Transport Your Guests with Globally Inspired Menu Design

Arbella Chicago drink menu
Images courtesy of their respective brands.

If you are one of those people consumed with planning your next trip, whose IG feed is filled with far-flung locales, and who can’t help but longingly turn your gaze skyward as a long-haul jet soars overhead, you’ll find a kindred spirit in these drinks inspired by ambitious voyages, ethnic backgrounds and exotic ingredients. Armchair traveling never tasted so good.

Arbella

The drinks menu at this hip Chicago lounge is printed on top of a world map with drinks representing locations on six continents. (Surprisingly it’s Australia not Antarctica that gets passed over; the latter is represented by the aptly named Frostbite.) Available since Arbella opened two and a half years ago, the theme was inspired by the owners’ travels and diverse backgrounds, as well as a 1939 cocktail book belonging to one their grandfathers called A Gentleman’s Companion. The 25-drink list is accompanied by a four-point scale (light, clean, complex, boozy) and a legend showing glassware, drink temperature, and techniques like smoke or liquid nitrogen.

Though it’s tweaked to take into account seasons, trends, new products and the whims of the bar staff, the vast possibilities of creativity mean the global focus isn’t going anywhere soon, says beverage manager Eric Trousdale. “It leaves an open window on what kind of cocktails we can add to the menu,” he says. “When you have literally the whole world as a venue the options are endless.”
Read this: The Scarfes Bar Drinks Menu: A Master Class in Design

Chicago Fire Extinguisher mixes Scotch with Luxardo Abano Crème de Noyaux and smoked bitters; it’s served in a round glass reminiscent of bottles filled years ago with saline solution that promised to douse flames. Funky Chicken infuses rye with a spicy Mexican lollipop and combines it with lemon, beer and tajin seasoning, while pours shochu, sake, Crème de Violette and Gran Classico.

50 Shades of Jade cocktail at Arbella in Chicago
50 Shades of Jade

The bar itself has design elements that tie into the travel theme, like wood-cut maps on the walls and a playlist that Trousdale describes as “all over the place.” As for the name? It refers to a ship that sailed on a six-week voyage from England to Salem in 1630 on which reportedly those on board drank 10,000 gallons of wine. Luckily, you could commit to sampling the entire menu here and you wouldn’t need to throw back nearly as much.

Mortar & Pestle

The menu at Curry Up Now, the sister concept to this duo of bars in the San Francisco area, incorporates lots of spices into its dishes. Co-founder and CEO Akash Kapoor wanted to take the libations one step further: “We dug deep into our Indian roots, drew inspiration from other global cuisine, and brought in unique ingredients and spices from around the world.”

Classic drinks like the Old Fashioned and Moscow Mule get a worldly spin by sneaking in less familiar components. “It’s our way of making those ethnic and sometimes foreign ingredients and flavors approachable to our guests by combining them with spirits and cocktails they already love,” Kapoor explains.

Read this: Ace Up Your Sleeve: 5 Down & Dirty Menu Tricks

The top sellers on the menu are the Bangalore Old Fashioned and the Land of Milk & Honey. The former is named for the capital of India’s southern Karnataka state, known for the country’s high-tech industry, and includes Amrut Old Port Indian Rum and a housemade garam masala syrup; the latter refers to the biblical name for Israel, with ginger tea-infused vodka, honey, yogurt and star anise. And the Mayan Calendar shakes Mexican and Central American ingredients, including Wahaka Espadín Joven Mezcal, habanero syrup, cinnamon and crème de cacao.

Mayan Calendar cocktail at Mortar & Pestle in San Francisco
Mayan Calendar

Truly tapping into the bar’s Indian influence are four bunta cocktails packaged in goli bottles sealed by a glass marble (similar to Japanese ramune) that are commonly filled with soda and sold by Indian street vendors. Mortar & Pestle’s bunta cocktail program—the first and only one of its kind in the U.S.—uses Indian ingredients like kokum (a fruit in the mangosteen family) and jamun (a black plum native to southeast Asia) in libations like Jamun Kalla Khatta, where they are both mixed with ginger tea vodka, lemon, black salt and orange bitters. The Hindustan Highball, with Amrut Single Malt Whisky, Royal Challenge Seltzer and lemon, is a nod to the most popular flavor of the soda version.

Above all, Mortar & Pestle’s list of wordly flavors is designed to be intriguing yet accessible. As Kapoor puts it, “part of the fun is introducing these flavors...to our guests and giving them an experience they can only enjoy [here].”

Funky Chicken cocktail at Arbella in Chicago

Funky Chicken

Recipe and image courtesy of Arbella

  • 2 oz. Mexican lollipop-infused Jim Beam 90 Rye Whiskey (see note)
  • ¾ oz. Simple syrup
  • ¾ oz. Lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. Lemon puree
  • Splash beer
  • Tajin seasoning and lime wedge, for rimming the glass

Rum the outside of a Nick & Nora glass with the lime wedge, then roll the rim in Tajin seasoning to coat; set aside. Add the rest of the ingredients to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake until well chilled. Strain into the prepared glass.

For the Mexican lollipop-infused rye whiskey:

Pour a 750ml bottle of Jim Beam 90 Rye Whiskey into a large jug or pitcher. Add 8 Mexican lollipops (Vero Mango or similar) and let the mixture steep for 20-30 minutes. Remove lollipops and pour the whiskey back into the bottle.

Chicago Fire Extinguisher cocktail at Arbella in Chicago

Chicago Fire Extinguisher

Recipe and image courtesy of Arbella

  • 2 oz. Scotch whisky
  • ½ oz. Luxardo Abano
  • ¼ oz. Tempus Fugit Crème de Noyaux
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Add all ingredients to a cocktail glass, add ice, and stir until chilled. Double strain into a circular bottle, add smoke with a Smoking Gun, and top with a cork. Serve along with a double Old Fashioned glass and a large rock.

Bangalore Old Fashioned cocktail at Mortar & Pestle in San Francisco

Bangalore Old Fashioned

Recipe and image courtesy of Mortar & Pestle

  • ¼ oz. Garam masala syrup (see note)
  • 1 ½ oz. Amrut Old Port Indian Rum
  • ¼ oz. Plantation Overproof Rum
  • Dash Bittercube Jamaican #2 Bitters
  • Dash Bittercube Blackstrap Bitters
  • Lemon and orange peels, for garnish

Add all ingredients except garnish to a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a short glass over fresh ice and garnish with the lemon and orange peels.

For the garam masala syrup:

Bring 1 cup water to a simmer in a small saucepan. Remove it from the heat and add 1 cup sugar and 25 grams garam masala powder. Let spices steep for 10 minutes, then finely strain the mixture through cheesecloth. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Land of Milk & Honey cocktail at Mortar & Pestle in San Francisco

Land of Milk & Honey

Recipe and image courtesy of Mortar & Pestle

  • ½ oz. Lemon juice
  • ¾ oz. Honey syrup (equal parts honey and warm water stirred to combine)
  • 1 ½ oz. Ginger tea-infused Modest Vodka (see note)
  • ½ oz. Mandarine Napoleon Liqueur
  • Dash Bittercube Bolivar Bitters
  • 2 bar spoons Greek yogurt
  • Star anise pod, for garnish

Add all ingredients except garnish to cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake until well chilled. Strain out ice then shake again. Pour into a coupe or Nick & Nora glass and garnish with the star anise pod.

For the ginger tea-infused vodka:

Add 2 tablespoons loose ginger tea to a 750ml bottle of vodka, removing a little vodka if necessary to allow for displacement. Steep overnight or until desired flavor is achieved. Strain out solids.

Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.