When you want to make a mark, something simple, if unexpected, will do the trick. Take the example of Opus in Vancouver, Canada, considered a trend setter in lodging; its summer cocktail menu includes a handful of drinks infused with essential oils.
Lavender oil is said to relax and calm, lime to restore, grapefruit to lift the mood and peppermint to stimulate mental agility and concentration (which sort of negates the point of most cocktails, but we’ll let that pass).
The drinks, crafted by Beverage Director Aron Louis, include Opusition (passion fruit liqueur, grapefruit juice, brut sparkling wine, poached pineapple and grapefruit oil); and Hugo (Bombay Sapphire Gin, fresh lime, mint, soda, lime and lavender oil). Other summer cocktails – Bella (Hennesey VSOP, Cinzano Orancio, burnt orange) and MacLaren (Chivas Regal, pressed apple juice, house cinnamon syrup) – do without the oils.
Service styles and a focused cocktail program can achieve the same result. In NYC, the recently opened Noir includes a lounge area where Beverage Director Adam Delgiudice, formally of Miami’s Florida Room, oversees a list that includes Manhattan En Noir (rye, tawny port, Grand Marnier, bitters and vermouth) and A Rose By Any Other Name, (rose water, orange bitters, cucumber vodka, gin and vermouth). Delgiudice also takes a stab at savory cocktails, with Garden Variety, made with fresh muddled strawberries and basil, vodka, lime and balsamic vinegar, the result dusted with white pepper.
As for unique service style, at NOIR, Delgiudice includes a premium tableside spirit cart with a selection of Scotches, whiskeys and Cognacs, weighed and purchased by the ounce. And then of course there’s the fad that has hung around long enough to become a trend, punchbowls, in this case, vodka, gin or rum with seasonal fruit.
Also in NYC, just opened is the Peruvian themed restaurant guided by Richard Sandoval, Raymi. There’s a lot of chatter about pisco, but in general it still hasn’t percolated up to most bars and when listed, it’s usually featured in a solitary drink that’s a variant of Pisco Sour or Pisco Punch. Good, but not enough to catch the attention an under-represented category needs to break out.
Sandoval sees to it that here, pisco gets served in a variety of manners: three different Pisco Sour variants, including one made with gooseberries; Chilcanos (pisco, lime, bitters and giner ale) made with one of the house-infused piscos; and blackberry-thyme or watermelon-basil Machacados.
In Chicago, there’s a revived beverage menu, headed up by Peter Vestinos, including lots of American craft beer, wine, spirits, nearly 30 rums, a house-made spiced rum, and “cocktails reminiscent of the 18th century tavern.”
Of the eight cocktails, Fish House Punch (cognac, black-tea infused Bermuda rum, peach brandy and lemon) is the most familiar, having originated in 1732 in Philadelphia. A Sherry Cobbler (Amontillado Sherry, Champagne, pineapple syrup, seasonal fruit) rings a bell, as does the Stone Fence (Angry Orchard Apple Ginger Cider, dark rum, cassis, lime), and there are some new ideas, like the Lexington Sling (Guyana Rum, sweet vermouth, lemon, bitters, dandelion and burdock soda).
Right now, however, what sounds most refreshing is Mrs. O’Leary’s Summer Milk Punch (three rums, ginger liqueur, citrus, clarified milk, spices and crushed ice). The full menu’s worth a look – Here.
Tiki always makes a bar stand out, though only recently in a good way. Three examples show how the classic American mash up of Caribbean and Polynesian themes are thriving: Brain Miller’s weekly Tiki Monday at NYC’s Lani Kai hit the apogee last week when Jeff “Beachbum” Berry pulled a shift on a night featuring Plantation Rums and supplier Pierre Ferrand’s dry Orange Curaçao.
Restaurateur Stephen Starr in Philadelphia took the Tiki pop-up theme and runs hard with it this weekend (June 28-July 1) as well, turning the Philadelphia Museum of Art Granite Hill operation into a four day and night Polynesian delight. Classic drinks planned include Mai Tais, as well as a Hawaiian Iced Tea (vodka, rum, pineapple, blue curaçao).
And in Alexandria, VA, Todd Thrasher has tweaked the menu at the Majestic for a Tiki invasion – Mai Tais, a Donn the Beachcomber variant made with Gosling's, Cruzan, El Dorado Demerara, Falernum, and 151 proof rum, Zombie Punch, Nui Nui – the gang’s all here. For pictures of the drinks, click Here.