A collection of drink recipes, techniques, and Boston bar recommendations from Frederic Yarm, one of the authors of the Cocktail Virgin Slut blog. Quality versus quantity does not have to be a winner-take-all proposition.
Stir with ice, strain into an old fashioned glass with a large ice cube, and garnish with a lemon twist.
Two Tuesdays ago, I decided to make the Cosa Nostra that I had spotted in Imbibe Magazine. The recipe was crafted by Patrick Pisolesi at Rome's Caffè Propaganda and was originally published in the 2016 Tasting Rome book. Overall, it came across as a classic bitter, brown, and stirred drink, but with just under a half ounce of modifier, it was more akin to an Old Fashioned riff like the Sherpa from a few days before. The Cosa Nostra greeted the nose with lemon and smoky herbal aromas. Next, malt notes were bolstered by the body of the syrup and liqueurs on the sip, and the swallow followed through with Bourbon and bitter smoky and orange flavors with a menthol finish from the Fernet.
First published on the USBG National blog in May 2017; slightly adapted version here.
A few years ago, I entered into a Friday night shift knowing that we were down a server due to the new guy not finding our place a fit and no-showing and as a result, the other bartender would be working the private event in the other room. Tack on that it was the first warm day that our patio was fully set up and there were plenty of people milling around the neighborhood. So not only was the bar half-staffed, but the restaurant itself was understaffed for the evening.
I played in my head the advice that blogger/bartender Erik Ellestad was given by his boss one night when the other person that was supposed to be behind the stick could not make it in. The boss sagely guided Erik with the mindset of, “You’ll probably go down in flames, but the most important thing is to go down in flames gracefully.” This was relayed in Erik’s discussion of William Boothby’s Ten Commandments for Bartenders in the third commandment of “Always appear pleasant and obliging under all circumstances.”
It was not the first time that I have worked that bar half-staffed including super busy nights such as when Valentine’s Day fell on a Saturday this past February, and I have gotten through with the vast majority of guests being understanding of the situation. The events set up in the first paragraph were not one of them.
The following day, my boss came up to me and told me what a great job I have been doing at the bar lately. I replied, “Save for my two star Yelp review from yesterday.” I explained that I never consider myself weeded if I am busy or in fact too busy. That is part of the job and eventually the drinks will be made, the shift will end, and things will reset; moreover, one elder server once told me, “If you ain’t sweating Freddy, you ain’t earning.” Physically, I can only produce quality drinks up to a certain rate which is also slowed down by guest interactions; having a stack of drink tickets to make is just part of the job. However, once there is anger from a guest, server, or manager about the time it takes for a ticket to be fulfilled or an order taken, then and only then do I feel weeded. It means that my triage system in trying to make the most of the situation has failed. While sometimes that is from a person who has been unfairly neglected, it is often someone who wants slow night-level service at prime time.
In this case, four ladies sat at my bar, and I got them water and menus immediately and went back to making tickets that were coming in rapidly from both the patio and the 30 person open-bar event in the other room that had only started moments ago. Soon, I took their drink order and made their cocktails, and went back to making drinks and trying to figure out where to transfer checks as the bar was the waypoint for people waiting for patio tables to open up. Normally, both the act of providing water and menus and the act of making the drinks buys you a bit of time, respectively. Here though, while I was taking the drink order of the people a few seats down, they started getting needy about questions about food and placing an order. After the third time explaining to them since they arrived that I would be there in a moment, and not seeing a manager or server who could take their food order that minute, I eventually snapped and scolded them with, “Look, I am really busy and I will be there when I can.” It is not a tone I like to use. It is a tone of defeat for a hospitality worker. The mystique was broken. I was broken. The night felt broken to begin with, but in reality, the rest of the evening went really well (considering). But for those four guests, they left insulted.
While discussing the Yelp review with my boss, he first noted how they mention that they were the only people at the bar and inside the main room of the restaurant and all the action was outside, so they did not understand why the bartender was so flustered. Besides the inside guests, they did not even acknowledge the three guests to their right. My boss did provide me pointers on phrases to use to communicate to guests and keep the mystique. For example, never say "a minute" or any distinct time frame other than "a moment." Perhaps tell them that they are next after these guests or these two parties, but do not make a time frame more specific than that.
