Making a name for your bar or restaurant as a place for quality cocktails has never been more important. But skilled drink makers and interesting recipes are only the start. Or, more exactly, both those components rely on the strategy of the drink menu - what it says about your establishment, your customers, your culinary understanding and your sense of creativity.
Take New Orleans R’evolution; the drink menu uses Louisiana’s seven nations, those with a major influence on its evolution, as a theme and inspiration. For Spain, there’s the Sherry Cobbler (Sherry, house-made raspberry shrub, seasonal fruit and crushed ice. The French inspired Belle Époque is made with Evan Williams Black Label Bourbon, camellia ratafia, Champagne and lemon syrup, while Indigo Stain pays homage to Native America (house-infused blackberry vodka, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, crème de violette, lemon, soda, “plus a secret ingredient”).
Africa, Creole culture, Germany, Italy and England, all get their due on Beverage Manager John Lyons menu, which incorporates classic drinking traditions as well as modern drinking needs. Overall, it reads smart and intriguing.
Smart and intriguing are two words always in play when Gina Chersevani’s drinks are in question. The Washington, DC-based, bartender has just taken a new step by opening Hank’s Oyster Bar on Capitol Hill with partner chef/restaurateur Jamie Leeds. Leeds already operates two restaurants by the same name, but this one includes a 20-seat bar, dubbed The Eddy. Chersevani’s work is at hand with a rotating list of 20 cocktails and punches incorporating freshly squeezed juices, house-infused spirits, cordials, bitters, seasonal tinctures, house-made grenadine and limoncello. She’s leaning on locally-produced spirits as well (see interview with distilling guru Dave Pickerell), a growing trend among small craft bars, but also reaching out beyond the usual, one of her strengths. In fact, if there’s a theme at Hank’s, then look for the intriguing challenge typified by the Georgia Mafia, made with peanut-washed Michter’s American Whiskey, Dolin Sweet Vermouth and marshmallow bitters. It’s an unusual drink when Dolin vermouth is the best-known ingredient, even among cocktail know-it-alls.
Other highlights include:
Both risk-taking, but Chersevani’s DC fans want it that way.
It is summer, and that’s always a safe bet for new menu ideas and stretching to keep customer attention. In Hollywood, Sadie is celebrating by introducing their summer cocktail menu created by director of spirits Giovanni Martinez. “Summertime calls for refreshing, light and fun fare. At Sadie we tried to reimagine summer themes from tropical to classic American when creating this menu,” says Martinez.
Aperitifs include the Green Beast - Pernod Absinthe, fresh lime juice, Caster sugar, cucumber and water, shaken and served over crushed ice. (Say what you want, absinthe lovers, but getting the average drinker to choose an anise-focused drink still requires a hand sell).
Sadie’s also does:
Shaken: The house favorite Kentucky Ninja with Japanese single malt, Bourbon, fresh lemon juice and lavender-infused wild honey, shaken and served in a Peychaud’s bitters-rinsed glass.
Stirred: The White Monk, with white pepper and cardamom-infused Dolin Blanc Vermouth, silver Tequila, Castilian bitters and a Benedictine rinse
Seasonal: The Sandy Swizzle combines pineapple and sage-infused Chivas Regal 12 year Scotch, agave syrup, lemon juice, spiced rum and coconut foam).
The latter certainly stretches expectations at least as it’s written. Classics, too – this is a broad and ambitious menu. But despite the antipathy between craft bartenders and frozen drinks, Martinez offers three Ice Cream Floats:
Finally, if you’re looking for another way for your drinks and menu to stand out, King Cocktail Dale DeGroff has partnered with absinthe pioneer Ted Breaux to introduce Dale DeGroff's Pimento Aromatic Bitters, created by blending pimento berry and whole botanicals, without commercial flavorings or artificial dyes, in DeGroff’s effort to get more Caribbean into his drinks. A special collector's (3,000 only) edition 250ml professional iteration will be available next month in an antique bottle with hand waxed top, packaged with dripper spout, hand signed in gold ink by DeGroff. The 150 ml standard bottle will be available in September.
Henri with Absinthe Fountain
Drink Photos provided by R'evolution
Dale DeGroff's Pimento Aromatic Bitters