I recently read an amusing interview with Drew Nieporent, the owner of numerous trendy restaurants in lower Manhattan (actually, some of his trendy places have survived so long that they’re famous). Nieporent was bemoaning the high-handed, arrogant attitude of mixologists in his native Tribeca. What caught my eye was the title, which contained the following supplicant request: “Please just give me a freaking vodka rocks already.” This seemed like a promising start, but it got better:
“…I’d just love to go to a place and order a vodka on the rocks and not have it made with 19 ingredients…And they only make two at a time, and there’s forty people waiting behind you at the bar.”
Nineteen ingredients may be a slight exaggeration, but it’s probably not too far off in that corner of Gotham. After all, within striking distance of Nieporent’s eateries are bars such as Death and Co., PDT, The Pegu Club, and dozens of other places so cool that they probably would deny entrance to you or me (until recently, the website for Death and Co. used to advertise “no Grey Goose and no Cosmopolitans.” Even now, there’s no vodka on their list of spirits, and their selection of North American Whiskey includes no Blended Canadian---as if these categories didn’t exist).
Attitudes like this almost make me grateful that I live in Florida, where trends run 3-7 years behind the rest of the country---by the time something reaches us, it’s usually out of date and not worth trying. Still, there’s a restaurant and lounge scheduled to open later this summer in Boca Raton that will showcase a wide variety of molecular and nitrogen-based cocktails. If you haven’t been to Boca, this is a place where no one seems to drink anything other than Grey Goose and Cosmopolitans, so the future of this joint is problematic.
While it’s true that the Tapestry Bar at The Breakers in Palm Beach features spherified Cointreau on its cocktail menu (see my post of March 14, The Spherification of Cointreau), it’s hard to visualize many bluebloods ordering it. Buccan, the hottest restaurant in Palm Beach at the moment, offers some interesting cocktails, but none have more than five ingredients and several contain as little as two. Charles Steadman, one of the area’s leading mixologists who works at Echo’s Dragonfly Lounge, has created a fascinating collection of specialty drinks, but you won’t see nitrogen fumes swirling around his head on any given evening.
Around the country, even in some of the superheated major markets, the pendulum is swinging back to basics. At Boston’s Eastern Standard, Bar Manager Jackson Cannon offers a list over more than 30 well thought-out cocktails, with heavy emphasis on the classics (Jack Rose, Seelbach, Singapore Sling); even the unfamiliar ones are intriguing combinations of three or four high-quality ingredients. San Francisco’s Bar Agricole offers much the same mix of old favorites and interesting new additions with a few carefully chosen artisanal components.
The further you get from the big cities, the better things get. In Portland, Oregon, which (believe it or not) is a major center of mixology, the situation seems positively tame. Clyde Common may be leading the way in barrel-aged cocktails, but at Bluehour, in the Pearl District, restrained new creations share the limelight with the Negroni and the Hemingway Daiquiri. My granddaughter works at a branch of Bar Louie in Michigan. They recently changed their cocktail list, and she asked me to take a look at it. I was relieve to see a heavy emphasis on the classics, with over a dozen Martinis, a beautiful Manhattan (Makers 46, Noilly Prat Sweet Vermouth, Fee Brothers orange bitters),and some creative cocktails with conventional ingredients.
There’s a reason why the classic cocktails have stood the test of time for more than a century. They are simple, direct and uncomplicated, and are usually combinations of two or three ingredients (Martini, Manhattan, Daiquiri, Margarita, Tom Collins, Whiskey Sour, etc.). Most importantly, they allow you to taste the primary spirit in the cocktail. The resurgence of the cocktail culture has placed emphasis on many things---creativity, the revival of obscure or homemade ingredients---but above all else, it has fostered an appreciation of quality spirits. And what’s the point of drinking a cocktail made with a quality spirit if you can taste it?
ABOUT THE BOOK: Iconic Spirits, by Mark Spivak, will be published in November by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot). Writing in an engaging and appealing style, Spivak chronicles the untold tales of 12 spirits that changed the world and forged the cocktail culture. While some are categories and others are specific brands, “they are the best kinds of stories---the type a writer could never make up.”
Want to chime in? Follow this link and leave a comment: