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The crudest era in cocktail history begins with a man pruning his peach trees in Florida in the early ’80s. The gentleman in question is Earl LaRoe, a flavor scientist for National Distillers, a wine and spirits company that, at the time, was struggling mightily. In an effort to turn around sagging sales on the heels of a wave of anti-alcohol sentiment (much of it driven by concerns about drunk driving), executives at National Distillers asked him to help develop a lighter, sweeter, lower-proof product. Why not peach liqueur? he thought.
DeKuyper Peachtree Schnapps was inauspiciously released in the early fall of 1984, two years after the first wave of “fruity” schnapps had hit the American market to decent success. These products, like National Distillers’ new 48-proof, crystal-clear, naturally-flavored peach cordial, were quite different from the historically dry schnapps (i.e. fruit eau de vie) that had been made in Central Europe and the Alps since the 1500s.
As the New York Times wrote, “[It was] sweet and uncomplicated, something one does not have to get used to, like whisky or dry red wine.”
At the time, whenever they were rolling out a new product, Jack Doyle, an executive at National Distillers, would have his buddy Ray Foley, come into their Park Avenue offices to offer some thoughts. A former Marine, one-time joke writer for Johnny Carson and longtime bartender, the no-nonsense Foley was managing The Manor, a multi-room restaurant and wedding venue in West Orange, New Jersey, that sold more liquor than any other venue in the state. If Foley liked something, National Distillers knew he could help move a lot of it quickly.
“For day-to-day drinks you can’t be doing those stupid cocktails with 14 ingredients, five of them organic, two you can only get on Wednesday…” Foley tells me. He was, and still is, a firm believer in creating simple cocktails that a bartender can produce repeatedly in high volume. Right there on Doyle’s desk, Foley mixed the Peachtree Schnapps with some orange juice. Doyle liked it, and joked he could “still smell the fuzz” of the peach. As he cut a navel orange wedge for garnish, Foley dubbed his new drink the Fuzzy Navel.
“Jack immediately bought suitcases for all his salesmen and ordered them to go around the country with bottles of Peachtree and orange juice,” recalls Jaclyn Foley, Ray’s wife and the co-publisher of Bartender Magazine, which they launched together in 1979. “They were all soldiers, like an army, marching into the bars with those stuffed suitcases. ‘Hi, we have a new drink… would you like to try it?’”
For the record, multiple cocktail blogs repeat a story that a liquor distributor named Jack Sherman created the Fuzzy Navel at the Wagon Tongue Bar in Omaha. “That would be bullshit. How would a product launched in New York first take off in Nebraska?” asks Jaclyn. I likewise find no proof that it is true, though Sherman may have created the Hairy Navel spin-off, which calls on the addition of vodka. (Amusingly, his bar has since become the Waggin’ Tongue Kennels & Grooming.)
These drinks suggested sweetness, a ton of juice and not a lot of thought—because who really needs to contemplatively sip a Silk Panties?
The Fuzzy Navel was such an immediate hit that DeKuyper Peachtree Schnapps became the ninth best-selling alcohol in America (with 1.7 percent of the total market), moving over 12 million bottles in its first year on shelves. It was the fastest-selling new alcohol product since Prohibition. The New York Times reported that 30 other peach schnapps copycats almost immediately entered the marketplace. That same year, no less than William S. Burroughs, writing for Esquire, called Peachtree Schnapps “the liquor industry’s equivalent of Michael Jackson’s Thriller.” That wasn’t exactly a compliment.
While critics derided this new cocktail trend, young drinkers lapped it up. The Chicago Tribune attributed Peachtree and, in turn, the Fuzzy Navel’s popularity to the “so-called ‘flavor generation’—baby-boomers who were reared on sugary colas and for whom lower-alcohol beverages signify health, fitness and safe driving.” Fuzzy Navels were also cheap, as Peachtree was only about $5 a bottle.
“The days for acquiring a taste for alcoholic drinks are over,” exclaimed Patricia Wiley, director of new products for National Distillers, at the time. “The baby-boomers have a sweet tooth and want instant gratification.”
In 1987, thanks in part to the success of Peachtree, Jim Beam bought National Distillers for $545 million—around $1.2 billion today. That same year, Beverage Network reported that America’s most popular drink was now officially the Fuzzy Navel (No. 2 was the Long Island Iced Tea). It had become, as William Grimes wrote in his book, Straight Up or On the Rocks, “a kind of cult, rallying points for young drinkers in search of fun and not too picky about taste.”
The Fuzzy Navel and its spin-offs signaled to bartenders that giving a drink a silly, sexualized name was a major selling point. These drinks suggested sweetness, a ton of juice and not a lot of thought—because who really needs to contemplatively sip a Silk Panties?
The Silk Panties, named “Drink of the Year” by Bartender Magazine in 1986, gave way to the Slippery Nipple a.k.a. the Buttery Nipple (Baileys Irish Cream and Sambuca or butterscotch schnapps), the Slow Comfortable Screw (sloe gin, Southern Comfort, vodka and orange juice) and the Redheaded Slut (peach schnapps, Jägermeister and cranberry juice).
“The cheekiness of these names dovetailed with the new MTV brand of brazen sexuality,” says Jason Rowan, a longtime cocktail writer who had just moved to New York during this era. “Madonna, Samantha Fox, chicks being badass as they stepped up to being sexually aggressive to an extent not really seen before.”
The Citizen Kane of sexually-named cocktails arrived in 1987. National Distributing, which sold Peachtree nationwide, devised a Spring Break Contest in Fort Lauderdale with a simple charge: The bartender who could sell the most peach schnapps during the week would get a $100 bonus. At a spot called Confetti, a costume-themed dance club where confetti literally fell from the ceiling, 25-year-old Ted Pizio essentially took the red-hot Fuzzy Navel and mixed it with a Cape Cod. He called it the Sex on the Beach.
The Sex on the Beach quickly became the de facto order at the country’s growing crop of beach-themed bars. In New York magazine’s summer “Scenes” of 1987, for example, writer Daniel Shaw cites Lucy’s Surfeteria on the Upper West Side, where Columbia coeds devoured Ocean Pacific fajitas and “‘Sex on the Beach’ is not a suggestion, just a drink on the menu.” The drink went viral, and it didn’t seem to matter that most places didn’t know the original recipe. Countless sickly sweet combos would eventually claim the same name: one popular variant had vodka, Chambord, Midori, pineapple juice and cranberry juice, while another swapped in grenadine. Often, it was just served as a shot—half vodka, half Peachtree, with a splash of grenadine.
The Sex on the Beach and its cohorts soon spread from chic nightclubs in major markets to local watering holes in smaller towns, eventually becoming a critical part of chain restaurants like TGI Friday’s (where a drink called the Diddy on the Beach still persists). They also firmly rooted themselves in popular culture, proudly ordered in such hip ’80s movies as St. Elmo’s Fire and Earth Girls Are Easy (and ultimately used as a punchline by 2007’s Shrek the Third and 2009’s I Love You Man).
