest about the cocktail and specific purpose or story behind why we chose the glassware and ingredients, for each cocktail.”