Seasonality, regionality, even the return of popular TV shows now pushes bars to keep their beverage menus changing. There’s plenty of public-relations gimmickry, but much of the change is determined by a drive to keep current. Change is good, or at least constant.
In Washington, D.C., it’s cherry-blossom time, so many bars and restaurants are rolling out drinks to celebrate the brief and fragile season. The Passion Food Hospitality group will shortly offer “Cherry Blossom Combos,” cocktail and small-plate pairings at Acadiana, Ceiba, DC Coast and District Commons. Food and drink pairings will include Ceiba’s cherry aperitivo of cold smoked duck breast and squash blossom empanada paired with the Fleure de la Cereza (El Dorado Rum, St-Germain, fresh cherry juice and Rosé Gruet Sparkling Wine). At the Jefferson Hotel’s bar Quill, there’s the Hanami Centennial cocktail (Mantensei Saké, G’vine Floraison Gin, Meyer Lemon, Cherry Heering and housemade ginger/lemongrass syrup). And at Founding Farmers, chief mixologist Jon Arroyo is serving the Sour Cherry Smash (Founding Farmers Single Malt Whiskey, muddled fermented sour cherries, lemon, bitters and simple syrup).
There are also those odd one-day celebrations, like National Garlic Day — April 19 — which garlic grower Christopher Ranch is using to promote its Monviso garlic as a suitable savory cocktail ingredient. For them, Andrew Pollard, beverage development specialist for Wirtz Beverage Nevada, came up with the Mambo Italiano (roasted garlic-infused Ketel One Vodka, housemade tomato base and balsamic vinegar, garnished with basil leaves, antipasto skewer and Parmesan chip). Kathy Casey of her own Seattle-based Liquid Kitchen developed the Tuscan Martini (lemon, rosemary and garlic-marinated olives garnishing a Grappa, lemon-infused dry vermouth and Hendrick’s Gin mix). Finally, Tobin Ellis of BarMagic in Las Vegas offered Pie-eyed on Bleecker Street (salami-cured Absolut Vodka, roasted-garlic simple syrup, Campari tomato water, aged balsamic vinegar and a grated Parmesan top garnished with fresh basil).
Ruth's Chris Steak House's new beverage program celebrates classics alongside old favorites with drinks such as the Vesper 6.
Time-travel is another way bars and restaurants organize menu additions, whether we’re talking about pre-Prohibition punches, Prohibition-era speakeasies or 1950s-'60s “Mad Men” swilling.
At the Townhouse in Los Angeles, the Del Monte Speakeasy, a vintage underground bar that actually served as part of the smuggling trade during the dark days of Prohibition, can lay honest claim to the bar theme and have tied it to a market-fresh approach to cocktails, including housemade syrups and juices. General Manager and Beverage Director Brandon Ristaino currently serves local classics, including the Brown Derby (hand-squeezed grapefruit juice, house-prepared honey syrup and bourbon), and contemporary sips, including A Touch of Evil (mezcal, house date syrup and clementine and grapefruit juice) and the Caipirinha-ish Harvest Moon (reposado tequila, pisco, grapes, lime, mint and cinnamon).
Among the many bars gearing up for the latest season of the boozy “Mad Men” is Chicago’s Sepia, where head bartender Josh Pearson frequently is changing the cocktail program, paying homage to the tradition and technique of the classic cocktail. Currently, he’s serving modern versions of the Old Fashioned and Whiskey Smash, two classic cocktails that “whiskey-loving Don Draper would approve of,” according to a release. So we have the R&R Smash (Templeton rye, Carpano Antica vermouth, Cherry Heering, brandied cherries, rosemary, lemon and old-fashioned bitters) and the Cocoa Old Fashioned (cocoa-nib-infused Old Overholt rye, sherry vanilla bitters, muddled orange and brandied cherries).
Finally, it’s always satisfying to hear from chain restaurants that are upgrading their cocktail service. Broad Street Hurricanes, Moscow Mules and French Quarter 75s are just a few of the vintage-inspired cocktails now being promoted at Ruth's Chris Steak House units. The new beverage program celebrates this heritage with new classics alongside old favorites to offer customers hand-crafted cocktails. Helen Mackey, beverage director for Ruth's Chris Steak House, oversaw the new program. Their Broad Street Hurricane, a riff on the Pat 'O Brien’s creation, uses Zacapa Centenario 23 rum, pomegranate juice, freshly squeezed lemon and lime juices and yellow passionfruit; and the Derby Peach Tea, a Ruth's Chris original, is made with Bulleit Bourbon, Monin peach puree, iced tea, lemon juice and mint leaves.