The Rolodex

by Naren Young

Our cocktail rolodex at The Daily and Saxon + Parole might be the most valuable training tool I’ve ever implemented in a bar. I should admit the idea came from my time working at the Pegu Club where Audrey Saunders had one proudly sitting behind the bar. It was one of those ones you twist around in a circular motion. People were intrigued. I was intrigued. It was brilliant and I remember wondering why more bars didn’t have this incredible tool at their disposal.

The rolodex doesn’t have to take the form of an actual rolodex. That said, I do enjoy watching our bartenders frantically flicking through each insert on a busy Saturday night, looking for that perfect recipe to recommend to someone looking for a ‘dealer’s choice.’ And this was part of the reason why I implemented this tool, so if someone wanted something ‘off menu,’ we could make something really special and unique.

My good friend Jeffrey Morgenthaler from Portland’s Clyde Common has something similar but in a book form, with all the house recipes from now and years yonder. He, too, swears by its power and you can indeed read about him raving about this very topic here on his own eponymous website. Every bar in the world should have their house recipes written down somewhere, whether it be in a binder, in a book or in a rolodex. I went the latter route and boy did it take some time.

Sure, the sheer banality and tediousness of actually physically cutting out and gluing every single drink is perhaps enough to drive anyone crazy. Where are my minions when I need them? But I chipped away at the task slowly yet consistently on a daily basis. It took a few weeks but what I now have is a lifetime (or at least a career’s worth) of diverse recipes that first and foremost ensures that every one of our bartenders are making drinks to exactly the same specs. Nothing matters to me more than consistency. It’s literally in my job description. 

I researched every single classic drink in the rolodex. Some of this was done online, scouring every drinks website and cocktail chat room I could find. I read and re-read dozens of vintage cocktail books. I spoke with other bartenders I respect. I tested and re-tested every drink. At several stages along the way, I wondered if this project would ever actually come to fruition. It was a frustrating yet very worthwhile experience. I learnt a lot.

This fastidious approach was indeed why it took so long to complete but perhaps why I’m also so proud and protective of it. At the bottom of each recipe is a short one liner on the history of the drink or perhaps what book it was first mentioned in. This at least gives each bartender a small talking point should someone inquire. I also list some tasting notes, where applicable, so again our bartenders can articulate the flavor profile to any guest who asks.

There still sadly exists those fools out there that like to stump the bartender with their cocktail prowess. Some are bartenders, others are cocktail nerds and budding self-taught home mixologists. The rolodex was in some ways also created to appease these people so that my bartenders were equipped to make almost drink thrown at them. Of course the rolodex doesn’t contain every drink in existence. Far from it and that would be impossible anyway.

It is very comprehensive, however, and contains a continually growing number of drinks that sits at about 600 right now. When we opened The Daily in April of 2012, people thought I was crazy when I suggested we have a cocktail menu that changes every single day. The rolodex would become the very foundation of our daily operations but also the tool that would uphold our concept of being a bar firmly rooted in obscure classic cocktails.

Quite simply, compiling the cocktail menu at The Daily would be a very time consuming exercise without the rolodex. In that venue, most people now know they can come in and get almost any classic cocktail they ask for. If it’s not in the rolodex (heaven forbid!), then I’ll make sure to find out more about said drink, type up a recipe and make sure it’s in there the next time they’re in.

Our rolodex is constantly evolving and right now I’m actually reviewing every drink, updating or adjusting some specs, adding new drinks and now comes the unenviable task of cutting out each individual drink again and implementing a rolodex into all of our properties. I want people to know that they can walk into any one of our Avroko Hospitality Group venues at any time of night and get a perfectly made drink, no matter how esoteric. Or if they want a drink from one of our past menus, we have a record of it. This is the job of the rolodex.

These recipes in our rolodex are not definitive and every bartender on earth has ‘their’ way of making a Mojito or Manhattan or Mint Julep. But for those bartenders that work for us, this is the way we do it at our properties, period. If anything, these recipes are the culmination of a career dedicated to making the very best drinks I can. As an example, I’ve tried a Mojito in myriad ways in countless cities. The recipe I have settled on now is one I learnt from Audrey Saunders at the Pegu Club and until anyone makes me a better one, then I’m happy to go through the rest of my life propagating her recipe. Cheers Audrey.

Any customer is welcome to flick through the rolodex whenever they want. I certainly encourage this kind of dialogue. This way they feel like they’re having a drink crafted just for them. Bespoke cocktails if you will. To ensure the rolodex is actually being used by the staff and not sitting there gathering dust, I have one bartender choose a ‘drink of the week’ from the rolodex. We write this in the bar diary on a Monday and have every bartender make that drink at least once over that week, either for a guest or for themselves as their ‘shift’ drink. It just keeps our crew constantly learning. And for me, that constant thirst for knowledge is what keeps many of us inspired every day.

Read more from Hospitality.