In 1988’s Cocktail, the Fuzzy Navel and Sex on the Beach famously appear in the opening stanza of Tom Cruise’s standing-on-the-bar-shouting poem “The Last Barman Poet”:
I see America drinking the fabulous cocktails I make/
Americans getting stinking on something I stir or shake/
The Sex on the Beach/
The schnapps made from peach.
That poem would also mention the Ding-a-Ling, a veracious-sounding but completely phony cocktail, and the Orgasm, a truly vile combo of amaretto, Kahlúa and Baileys.
“Some might say this poem,” wrote Jason Wilson in his book Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits, “pinpoints precisely the nadir of bartending in the twentieth century.” Nevertheless, he still sees the positives in the era. While Wilson realizes that more time was surely spent coming up with risqué names for these drinks than on the actual recipes, he does note, “Perhaps hundreds of years from now, when the history of our era in bartending is written, this type of shot will represent a primitive but significant stage of craft.”
I think he’s right. I started writing this piece on a lark, thinking I’d simply catalog a funny little footnote in cocktail history. Quickly, however, I learned that these suggestive drinks were 1980s cocktail history. The liqueurs they were based on dominated alcohol sales in an era when dark spirits like bourbon were being left for dead and vodka wasn’t yet red-hot. These drinks represented the flavor profile of the decade. They are also revealed its general proclivities.
“There’s something grade-schoolish in us all that gives us a kick out of just pronouncing the names of these drinks,” Ray Foley, as his alter-ego “Hymie Lipshitz,” writes in the introduction to his 1987 “pournography” entitled X-Rated Drinks. Back then, he had a solid theory for their popularity: “[S]ince from the time of the pyramid-building Pharaohs on down, spirits have been used as a liquid facilitator of, ah, amatory purposes.”
Lipshitz’s 250 recipes included such long-forgotten hits as the A.S.S. (Absolut, spearmint schnapps and Sambuca), The Ball Banger (ouzo and orange juice) and three different Bend Me Over cocktails. A brief mention of the book in Playboy would lead to it becoming a minor sensation itself—even if the only way to buy it was to send a personal check for $6.90 to the Foleys’ P.O. box in New Jersey.
If the sex-drink craze had mostly disappeared by the end of the 1980s, one of the most popular and still enduring entries in the canon would arrive in the mid-1990s, perhaps fueled by the then-rising popularity of lascivious bachelorette parties. The Blowjob Shot was made by slowly layering Baileys, Kahlúa and amaretto and then topping it with whipped cream. It was to be drunk by putting your hands behind your back, and moving your mouth agape toward the shot glass sitting on the bar… or in a man’s waistband. (“[T]he mother-in-law is liable to call the whole thing off when she sees the bride… downing a ‘blow job’ shot from some stranger’s lap,” Herbert I. Kauet wrote in his 1999 guide The Bachelorette Party: Creating an Event She’ll Remember Forever, the earliest such written mention I could find of the drink.)
“It seems to me that much can be learned about a society in any given point in time by the names it produces for its cocktails,” wrote Andrew Sachs on an early-internet era cocktail forum. “Let’s hope that the early 1990s have more to say for itself than this.”
They say it’s always darkest before the dawn. By the late 1990s, some of the cocktail world’s modern luminaries were laying the foundation for a revival of classic drinks that would send Peachtree Schnapps into exile. But like Hammer pants and the perm, the Fuzzy Navel and its brethren were never really meant to last. As Grimes wrote toward the end of the era: “[T]he sort of drinker who would step up to the bar and order a Teeny Weeny Woo Woo with a straight face turned out to be unreliable.”
Objectively speaking, Drambuie isn’t the problem. Like most herbal liqueurs, it hits all the right sweet and spiced notes. But it’s lost some cachet, thanks in part to the stodgy reputation of the 1960s- and ’70s-era Rusty Nail, a two-ingredient cocktail made with blended Scotch—and the only classic that calls for Drambuie by name.
According to the producer, which was acquired by William Grant & Sons in 2014, Drambuie’s heritage dates back to 1745, beginning as the “personal elixir” for Scottish royal Bonnie Prince Charlie, who “drank a few drops each day for strength and vitality.” Without disclosing the recipe, they describe the liqueur’s key components as “aged Scotch whisky, heather honey, herbs and spices,” and note that the base spirit is infused with cloves and saffron.
Today, Drambuie is most likely to be spotted flanking Scotch in cocktails, usually in drinks that wink at the structure of the Rusty Nail. Often though, in these new iterations, the measure of Drambuie is dialed down to an accent. For example, at New York’s Chumley’s, Jesse Duré adds a mere half-ounce to her Urbanite, alongside two ounces of Scotch (plus grapefruit juice, coffee extract and club soda), in a drink she describes as “a Scotch and soda variation on a Rusty Nail.”
“I love Drambuie in general given its inherent rounded sweetness and body,” says Duré. “It most often balances drinks to where no extra sugar is needed.”
More unusually, Drambuie makes the occasional surprise appearance in tiki drinks as a spiced sweetener, a role similar to that of allspice dram or velvet falernum. In his book, Smuggler’s Cove, Martin Cate shows just how well it plays in a rum sour, adding a full ounce to his Kingston Palaka, where it supplements an ounce and a half of Jamaican rum. Portland’s Jeffrey Morgenthaler even gives Drambuie top billing in his tiki-esque Kingston Club cocktail, alongside pineapple and lime juices.
“Many herbal liqueurs do well in tropical drinks,” notes Morgenthaler, who considers Drambuie to be “in the same family as Bénédictine, yellow Chartreuse [and] Galliano.”
While it’s unlikely that many bartenders will recommend sipping Drambuie on its own, there’s an exception to every rule—with some tweaks. Created for a cocktail competition, Orlando Franklin McCray’s milk-washed take is further infused with both orange and lemon juices for a brighter, ready-to-use variation, which he chills and tops with Champagne. But McCray suggests that the Milk-Washed Drambuie can be enjoyed on its own, too. Poured over ice, for dilution, it might be the most straightforward and modern way to enjoy this otherwise “throwback” liqueur.
Patience is a virtue. Good things come to those who wait. Learn the pace of nature. All of these idle thoughts point in the same direction, instructing us to wait a little—it’s not ready yet. Some of the very highest prized (and unusually complex) flavors in food and drink would not exist without the temerity and persistence of those who care for them. Of course, it takes the knowledge of the creator to know when a product needs a little time instead of being consumed “green.” To age or not to age, that is the age-old question.
The flavors in a liquid are comprised, on a textural level, of sugars, acids, tannins, alcohol, salts and anything else you can physically feel. But the magic stuff happens in the aromatic department by way of phenols, esters, fatty acids, aldehydes and, well, the list goes on. The received wisdom leads us to believe that aging is chiefly concerned with the interaction, and eventual reaction, of any of these various elements; throw oxygen, fruit solids and microscopic dead yeast cells into the mix and really it’s anyone’s guess as to what precisely causes what. Think of it like a huge jumbled chalkboard of all of your chemistry teacher’s most convoluted formulas layered on top of each other—all at once.
