Cabinet of Cocktail Curiosities

by Naren Young

I like to think we have a very in-depth bar program at Saxon + Parole; one where we try to cover every aspect – from non alcoholic options, to dessert cocktails, to our beer selection, to the type of coasters we use (leather). While we certainly try to innovate, it’s certainly not our focus and why would it be when I can just steal ideas from the likes of Jeffrey Morgenthaler from Portland’s Clyde Common and pretend they’re my own?

One thing that we implemented just after we opened in September 2011 and that is very unique (or at least it was at the time), is our Cocktail Cabinet Program or what some call our ‘Cabinet of Cocktail Curiosities.’ Whatever you want to call it, it’s been extremely well received by our regulars and raved about in the press. Or to be more precise, the concept was established so that we could attract more and more regulars consistently. This, I guess, should be the fundamental goal of any bar, right?

The idea was partly borne out of a similar program we have at Public, our Michelin-starred sister restaurant just a few blocks away. We have had a very successful ‘Wine Mailbox’ program there that has been running for almost nine years. For a modest $50 fee, our loyal members receive a special bottle of wine every month in their very own bronze mailbox stored near the entrance. 

Each artisanal wine from Australia, New Zealand and around the globe is hand-selected by our wine team and included are detailed tasting notes, food pairing suggestions, recipes, and sometimes, imported foodstuffs or Public kitchen creations. They also receive invitations to any special events and private tastings, while they also get priority with last minute reservations.

Another inspiration for the Cocktail Cabinet came from several trips to Japan where in many bars, especially their many whisky taverns, they have ‘bottle keeps:’ you pay for a bottle of whisky and it is kept under lock and key, ready for your next visit. I always thought this was genius, not just because the bar has made a definite and final sale, but now that person has a constant reason to return to your bar. Plus it just looks pimp. And in a society like Japan, where there is a constant need to entertain people, this idea just seemed amazing to me. 

When we opened Saxon + Parole, we wanted to offer something similar, yet different. But what? Bottled Cocktails. Boom! Up until then, I’d never seen this before, not to say it didn’t exist but we were certainly one of, if not the first to offer something like this. And the reasoning behind it was no different than those bars in Japan, although I suspected the media (as well as our guests, new and regular) here would be all over it in a big way.

We have a massive glass display cabinet that stands tall partly behind the bar at Saxon + Parole and it’s the first thing you see when you walk in. It’s domineering, it’s illuminated, it’s impressive. If anything, it always gets people curious as to what the hell is actually inside. Each bottle is 16 oz. that is filled with a new cocktail on the first of every month. Every active member receives the same cocktail that either I choose personally from our mammoth rolodex or I work with that month’s sponsor to create something bespoke. In theory, the whole experience is bespoke. 

Each bottle has a small tag with a short blurb about the cocktail and its history or etymology and then another tag with the exact recipe, so members can make the drink at home, should they so desire. In a nice added touch, each member receives a small gift box tied with a bow with a mini 2 oz. bottle of the cocktail, so they can make one at home at their leisure.

One example of such a blurb – from last September’s cabinet (sponsored by Chivas Regal) – might read something like this:

“Scotch whisky in September? Huh? Believe it people. Whiskies needn’t be stereotyped as something you can only enjoy in the depths of Winter. Especially not one as regal as, um, Chivas Regal with its subtle notes of spice and bright orange. With the mercury still sky high, this elegant libation – created by our ‘Cocktail Guy’ Naren Young and named by Chivas’ Global Brand Ambassador Max Warner – is about as smooth a combination that you might ever put to your lips. Some might say it’s dead on. Others might just say it’s ‘Point Blank delicious.’ Either way, drink up, life is good!”

We write the person’s name or name of their choosing on the front of the bottle and whenever they come in, they identify themselves (if we don’t recognize them already; we usually do since they’re now regulars, remember?) and we simply make a cocktail for them from their bottle. We usually do a smaller pour (about 2 oz.) and the drink is always a boozy stirred cocktail. One upside is that when we’re really busy (and we usually are), this is a super quick way to expedite a cocktail because, voila, it’s already been made. We just need to chill it down and it’s ready to roll. Add a twist of something if the mood strikes. 

Each month costs $75, which yields about eight cocktails. Quite the bargain I think. This program was never intended to be a big money spinner for us. It is a loyalty program that encourages people to return consistently, perhaps see some of the many other wonderful and unique things we’re doing on the bar, maybe swing by for a plate of oysters or a seafood tower, some late night dessert, or a quick tipple before moving through to our little gin den next door: Madam Geneva. 

Not only do they also make an amazing and very unique gift for someone but anyone can have access to their bottle if they simply call ahead and let us know they’re coming down. For example, the lovely Rachel Ford (aka ‘Lady Tanqueray’ as it says on her bottle) might have a visitor in from out of town (or she’ll come in with hubby ‘Monsieur Cointreau’). If she can’t host someone personally at the bar, we can make a drink for them on her behalf from her bottle. It’s a nice simple touch and again, it looks pretty pimp.

Rarely have I seen an initiative that works across so many levels and benefits all parties involved. Our customers dig it because they feel part of a (very semi) exclusive club, plus they’re getting expertly made drinks at a heavily discounted price. And they look awesome to their friends and colleagues, which in New York, is apparently important to some people. On top of that they get priority reservations and usually get sent small bites of ‘love’ from the kitchen. Oh, and that free mini bottle too!

We obviously love it as a venue because we continually attract a new client base, while getting to know our growing regulars on a much better level. Obviously the amount of press and attention we get from this program doesn’t hurt either and many bottles are often ‘gifted’ to many of the top bars, bartenders, beverage directors, liquor legends and drinks writers around town, so we also have a steady stream of industry peeps propping up our bar, which should make any self respecting bar keep happy, no matter the location or reason for their visit.

And finally the sponsors love it because they get their brand in front of a new demographic, one that already obviously loves drinking spirits and cocktails but perhaps isn’t so familiar with their brand or had it mixed in such a unique way. Win. Win.Win. 

POINT BLANK

Stir with love & patience

Strain into a frozen cocktail glass

Break a lemon twist over the top and garnish with ‘baby’s breath’

Smile!



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