Some other advice that has helped me is to ask for assistance. Not in a vague way, but asking someone to take a food order, clear plates, or other task. This sometimes can be more difficult; when everyone else is slammed, there is less of a team environment at the establishment. But your very moment of need might be at a less high-pressured moment for someone else. Also, try to keep management abreast of your needs and report incidents as they happen so complaints in person or online are not so much of a surprise. In my above story, I forewarned them that it was the makings of a bad Yelp review, and I was not wrong.
In the stress of it, make note of what is wasting your time the most, such as the way the well was set-up, or how the host was taking bar guests and sitting them at tables without communicating where the guests went so I could forward the financials. Figure out with the bar staff and the management later how to make these things more streamlined. Also, when things subside for a moment, take a minute to drink water, tie your shoe, and clean up your station – things that will allow you to be in it for the long haul that night.
In terms of mental focus, remember that every shift ends and the workday resets. This was not the case when I worked in business where the stress carried over into the next day. Know the rhythms of your bar and restaurant of when things will be at their peak and how long that peak usually lasts, for it will help set a better idea of when things will lighten up as opposed to just counting the hours to the end of the night. True, every night is a bit different, but over time, it is possible to gain a good understanding of the range of how things generally are.
I wish that I could advise to never be unpleasant, but as I have described already, it is not always possible in every situation. We are human and hospitality is a two-way street, even if it ought to seem like a one-way one. With co-workers, remember to apologize. Feelings get trampled in the heat of the moment, and always take the time to try to mend it later. Experienced restaurant workers know what it is like, and just acknowledging their feelings will generally make them relate, forgive, and forget. Apologizing to the guest is not always possible if they have stormed off, but there are ways of patching it up if they stay past the high volume moments. Some of the best hospitality moments that I have observed or participated in have come in the rescue of what was heading towards a bad dining or drinking experience.
I have heard some advice to take a shot to calm the nerves and keep working. I cannot speak for what works for others, but I feel that I am most on top of my game when the drink in my hand is coffee. However, when it gets really busy, that coffee is room temperature and hours old by the time I take another sip, but it seems like such a treat regardless.
The saying, “Be like a duck. Stay calm on the surface but paddle like hell underneath” is a good slogan to remember. However, bartenders have the problem of always being in front of their guests as well as in front of the servers at the pass looking for their tickets being fulfilled. Eyes are always on us looking for the answers to their needs when things get busy. Adapting a zen-like demeanor and pleasantly working at full capacity is the goal – do your best to go down in flames as gracefully as possible on those nights. Failing to maintain that 100% is just reality. Do not blame the circumstances, but understand them to put things in perspective and learn from them.
Finally, learn to relish the slower shifts even if they are not the ones that pay the rent. The slow times are when you can feel great about yourself as a hospitalitarian and free yourself of guilt for any slights and slips during the busier nights. Indeed, in the past, my Sunday night shifts after a busy weekend are some of my favorites in regards to guest treatment and interactions with my co-workers. And yes, on those nights, I can sip my coffee when it is still warm.
1 1/2 oz Old Granddad Bonded Bourbon 1/2 oz Cocchi Sweet Vermouth (Martini Gran Lusso) 1/2 oz Lustau East India Solera Sherry 1/2 oz Salers Gentiane (Suze) 1 bsp Turbinado Syrup (Simple) 1 dash Angostura Bitters 1 dash Bittermens Mole Bitters
Stir with ice, strain into a rocks glass with ice, and garnish with freshly grated cinnamon and a cinnamon stick. Two Mondays ago, I selected Nico Martini's Texas Cocktails and spotted the Passing Deadline that I had reserved until I had replaced my Lustau East India Solera Sherry bottle. The recipe was created by Terry Williams at the Anvil in Houston, and as essentially a Manhattan riff with gentian liqueur, it reminded me a bit of the Harry Palmer. In the glass, the Passing Deadline offered up cinnamon and Bourbon aromas along with a hint of sherry. Next, malt and grape mingled on the sip, and the swallow paired the Bourbon with the earthy and herbal gentian and finished with chocolate and spice notes.
2 oz Reposado Tequila (Cimarron) 1 oz Sweet Vermouth (Martini Gran Lusso) 1/4 oz Luxardo Maraschino 2 dash Chocolate Bitters (Bittermens)
Stir with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with an orange twist. For the cocktail hour two Sunday nights ago, I reached for Frank Caiafa's 2016 The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book and spotted the South of the Border Martinez. This agave riff was true to the classic Martinez recipe save for the reposado tequila and chocolate bitters substitions; similar agave riffs such as the Stockyards and Pipe Dream took more liberties. Once mixed, the South of the Border Martinez offered up orange, grape, and agave aromas with a hint of nutty cherry. Next, grape and a touch of cherry on the sip led into tequila and herbal grape on the swallow with a chocolate and nutty cherry finish.