While one typically thinks of aging wine and spirits, cocktails can also be left to develop. At our venues, we do this by resting drinks and homemade wines in glass or fermentation tubs, both of which offer cleaner and more concise maturation compared to the more volatile, tannic, young-wood notes you get from small wooden barrels.
We’ve found that you’re better off laying down drinks that lean toward the boozier, sweeter, slightly bitter end of the spectrum (think, Manhattan or Hanky Panky); the depth of flavor holds its own over time, while bitterness adds structure, much like tannins do. But we also like playing with bright drinks that are traditionally made with citrus, like our Milk Punch. We ready them for aging by adding less water (thereby upping the proof), and replacing citrus with powdered acids and distillates. Much like in the darker drinks, a lot of the brighter, more volatile aromas change. We batch these experiments in large volumes, so we can taste the liquid over a period of many years to try and better understand how the liquid transforms.
The first thing you’ll notice as you begin to age your cocktail is a certain “togetherness” of flavors that wouldn’t have existed prior to the aging. We call this “marrying,” and it is the first noticeable change in the long, slow process that will yield different results for every experiment. It’s a phenomenon that’s tangible for most of us; it’s why lasagna always tastes better the second day and whiskey tends to be left to rest for months after the final blending, prior to bottling. But we’ve also experimented with aging well beyond this initial “marrying.”As with many good things, it’s the ability to wait it out that offers the best rewards, and there is something particularly special about opening a bottle you’ve been waiting to open for years.
Below is a quick guide to aging cocktails, whether it’s a brooding whisky number, a milk punch or a Martini.
Wine bottles with corks, or a glass demijohn with bung
Cambro, for measuring
Make sure there’s enough ABV. To ensure that your liquid is still going to at least taste good by the time you drink it, it’s very handy to keep the ABV above that at which it will easily oxidize. We recommend a minimum of 18 percent.
Make sure it tastes good to start with. If it doesn’t taste good when you put it in, it’s probably not going to taste good when you take it out!
Tread lightly with fresh ingredients. If you follow the minimal ABV advice, you can include fresh juices, like lemon or watermelon. But be advised that you will end up with sediment (this can be strained out) and that volatile compounds in the juice can sometimes lead to off aromas.
Sterilize your equipment. Use a sterilizing powder or solution and a bottle brush to keep everything fresh, following the instructions provided.
Age in different containers. Consider splitting your batch between glass, fermentation tubs and wood (if using the latter, make sure it’s well seasoned). You can even fill one glass bottle to the top and the other three-quarters-full to see how oxygen impacts each vessel in different ways.
Age in different places. Temperature, exposure to sunlight and humidity all impact flavor development. Higher levels of the above tending to provide a more unstable, volatile (but quicker and more obvious!) change in your liquid.
Have a plan of how long to leave it. It’s no use going through all of this effort and not leaving your project long enough for aging to have a real impact. We’d suggest splitting your batch up to be tasted in stages. Try each in one month, three months, nine months and two years.
The Step By Step
Sterilize your aging vessel.
Combine your ingredients in one big batch, and then decant into containers and apply closures.
Label each container individually with the name, the date and what’s inside.
Write down the original recipe in a diary. Every time you open a new bottle, make the original drink and note down how the flavor of the aged version differs, along with the conditions of its aging.
Set reminders in your calendar and hope for the best.
Corey Polyoka’s new Washington, D.C., cocktail bar, A Rake’s Bar, is housed in The LINE Hotel’s revamp of a century-old former church. To enter, you walk up a daunting flight of steps and pass between towering columns. Behind the bar, which is on the second floor, is an enormous, arched, milk-glass window.
It’s a fitting backdrop for Polyoka’s singularly ascetic approach to making cocktails, which could be termed a religion and might be deemed holy by some. He is one of the leading apostles of sustainable mixology, which dedicates itself to local, seasonal ingredients and low waste. Don’t look for any Cognac or tequila or Scotch, because they don’t make those things in Maryland or Virginia. Likewise, lemons and limes—the brick and mortar of most cocktail bars—are a rarity here. Stepping in to provide acidity are verjus, made by local vineyards, and vinegar. As for sugar and simple syrup, there is none. Instead, maple syrup, honey and sorghum are employed.
The thoughtful, historically minded menu is divided between “northern” drinks (shrubs and rum), “southern” drinks (juleps and bourbon) and, more intriguingly provincial still, “Chesapeake” drinks (rye, and more rye).
“We are very much of a place, creating drinks sourced from the producers of these two regions,” says Polyoka. “Taking their ingredients and focusing them through the histories and drink-ways of the north, mid-Atlantic and south created the first few pages of the menu.”
Polyoka forged his reputation at Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen with the acclaimed chef Spike Gjerde, who also champions the local. They are working together again in D.C.; the bar takes its name from Gjerde’s new restaurant, A Rake’s Progress. The work at Woodberry has an impact on Rake’s Bar, as Polyoka frequently relies on the products of Woodberry Pantry, the canning and preserving arm of the Baltimore restaurant.
Polyoka, in fact, thinks of the bar as having only two seasons, “fresh and preserved.”
It’s an inspiring approach to running a cocktail bar, which can be as wasteful and environmentally punishing an enterprise as any kitchen. And, one wonders while happily scanning the fresh herbs growing behind the bar and delighting over the charming collection of repurposed, vintage glassware, why more modern saloons haven’t trod this less-traveled road. After a few drinks, however, the reason is clear.
There were troubling signs from the first. The “Chesapeake” list is fittingly topped with a version of the Rickey, a drink D.C. proudly calls its own, dubbed the “Rakey.” At the time of my visit, it was made of gin from Vitae, a distillery in Charlottesville, Virginia, a lemon-thyme infusion, verjus and soda water. Nobody ever accused the Rickey of being a fulsome drink, but this one tasted positively hollow, with overly prominent botanicals. Walk the Line, the bar’s take on a Southside, is a juicy-minty highball that typically calls for gin, but here is made with Dad’s Hat Rye. It also leaned on verjus to fill the role of citrus, and was similarly lacking in heart.
Wondering if I’d just had bad luck with my long drinks, I switched to something of the brown-and-stirred variety. Early northeastern America was all about rum and Rake’s has plenty of it. Head Up, made of Vitae’s golden rum, burnt sorghum syrup and sumac bitters, tasted like the best rum Old-Fashioned of 1820, but its funkiness was a bit tough to take in 2018. Forgiveness is the Fragrance, meanwhile, was composed again of the Vitae rum, as well as Mt. Defiance Dark Rum (also from Virginia), a violet vinegar made by the nearby Lindera Farms and a sour cherry syrup. It was described to me as a sort of rum Manhattan, which made the discordant vinegar note hard to figure. Like many drinks I had, it was unbalanced and starved for sweetness. Moreover, the over-reliance on verjus and vinegar lent a certain pinched sameness to the menu. Even the Peach Julep tasted anemic. And a julep should never be that.
