Is it possible to build a high-end bar program with barely a cocktail shaker in sight?
Don’t mistake “stirred” for simple; these are still showstoppers. Think ice cylinders stamped with logos and coupes with elegant 10-inch stems. One bar owner explains how he runs this unusual program.
What made you decide to focus on stirred drinks at your bar?
“In all fairness, there are a couple of shaken guys on the menu, but it’s mostly stirred. We made the decision before the premise was built. I sat down with the branding guys, and we started talking about the rooms and the different bars and how we wanted them to feel. We looked at all the concept boards, and these pictures of guys in black-and-white tuxedos and ball gowns, the era of big, grand, fun, beautiful parties. That was what drove [the concept]. We were thinking about elegant Old World cocktails—the way they used to be, the way you’d drink cocktails 100 years ago at The Savoy. That would be almost always stirred.”
How are stirred drinks different from shaken drinks?
“The shaken drinks in the restaurant are lighter, more fun." "We went more aggressive: darker spirits, more intense flavors, full-bodied, spirit-forward drinks, not citrusy, bright, refreshing and syrupy, sweeter things. It’s more of a cocktail-driven space; it’s not driven by food. So it made sense to use bigger flavors. We have a spicy, smoky mezcal cocktail. We have a unique, rich full-bodied bourbon cocktail. Many of the drinks are spirits-only, no juice.”
That must be challenging.
“It is. It’s so easy to use lemon to brighten something or simple syrup to add a little texture, sweetness, richness and balance. When you’re dealing with just spirits, you have to be really judicious in their use. The balance is very important.”
The ice you use in your drinks is impressive.
“We have an ice guy. He’s incredible. He’s an ice sculptor. I give him our glassware, and he custom-cuts the ice to fit it. He delivers to us what we call candy bars; he cuts them into sheets and scores them 80 percent of the way. You get 21⁄2- , 3- and 31⁄2-inch blocks from him, and then we break them down from there."
“The Old Fashioned comes with a cube the size of the glass basically; it’s probably the fanciest ice cube we use. We brand the top of it, punch a little hole in it and serve a cherry on a skewer in the hole, so you can use the ice cube to stir the drink.”
That sounds like a lot of work.
“The opening bartender probably spends an hour and half pressing ice for service in the evening. It’s a lot of mise, but what it does is make making a drink with a very fancy ice cube specific to the cocktail a lot faster during service. Just like the kitchen, it’s a lot about mise. We have to get it 80 percent, 90 percent of the way there, so during service, all we’re doing is adding it to the glass or finishing the drink with it by just placing it in.
“We do spend a lot of time. But the balance is we’re an (almost) all-stirred, all-spirit drinks program, so we almost don’t go through juice or use simple syrup. Other bars spend a lot of timing juicing every day, getting their fresh citrus. We don’t. I think we juice a quart of lemon a day and half a quart of lime and end up not using half of that unless it’s a busy Friday or Saturday. So we’re not working harder; we’re just working differently.”