2 oz Bourbon (Old Granddad Bonded) 1/4 oz Allspice Dram (Hamilton's) 1/4 oz Curaçao (Pierre Ferrand) 2 dash Orange Bitters (Bittercube's "Most Imaginative" Bitters with orange, lemon, cassia, corriander, and vanilla)
Build in a whiskey glass, add a large ice cube, stir a few times, and garnish with a lemon twist. Two Saturdays ago, I reached for Sasha Petraske's Regarding Cocktails book and spotted the Sherpa. The recipe, crafted by Matt Clark at Dutch Kills, came across like a Bourbon Old Fashioned sweetened with allspice and orange liqueurs akin to the Fancy Free with perhaps the Lion's Tail as an influence. Once built, the Sherpa guided the nose into lemon and whiskey aromas. Next, malt accented with the liqueurs' body on the sip continued into a Bourbon, orange, and allspice swallow.
1 jigger Cognac (1 1/2 oz Camus VS) 1 jigger Dubonnet (1 1/4 oz) Juice 1/2 Lime (1/2 oz) 1 dash Maraschino Liqueur (1/4 oz Luxardo)
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass; I added an orange twist. While perusing my LifeJournal earlier in the week, I had marked down a few recipes that were worth revisiting. Two Fridays ago, I decided to remake the Weep No More that I had made in 2008, and I credited the now defunct CocktailDB site as the source. Since that site included only a handful of books, I confirmed that the recipe back then was most likely sourced from Stan Jones' 1977 Complete Barguide. I was able to sleuth down the original Weep No More to W.C. Whitfield's 1939 Just Cocktails, and that recipe was a lot lighter on the Maraschino than the Stan Jones' one. Once prepared, the Weep No More greeted the senses with an orange, grape, and nutty cherry bouquet. Next, a semi-dry lime and grape sip led into a Cognac, nutty, and cherry swallow.
1/2 Applejack (2 oz Laird's Bonded) 1/2 Grenadine (3/4 oz) Juice and Rind of 1 Lime (3/4 oz + Peel of 1/2 Lime)
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass; I added a lime twist.
While looking up the Fluffy Ruffles in Hugo Ensslin's 1916 Recipes for Mixed Drinks, I was reminded that his Jack Rose utilized the same shake with a lime rind technique. Jack Rose recipes generally vary by whether lemon or lime are used, but few alter from the trinity of apple brandy, grenadine, and citrus juice. Boston's Jack Rose Society decided in 2005 after trying all of the recipes available to them at the time (this was before the large wave of reprints through Cocktail Kingdom and others) decided that their ideal Jack Rose would take the lemon route but with a dash of Peychaud's Bitters. Perhaps Ensslin's inclusion of the lime rind to add additional aromatics and bitter elements could be playing the same function as the Peychaud's in the Boston 2005 recipe? Ensslin's Jack Rose greeted the nose with apple and lime oil aromas. Next, a lime and berry sip transitioned into apple and pomegranate flavors on the swallow with lime peel notes along with a dryness on the finish. The effect was less stunning as compared the Fluffy Ruffles, but that is understandable since the Fluffy Ruffles completely lacked a juice component, but the lime peel did provide a similar brightness, bitterness, and complexity to the Jack Rose.
1/2 jigger Brandy (1 1/2 oz Courvoisier VS Cognac) 1/2 jigger French Vermouth (1 1/2 oz Noilly Prat Dry) 2 dash Gum Syrup (2 tsp Simple) 2 dash Peychaud's Bitters 1 dash Orange Bitters (Regan's)
Stir with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with a cherry.