Inside A Rake's Bar
A Rake’s Bar is situated on the second floor of a former church. Light floods in from an enormous, milk-glass arched window behind the bar.
Behind the long, sunny bar is a small garden of fresh herbs, a signal of the program’s dedication to seasonal and local ingredients.
A Rake’s Bar keeps things local, relying on spirits made by nearby distillers. Citrus and sugar, not being local commodities, are only used as distilled essences.
Many of the drinks at A Rake’s Bar are served in repurposed antique and vintage glassware.
The Rakey, the bar's gin-based spin on the Rickey, is garnished with fresh thyme.
The Bird Shot, a Bloody Mary/Bull Shot riff, is made with Maryland-grown tomatoes, stock from game birds like quail and pheasant and local pepper flakes.
Home of the Rye is a deconstruction of the old type of sweetened whiskey known as Rock and Rye. A glass of rye is accompanied by a rock-candy lollipop.
The Peach Julep is made with peach juice sourced from the Woodbury pantry in nearby Baltimore and garnished with dehydrated peach powder (left), while the Head Up builds on Vitae Golden Rum, burnt sorghum, sumac bitters and yuzu oil (right).
Farm-to-table dining programs are relatively graspable propositions. No matter the region, a chef will find farms reasonably close by, growing the vegetables and raising the livestock needed to put together a good bill of fare. Translating that ethos to a bar isn’t as easy. That local distillery may produce a promising bourbon or gin, but often they’re not as richly flavorful as the ones that have been made for decades in Kentucky or London, respectively. The same goes for youthful American attempts at vermouth and amari, which were mastered by European makers long ago, but taken up domestically only recently. And while experiments in alternative acids are all well and good, there really isn’t a true match for fresh citrus when putting together a classic sour.
But ingredients aren’t always the culprit at Rake’s. Sometimes execution fails. Home of the Rye, Rake’s take on the age-old form of sweetened whiskey known as Rock and Rye, should have been an easy win. Polyoka’s clever idea is to have you order a rye brand of your choice and then arm you with a lollipop of rock candy. But the assembly required proved too much. The ice cube in the glass of whiskey was so large that it was impossible to find space for the candy. Frustrated, I removed the ice in order to get to rock into the rye. Even then, though, it made no difference. The drink was far too cold for the sugar to dissolve.
Like Home of the Rye, so much of A Rake’s Bar felt like a failed experiment. The single success I found was the Bird Shot, the bar’s Bloody Mary/Bull Shot riff, which borrowed heavily from the kitchen, buttressing the District Distilling Wild June Gin with Maryland-grown tomatoes, stock from game birds like quail and pheasant and local salt and pepper flakes. Deeply meaty and fruity, it boasted all the flavor teamwork that the other drinks lacked.
By my final visit, I felt so burned by the original cocktails I went rogue. Could a simple Martini be managed? Certainly, the bartender assured me. After some discussion, we settled on Bluecoat Gin, from Philadelphia, and Capitoline vermouth, from D.C., as the best local combination. Instead of a lemon twist, a misting of lemon essence, made from two lemons that were grown in a restaurant partner’s greenhouse, was showered over the drink’s surface.
Ironically, I came to appreciate A Rake’s Bar’s philosophy and herculean efforts more fully through this ad hoc approximation of a classic cocktail than by any of the original drinks on the menu. The result wasn’t what an average Martini drinker would recognize as their regular. But, within its odd, herbal, savory profile, I could discern the outlines of the drink. More importantly, I enjoyed it.
Bars like Prairie School have shown you can go local without turning off the locals. But that Chicago bar hasn’t taken its orthodoxy nearly as far as A Rake’s Bar, and maybe that’s a good idea. Local sourcing and sustainability are issues all modern bars will have to address in the years to come. But crossing that long bridge will be a journey of a thousand steps. To make the leap of faith all at once runs the risk of falling short—and facing rows of empty pews.
“Old man drinks,” as Rhachel Shaw calls them, were the LA bartender’s introduction to the wide world of cocktails. “My dad drank Tom Collinses and Gimlets. And I had my fair share of Midori Sours,” she says. But it was at Bar Keeper, the legendary barware and bitters shop in Silverlake, where she got an education in craft spirits and all the paraphernalia to go along with them. She put it all into practice when, one evening, while hanging out in the doorway of a neighborhood bar, she met Christine England, the only female bartender on the opening crew of Seven Grand (one of Downtown LA’s first major cocktail programs). “I volunteered for an event and she gave me a job.”
Since then, Shaw has worked at Malo, Caña and Harvard & Stone in Los Angeles, as well as Rye, Local Edition, Tradition and Alamo Drafthouse in San Francisco. And though she’s worked in some of the West Coast’s most lauded cocktail establishments, she’s still more interested in the social atmosphere bars provide. “We should just have bars,” she says of the cocktail bar phenomenon. “If you make a great drink, that’s great. But I don’t go to bars to hear about your crazy jam-orgeat weirdness. I go because I want to sit in a nice place with nice people.”
Now firmly rooted back in LA, she’s managing Westbound in the Arts District, a bar that takes its sleek railway car inspiration from the bygone La Grande Station, upon whose original location it’s built. Her own sage-, chamomile- and Bacardi 8-infused Harvey Girl cocktail—named for the women who worked at Harvey’s restaurants along the Santa Fe Rail line in the 19th century—is a nod to that lost history.
Favorite bar in the world:
Doc's Clock, San Francisco
Classic of choice:
By the Numbers
Years in the Industry: 9
No. of Bars Worked At: 10ish
Avg Drinks Made Per Night: It used to be upwards of 350 to 400
Avg Miles Walked Per Night: 4 to 5
Current occupation: Bar Manager, Westbound.
What do want to be when you grow up? Whatever strikes me as awesome at the moment.
What books are essential to have behind the bar? I really think that the only books you should see behind the bar are a farmer’s almanac, the last version of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide (they don’t publish it anymore) and a book of dirty limericks.
If you could have three women, living or dead, come sit at your bar, who would they be? Dolly Parton, Amy Sedaris and Dorothy Parker.
What’s your favorite thing to educate drinkers about? An amazing new movie, where to get the best thin-cut pastrami in LA and [which] bars to go check out on their next trip.
In your opinion, what’s been the greatest change in drinking culture in the last decade? People have started revering what they drink as much as what they eat. I think this will continue, but I think that environment will become a big factor again. Bars aren’t just about the drinks—they’re about how a place makes you feel.
What’s the next great frontier in cocktail culture? Not so fancy… [and] lower-ABV drinks.
Tell us about your drink, the Harvey Girl:
Harvey’s restaurants started along the Santa Fe Rail line as a stop for weary travelers during the late 1800s. Fred Harvey only hired single women to work as servers. While it sounds gross by today’s standards, it was often the only chance for young women of the time to leave home and start a new, independent life for themselves, which I think is pretty rad. The sage and chamomile is reminiscent of the vegetation that you would see going West. It’s a cool, tall, and refreshing. Just what you’d want after a long train ride.
How do you define leadership behind the bar?
Setting a good example by working hard and treating those you serve and work with well.
Which industry leaders do you admire most?
I’ve got many on this list but I’ll just name three: Yael Vengroff has always been a source of admiration. Her drinks, her humor, her work ethic are all a source of wonder. Jessamine McLellan is an amazing lady to look to, particularly for her knowledge of spirits. Jeffrey Morgenthaler is a grumpy old man, but he’s no bullshit. I like no bullshit. I like grumpy old men. So there you go.
Best thing you ever drank: I went home for my high school reunion and went out with a friend from school. I ordered us two gin Gimlets. The bartender comes back a few minutes later and hands us two drinks. Then she says, “We’re out of Rose’s, so I made these with Mountain Dew.” I’m not so sure I [loved it], but I did like that the bartender improvised.
First time you ever got drunk: Freshman year of high school, with my church group, on two-liter Sun Country Wine Coolers.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be? Nillsson Smillson by Harry Nillsson.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had? I am the Queen of Unfinished Projects and the Lady of Taking New Classes. I tried the trapeze for a while. I’m currently very into playing pinball, but I don’t consider that weird.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago? That the person most standing in your way is you.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted: Egg Nog with goat cheese.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making? See above. Pinball. Lots and lots of pinball.
Your favorite bar, and why: My favorite bar right now is the same one as when I lived in LA before: Edendale in Silverlake. It lives in an old firehouse. It’s not a dive bar or a cocktail bar—it’s just a great place with an awesome vibe and great bartenders who all seem to love working there.
Best meal you’ve ever had: Lunch at the French Laundry.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
Wine bar? A dry white.
In a dive bar?
G&T or a shot and a beer.
Your preferred hangover recovery regime: Drink a big glass of water before bed. Eat two Pedialyte popsicles. If you forgot to do all of that because you were drunk, then when you wake up, have a whole container of Pedialyte, a cheeseburger and a Coke.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever: Calling anything besides vodka [or] gin and vermouth a Martini.
The last text message you sent:
“Hello. I love you. That is all.” (Sent to my long distance work wife Will Popko.)
Selma Slabiak has always wanted to get drunk with the man they called “Monk.” But since the Far East hotelier legally known as Walter Ellett Antrim died nearly 80 years ago, the Brooklyn bartender has settled for a close consolation: meditating on the cocktails he left lingering—in particular, the “messed-up Manhattan” that’s come to bear his name.
Danish-born Slabiak, late of Aska and The Breslin, first encountered Monk Antrim by way of Charles H. Baker, Jr., the boundless travel writer known for the two-volume Gentleman’s Companion. The second book in that set, subtitled Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask, overflows with vignettes of Baker’s boozing exploits throughout the 1920s and ‘30s, with particular care paid to Southeast Asia. Alongside cameos from distinguished figures like Ernest Hemingway and “Bill” Faulkner, there’s frequent mention of the lesser-known Antrim, “one of the most interesting chaps who ever hit the Islands.”
As Baker tells it, Antrim, who was born in Cairo, Illinois, in 1898, started as a dishwasher at the high-end Manila Hotel in the Philippines; by the time the two met, in 1926, Antrim had become the celebrated manager of the entire operation by grace of his personality and apparent skill behind the bar (“a careful, almost clinical, student of potable liquids”).
Prior to decamping east, Antrim fashioned himself into the collegiate equivalent of Max Fischer in Rushmore. He served as a “yell leader” at Stanford, firing up the home crowd at games. He was the announcer for the track and field teams. He was the cartoonist and editor of the student humor magazine. He served as president of the Ram’s Head Society, an all-male theater troupe, while also leading his own five-piece jazz orchestra (he played the drums). After graduation, Antrim departed to New Zealand to take an illustrator job with a news service, eventually drifting over to the Philippines, then under American control following the Treaty of Paris.
“He sounds like a guy who had a lot of swagger,” says Slabiak. “I’m sad I never got to meet him.”
While Baker and others praised Antrim for his elaborate Manila Hotel Mint Julep No. 1, fancified with pineapple, cherries and Barbados rum, it’s the man’s eponymous offering that grabbed Slabiak’s attention. The OG recipe for the Antrim Cocktail—Cognac and Port, shaken with a little sugar—at first struck her as odd.
“I thought it sounded a little intense and sweet,” says Slabiak. But then she tried it and “was surprised how balanced it was.” In workshopping the drink, she introduced some twists of her own: stirring instead of shaking, adding orange bitters, a barspoon of gomme syrup and a lemon express. “This just made the drink a little closer to the 21st-century palate,” she says, adding that the gomme syrup, which she makes with gum arabic, is the key edit. “[It] gives it that really, really nice texture.”
Having tried a few, Baker’s original disclaimer about the drink remains relevant: “This is a slow creeper-upper, so prend garde!”
This season brings with it a slew of notable new openings across the country, with fresh concepts from industry leaders like Don Lee and Dave Arnold, alongside new locations of already beloved bars. Having achieved distinguished status in their home cities, Death & Co., Employees Only and Broken Shaker are opening new outposts, distributing their respective brands of cool to all corners of the country. Notable, too, are the larger trends that these openings embody; with tropical-themed bars emerging in New York, LA and Nashville, a tiki renaissance is in full swing, while sustainability continues to inform the beverage programs at new bars nationwide. From a Bay Area brewer’s long-overdue taproom to a Cuban-inspired joint in New Orleans, here are our picks for the most notable new and forthcoming bar openings this season.
What: A sprawling tiki bar from Major Food Group and the man behind Tiki Mondays. Who: Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi, Jeff Zalaznick, Brian Miller Where: The Pod Hotel, Times Square When: April Why it’s important: Since the closing of Lani Kai and PKNY more than five years ago, there’s been a dearth of tiki bars in New York. Now, the team behind some of the city’s hardest-hitting restaurants (Carbone, The Grill, Dirty French, ZZ’s Clam Bar) are partnering with Brian Miller, the host of Tiki Mondays, for a Polynesian-inspired bar whose explicit aim is to be the best tiki bar in the world.
What: A forthcoming bar from two of the industry’s most creative drink-makers. Who: Don Lee (PDT), Dave Arnold (Booker & Dax) Where: TBD When: May Why it’s important: Mad geniuses of the cocktail world, Lee and Arnold will team up for a highly anticipated opening meant to showcase their unique brand of molecular mixology.
What: A French restaurant from Keith McNally alums, Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr, with a drinks program run by two innovators from the cocktail and wine worlds. Who: Sarah Morrissey (Pig Bleecker, Pig Beach, Dutch Kills), Jorge Riera (Wildair, Contra) Where: TriBeCa When: April Why it’s important: One of the most anticipated restaurant openings this season, Frenchette is clearly aiming to have a complete, ambitious beverage program to match Hanson and Nasr’s food. Natural wine, aperitifs and upgraded classic cocktails will take center stage.