While looking through my old LiveJournal for the Fluffy Ruffles, I spotted the Metropole that I made in April 2008 shortly after having read about the drink in David Wondrich's Imbibe! book as well as on Chuck Taggart's blog. There, I made the somewhat newer 2:1 recipe that Wondrich preferred, but here, I found the older recipe in George Kappeler's 1895 Modern American Drinks as the equal parts drink. Wondrich wrote about this version in his Esquire Magazinecolumn where he described the Metropole as, "If drinks were old movie stars, this one would be James Mason. Dark, handsome, suave, a little dry, but deep down a swine. Which is entirely appropriate, considering where it originated." The drink was created at the Metropole Hotel sometime between its opening in 1876 and the book's publication in 1895. Located near what became Times Square, the hotel's street-level Café Metropole served all night and gained a seedy reputation (hence, Wondrich's "swine" comment) until its demise in 1912 (only a week after one of the regulars got gunned down in front of the café). Kappeler also included the Metropolitan Cocktail which is pretty much the same there save for the bitters being two dashes of Angostura instead of the Peychaud's and orange bitters duo (and not the more modern Metropolitan that is the Cosmo riff with Kurant instead of Citron vodka, of course). The original Metropolitan published in O.H. Byron's 1884 Modern Bartender’s Guide preceded the Metropole and called for sweet vermouth instead of dry vermouth plus syrup, so perhaps the café purloined that and switched the vermouth type, bitters, and name slightly. I opted for a little more simple syrup than specified which strayed from Wondrich's description of it being "a little dry," for I envisioned this to be a Cognac Sazerac minus the absinthe. In the glass, the Metropole presented a Cognac nose that preceded a semi-sweet and slightly fruity sip. Next, the swallow was a pleasing brandy and cherry anise combination.
1/2 Cuban Rum (1 1/2 oz Diplomatic Reserva Exclusiva) 1/2 Italian Vermouth (1 1/2 oz Martini Gran Lusso) 1 rind Lime (1 whole Lime Peel)
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
Two weeks ago on Reddit's cocktails forum, someone had posted the Fluffy Ruffles that they made as a Rum Manhattan garnished with a lime twist. I commented, "The recipe gains a lift if you use the ones that include a lime peel or shell in the shake with ice. It adds lime notes and bitterness (akin to bitters in a Manhattan) to the drink." I tried to find evidence to my having made this drink on my old LiveJournal or here on the blog, and all I could find was a reference to it in this post (lamenting how that modern drink book did not have the lime peel/rind in the shake). That book review pointed me to a comment I made in the BoulderLibations blog back in 2011 where I point the author in the right direction by declaring, "No, I believe he does mean the peel (rind) which when shaken with ice will extract citrus oils and some bitterness to spice up the drink. Very popular around that time and is a standard in books like the La Florida Cocktail Book. There's not supposed to be citrus juice in the drink, but citrus essence akin to lime bitters." Actually, the technique dates back to at least 1862 with Jerry Thomas in his White Lion, but that post pointed me to Hugo Ensslin's 1916 recipe which I used to make the drink. I must have made this a decade before (perhaps at my journal/blog transition where a bunch of drinks did not get entered circa 2008), but it was time to do it again. The drink was so memorable that Andrea declared that if she ever got to join LUPEC Boston, her LUPEC name would be Fluffy Ruffles. There's no way around the fact that the drink will look dingy when there is no garnish specified; I saved the similar Fig Leaf (rum, vermouth, lime, Angostura) with a lime twist to distract from that murky red-brown hue. The Fluffy Ruffles itself was named after a popular figure of 1907 -- this "it" girl was actually a newspaper comic strip star in line with the Gibson Girl aesthetic. Once prepared, the Fluffy Ruffles was so much more than a basic Rum Manhattan. It greeted the nose with lime and rum aromas that led into a grape and caramel sip. Next, the magic came in with rum, lime oil, and minty herbal notes. The lime itself acted like the bitters here and pushed things into a sharper, minty-herbal, and tropical direction reminiscent of Scott Holliday's Rude Boy.
1/3 Dry Gin (1 oz Beefeater) 1/3 Dubonnet (1 oz) 1/3 Dry Sherry (1 oz Lustau Amontillado)
Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass; I added a lemon twist. Two Mondays ago, I returned to Jere Sullivan's 1930 The Drinks of Yesteryear: A Mixology to one of the recipes that I had bookmarked called the Chase. The drink was subtitled, "Authorized by a New Haven merchant -- plagiarized by New York Hotels." In the introduction, the author mentioned that he had bartended in New Haven for a while as well as in Boston before Prohibition, so perhaps he was the creator of this Submarine Cocktail-like number. When I asked Andrea whether she wanted this with Fino, Amontillado, or Oloroso, she selected Amontillado to perhaps split the difference. In the glass, the Chase proffered lemon, cherry, raisin, and grape notes to the nose. Next, a plum-like sip led into gin, nutty sherry, blackberry, cherry, and black tea flavors on the swallow.