Frenchette | Photos: Lizzie Munro
What: An art-world fever dream of a speakeasy beneath an izakaya, serving avant-garde cocktails with a sense of humor. Who: Dorothy Elizabeth (Standby, Detroit) Where: Chinatown When: March Why it’s important: Elizabeth aims to mix her brand of modernist drink-making with Japanese ingredients for what promises to be a thoroughly unique addition to the growing crop of Japanese-style cocktail bars.
Broken Shaker NYC
What: The latest outpost of the Miami original located on the roof of the newly opened Freehand Hotel. Who: Elad Zvi, Gabriel Orta Where: Flatiron When: April Why it’s important: Few bars have been able to establish such a uniform identity across so many locations, but following openings in LA and Chicago, Broken Shaker New York will bring its beloved brand of beach vibes to Manhattan.
What: A Japanese-inspired bar with an omakase cocktail menu. Who: Julia Momose (The Oriole, GreenRiver, The Office) Where: West Loop When: Spring Why it’s important: Alongside food from chef Noah Sandoval (Oriole), Kumiko will showcase Momose’s detail-oriented approach with a dealer’s choice menu meant to be unique to each guest.
Mordecai | Photos: Courtesy of Mordecai
What: A bi-level cocktail bar bringing elevated drinking options to Wrigleyville. Who: Alex Bachman, Matthias Merges Where: Hotel Zachary, Wrigleyville When: April Why it’s important: The team behind Logan’s Square’s beloved Billy Sunday will bring their elevated sensibility to a neighborhood dominated by high-volume beer bars, with an extensive menu of vintage spirits.
What: A Cuban-inspired bar from two leading New Orleans bartenders. Who: Nick Detrich (Cure, Cane & Table), Chris Hannah (Arnaud’s French 75 Bar) Where: French Quarter When: March Why it’s important: With a roster of drinks inspired by personal experiences at Havana’s Floridita, Manolito pays homage to Cuba’s rich cocktail history as interpreted by two of the Big Easy’s most prominent bar figures.
What: A new bar from the Trick Dog crew, serving dumplings and cocktails inspired by the tropics. Who: Morgan Schick and Josh Harris of BVHospitality Where: TheMission When: TBD Why it’s important: As only the second standalone bar from the guys behind influential Trick Dog, Bon Voyage will offer a no-holds-barred opportunity to experience the team’s idiosyncratic approach to drinks and experience.
What: A taproom and brewpub within Admiral Maltings, California’s first craft malthouse. Who: Ron Silberstein (ThirstyBear) and Dave McLean and Curtis Davenport (Magnolia Brewing). Where: Alameda When: January Why it’s important: The taproom looks out onto the brewery’s malting floor, giving visitors a rare peek at this essential part of the beer-making process.
Almanac Beer Co. Barrel House and Taproom
What: A new taproom from the beloved Bay Area brewers. Who: Damian Fagan and Jesse Friedman Where: Alameda When: February Why it’s important: The longtime contract brewers have finally opened a brewery of their own with an adjoining taproom allowing Almanac to sell directly to consumers for the first time.
What: The LA outpost of the trailblazing Manhattan cocktail bar. Who: Dushan Zaric and Sascha Lyon Where: West Hollywood When: April Why it’s important: With cocktails by original co-founder Dushan Zaric and food by Sascha Lyon (Balthazar, Daniel and Pastis), the highly anticipated opening will represent the sixth iteration of Employee’s Only, alongside locations in New York, Singapore, Miami, Hong Kong and Sydney.
Bar Figueroa | Photos: Dylan + Jeni
What: Five forthcoming bar concepts in the Hotel Figueroa space. Who: Dushan Zaric (Employees Only) Where: DTLA When: Summer Why it’s important: With its panoply of drinking destinations, Hotel Figueroa represents a new breed of hotel bar that acts as a 21st century retort to the grand hotel bars of centuries past.
To Be Named Union Station Bar
What: A brewpub and cocktail bar in Downtown LA’s deco masterpiece, Union Station. Who: Cedd Moses and Eric Needleman (213 Hospitality), Eric Alperin (The Varnish) Where: DTLA When: June Why it’s important: The team behind some of LA’s most popular bars, including Bar Clacson, Bar Jackalope and Caña Rum Bar, will take over the historic Union Station with Eric Alperin helming the drinks program.
Yet-to-Be-Named Bar from Pablo Moix and Steve Livigni
What: Atropical bar at City Market South from the duo behind Scopa and Old Lightning. Who: Pablo Moix and Steve Livigni Where: DTLA When: Summer Why it’s important: Their biggest project to date,Moix and Livigni will bring a fresh take on tiki, taking inspiration from North and South America, and the role these places played in shaping the genre.
Raised by Wolves
What: A combination bar and retail space from San Diego’s most acclaimed bartenders. Who: Anthony Schmidt, Erick Castro Where: Westfield UTC When: April Why it’s important: The team behind Polite Provisions and Noble Experiment will offer a unique retail space alongside a 2,000-square-foot cocktail bar and tasting room with a collection of vintage spirits.
What: A Cuba-inspired bar from that borrows from Ricky Gomez’s family heritage. Who: Ricky Gomez (Ox, Teardrop Lounge) Where: Division Street When: April Why it’s important: With entire section of the menu dedicated to Daiquiri variations, Gomez, whose parents are from Havana, intends to channel the flavors and colors that he grew up with as he makes a return to Portland from New Orleans.
Palomar | Photos: Brandon Josie
What: A widely acclaimed former pop-up bar goes full brick and mortar. Who: Adam Robinson Where: Southeast Portland When: Spring Why it’s important: Equipped with a “cocktail lab,” the 16-seat bar promises experimental cocktails alongside an a la carte menu.
What: A natural wine bar from one of Portland’s top sommeliers. Who: Dana Frank Where: Southeast Portland When: July Why it’s important: The latest project from sommelier Dana Frank, formerly of the acclaimed Ava Gene’s and Dame, will offer a large selection of natural wines for drinking on the spot, or for takeaway.
What: A new wine bar from Austin Bridges (D.O.C.) and Cathy Whims (Nostrana). Who: Austin Bridges Where: Southeast Portland When: March Why it’s important: With a list consisting of more than 2,000 selections, the European-focused program will expand to include forward-thinking and naturalist bottlings from American producers.
What: Andy Fortgang and Gabe Rucker’s newest addition to the Le Pigeon/Little Bird family. Who: Andy Fortgang Where: Central Eastside When: April Why it’s important: Both larger and more casual than its sister restaurant next door, this all-day wine bar is expected to open beside Le Pigeon this month.
Death & Co.
What: The first outpost of the pioneering NYC speakeasy, located in a boutique, 50-room hotel. Who: Alex Day and David Kaplan (Death & Co., The Walker Inn, Normandie Club, Nitecap, Honeycut, Proprietors LLC) and Ravi DiRossi (Death & Co., Amor Y Amargo, Mother of Pearl, Mayahuel) Where: River North Art District When: Spring Why it’s important: The the first expansion of the iconic brand outside of its East Village digs, this opening echoes a trend of establishment cocktail bars moving westward.
American Bonded | Photos: Chad Larson
What: A whiskey-themed neighborhood cocktail bar serving a menu of American staples alongside “Americana classic” food from J Street Kitchen in a newly renovated space. Who: Sean Kenyon (Williams & Graham, Occidental), Justin Anthony and Lisa Vedovelli Where: River North Art District When: April Why it’s important: After nearly six years of renovations, the long-awaited destination will open with an affordable list of cocktails, with an emphasis on two featured classics, the Mint Julep and the Old-Fashioned.
What: A Miami-inspired cocktail lounge with a zero-waste program and plant-based food menu, located in a renovated church. Who: Alexis Soler (Old Glory, No. 308), Angela Laino (Good Night Sonny) Where: WeHo When: April Why it’s important: The high-volume bar, which will also be home to a sister coffee shop called The Falcon, will produce only biodegradable and compostable waste.
What: A “relaxed island lounge” located in a former midcentury garage serving tropical inspired cocktails and bites from Jason Zygmont (The Treehouse) Who: Corey Ladd and Matt Spicher (The Treehouse), Ben Clemons and Jamie White (No. 308) Where: East Nashville When: Spring Why it’s important: Details are still sparse regarding the menu, but judging from the build-out photos, Pearl Diver is going full-custom on glassware, portholes, tropical wallpaper and a yakitori grill. Look for thoughtful touches like dropper bottles with fresh citrus juice in lieu of cut garnishes.
What: Nashville’s first tiki bar celebrating island-centric “tastes, flavors and frozen delights.” Who: Andy Mumma (Barista Parlor), Mike Wolf (Husk Nashville) Where: East Nashville When: Spring Why it’s important: The new bar will fill the two spaces last home to Bar Luca and Moto Moda. If their recent pop-up previews are any indication of their brick-and-mortar menu, expect more frozen Jungle Bird riffs, Sassafras-Falarnum Swizzles and a bevy of tiki deep-cuts.
The Willis Show Bar
What: A revamp of the infamous cabaret that was shuttered by police in 1979. Who: OwnersSteve Livigni, Sean Patrick, Dave Kwiatkowski (Sugar House, Bad Luck, Wright & Company) and head bartender Dave Martinez Where: Cass Corridor When: May Why it’s important: A star-studded team of hospitality gurus are restoring the historic space to its former glory, complete with a roster of live music, DJs and top-notch cocktails.
Other Notable Openings:
Tartine Bar (Los Angeles): A forthcoming bar helmed by Julian Cox and Nick Meyer opening this spring in downtown LA.
Barbette (Los Angeles): A French bar and restaurant, from Brittany Olsen and the team behind The Pikey and Jones.
Holy Ground (New York): A permanent home for Franco Vlasic’s popular barbecue pop-up with a wine list curated by Nathan Lithgow and classic cocktails by Steve Rhea.
Obisbo (San Francisco): The long-awaited rum bar from Thad Vogler (Bar Agricole, Trou Normand), due to open later this season in the Mission.
The Beehive (San Francisco): A new cocktail bar from the team behind The Treasury and White Cap, opening in the former Range space in the Mission.
Verjus (San Francisco): A new wine bar with food from Michael and Lindsay Tusk of Quince and Cotogna.
Bar Crenn (San Francisco): A wine bar adjoining Atelier Crenn, with a focus on biodynamic wine.
The Bar at Hotel Kabuki (San Francisco): The new project from Stephanie Wheeler (Three Dots and a Dash), designed to merge her tiki background with a Japanese-inspired approach.
Nunu (Philadelphia): A forthcoming Japanese bar from the owners of Cheu Noodle Bar and Bing Bing Dim Sum.
Teote (Portland): A new bar focused on agave spirits, boasting one of the largest mezcal collections on the West Coast.
Pink Lady (Seattle): Erik Hakkinen’s forthcoming cocktail program focused on lighter spirits, like eau de vie, gin, pisco, tequila and mezcal.
This season brings with it a slew of notable new openings across the country, with fresh concepts from industry leaders like Julia Momose and Brian Miller, alongside new locations of already beloved watering holes. Having received distinguished status in their home cities, bars like Death & Co., Employee’s Only and Broken Shaker are opening new outposts, some for the first time and others as the next step in their growing empires. Just as impressive as the names behind these openings are the cocktails that come with them. To get a sense of what’s to come, here’s Julia Momose’s Highball, Manolito’s Daiquiri Menta, Pablo Moix’s Prince Henry Punch, Raised by Wolves’ Hideaway Honey and Frenchette’s Eponine Collins.
Five Cocktails from America's Hottest New Bars
Julia Momose’s Highball: A mango-driven update on the Japanese whisky highball. [Recipe]
Prince Henry Punch: Pablo Moix’s twist on the classic rum-based drinks of South and Central America and the Caribbean. [Recipe]
Hideaway Honey: A blend of aquavit, honey and yogurt from the forthcoming Raised by Wolves. [Recipe]
Daiquiri Menta: A blended mint Daiquiri from New Orleans’ recently-opened Manolito. [Recipe]
Eponine Collins: Fenchette’s Sarah Morrissey combines gin, Suze and Amaro Montenegro in this French-inflected Collins. [Recipe]
Typically described as a Manhattan made with blended Scotch instead of bourbon or rye, the Rob Roy is not an obscure drink by any means. And yet, it has never quite captured the same devotion as its sister classic has. Even Anu Apte-Elford, proprietor of Seattle’s Rob Roy, which is named for the drink, admits that it’s a drink she had to learn to love.
“I did not like it. I did not like it one bit,” says Apte-Elford, recalling first tasting a Rob Roy at age 25. Though she now considers the drink to be an “unsung hero” in the canon of classics, Apte-Elford admits that its construction can be problematic.
The long-running origin story of the Rob Roy is that it was created at New York’s Waldorf Astoria in 1897 in honor of the debut of the Reginald De Koven operetta, named for the Scottish folk hero, Robert Roy MacGregor. But in 2017, writer and historian David Wondrich dug even deeper, uncovering a possible alternative history that places the drink’s creation at around the same time, but at a Hoboken, New Jersey, bar called Duke’s House.
Like the Manhattan, the Rob Roy can take many forms depending on the whiskey, vermouth and variety of bitters used—something that can pose a challenge to bartenders and drinkers unfamiliar with the base spirit. “Most bars don’t give their ‘well’ Scotch much consideration, and guests haven’t been educated to know which Scotch will make a really good Rob Roy,” says Apte-Elford.
Among the first decisions to make when constructing the drink is deciding which spirit to use, as the choice between a smoky Islay or a fruitier Highland Scotch can have a drastic effect on the cocktail’s flavor profile. What’s more, it will often dictate the brand of vermouth employed, which can make or break the drink. Whereas a peated Scotch might favor a fuller bodied, spicier vermouth such as Carpano Antica, a more mellow, Lowland Scotch might favor something softer and more subtle.
“Because of the variety of Scotch styles available and the incredible differences in flavor profiles you can get between different brands, every Rob Roy variation is so different—and, in my humble opinion, an improvement on the classic recipe,” says Apte-Elford.
For the past three years, she’s offered three distinct takes on the Rob Roy, each made with a different Scotch in the archetypal two-to-one ratio of spirit to vermouth. Ranging from the classic (made with Bank Note 5 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky, Cinzano, Angostura bitters and a lemon twist) to “Bold” and “Elegant,” these mirrored variations show just how versatile the cocktail can be.
The three Rob Roy variations that Anu Apte-Elford serves at the bar are all based on the archetypal two-to-one ratio of Scotch to vermouth.
Made with peated Laphroaig 10 Year Old, the Bold Rob Roy gets an assist from an ounce of Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth and two dashes of Angostura bitters for an especially full-bodied take. “Laphroiag is one of my all-time favorites so I knew I wanted to use that as a base, and I would need a strong, robust vermouth that could tango with it,” says Apte-Elford.
The Elegant, meanwhile, is based on two ounces of Feathery Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, an intense, 100 percent malt blend that’s matured in sherry casks. She pairs the Scotch with the “soft, round and elegant” Dolin Rouge. When it came to bitters, she chose to highlight the “blossom-like aroma” of the Feathery, pairing it with the bar’s housemade apple bitters.
Though each of these variations builds on the same base recipe, Apte-Elford explains that the result is three remarkably different drinks. Owing to the vast spectrum of flavors found in Scotch, and to the diversity of vermouths on the market, the trio of recipes is a testament to how versatile this classic cocktail can actually be.
“The difference between the Bold and the Elegant Rob Roys we offer are great examples of that,” says Apte-Elford. “If I served these side by side to a guest, they might not even know the drinks are from the same blueprint.”
The day that Earlecia Richelle first tasted a Last Word, she decided she wanted to start making cocktails. She had just moved back to the States from London, where she received a masters in fashion and culture, and she was working at the New York Palace, whose bar had just changed the menu to focus on the classics. She was so excited she started studying up that day. “I was so captivated by the sensory experience of a cocktail,” she says, “but the history was attractive, too—how cocktails reflect fashions of the time, wars, how people move into and out of different regions.”
Naturally, Richelle’s approach to making drinks is through the lens of aesthetics. While in grad school, she got into Afrofuturism and began considering how to take such high concepts and infuse them into everyday life in a visually interesting way. After working at the Palace, she bartended at a couple of Italian restaurants, became the head bartender at Babbalucci and eventually landed at the Nylo Hotel as bar director. It’s there that she was able to enact her vision for high-concept menus. “I did cocktail lists on everything from films to the flower market,” she says. “It’s about making the story and the sensory pieces come together. It’s about more than balance and spirits.”
Today, Richelle is more focused than ever on becoming more deeply involved in the spirits world, which she endearingly describes as an industry of misfits. “We’re a tribe,” she says. “People who make this a career come from the same tribe [of those] who are living outside of the box, outside of status quo. We’re living for ourselves rather than everyone else.”
Grey Goose Fifty-Fifty
Vodka or Gin
Favorite bar in the world:
Salt & pepper
Classic of choice:
Current occupation: Grey Goose Ambassador.
What do want to be when you grow up? A mother.
What books are essential to have behind the bar? I’m a cocktail bibliophile, so this is a hard one. Let’s say Death and Co., Modern Classic Cocktails, The Flavor Bible, The Ideal Bartender and Liquid Intelligence.
How would you describe your style of drink-making? Expressive.
If you could have three women, living or dead, come sit at your bar, who would they be? Michelle Obama, Josephine Baker and Julia Child.
What’s your favorite thing to educate drinkers about? The history of vodka and its impact on cocktail culture.
In your opinion, what’s been the greatest change in drinking culture in the last decade? Social media.
What’s the next great frontier in cocktail culture? Local distilleries, experiential cocktails and the rise of smaller cocktail markets.
You’re spending one final night drinking anywhere in the world, where is it and what are you drinking? In Japan at Ben Fiddich, drinking anything Hiroyasu Kayama creates for me.
Which industry leaders do you admire most? I admire Duane Fernandez Jr. for his genuine love of people. He paid for my United States Bartenders’ Guild membership back when I couldn’t afford it. I admire Colin Asare-Appiah for his otherworldliness and sheer brilliance. He not only took me under his wing, but adopted me into his family. I admire Pamela Wiznitzer for her ability to fully commit and balance multiple projects gracefully and efficiently. While I could go on for days, I can’t speak about industry leaders that I admire and not mention Juan Coronado, Ms. Franky Marshall, Jackie Summers, Lynette Marrero, Brittany Littrell, Tiffanie Barriere, Lynn M House, Camille Ralph Vidal and Giuseppe González. All these people represent true leadership to me because they unapologetically create more spaces on inclusion and diversity within our industry.
How do you define leadership in the industry? When I first started my role as an ambassador, my mentor Colin Asare-Appiah gave me the best advice, which has become the foundation of how I see leadership. He said, “Work on elevating others, and you will always be successful.” Leaders serve. For me, leadership is about serving the underrepresented and helping to create spaces that value diversity and inclusivity within our industry.
Tell us about your cocktail: The Golden Lady was inspired by a similar cocktail a dear friend called for while in the mood for a Vesper. With a few tweaks, I tailored it to be my new go-to Martini. It’s a play on the Vesper sans gin.
Best thing you ever drank: My dad’s sorrel, a traditional Panamanian drink made out of dried hibiscus leaves, ginger root and allspice.
Worst thing you ever drank: An imbalanced cocktail made with a balsamic vinegar shrub. It tasted like salad dressing, and I don’t really like salads.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be? Lauryn Hill’s X Factor.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had? Hula-hooping.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago? When you don’t know what to do, get still. The answer will come. (A lesson from Oprah.)
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted: Creating a lynching tree out of currants to garnish my cocktail, Strange Fruit. Ironically, it turned out to be one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever made.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making? Anything I can do from my bed.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten: Gendered cocktails. I still have not figured out what a “girly” cocktail is in all these years.
Your favorite bar, and why: Baccarat—have you seen the place?!
Best meal you’ve ever had: Daddy’s home cooking.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar? Grey Goose Fifty-Fifty with an olive and a twist.
Wine bar? Crémant.
In a dive bar? Vodka-tonic.
Your preferred hangover recovery regime: A can of Coca-Cola and an Advil before bed, loads of sleep and a hydrating face mask.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever: The “token” vodka cocktail.
The last text message you sent:
Responses have been condensed and edited for clarity.