Objects of Desire

by Naren Young

crave
verb
1. to feel a powerful desire for (something)

I once worked for a chef who taught me a very valuable lesson that I have since used in many of the bars that I’ve run to this very day. He had two dishes on his menu that people would swoon over: a whipped ricotta cheese dip and some rather phenomenal meatball sliders. In New York food circles they’ve gone on to become two iconic dishes. I was always fascinated by their popularity and astounded that they ended up in almost every single diner’s mouth, whether at the bar or in the restaurant.

I asked him about this one day and he said that every great restaurant (and bar) should have 1-2 things on the menu that every single diner must try; something that they literally crave all week. Since then, I’ve always tried to have 1-2 such drinks on every menu. How many times have you been asked by a new guest: “What do I have to try at this joint? What are you known for?” 

Now you may think that your new sous vide Vieux Carre variation, infused with tonka beans and stirred with vintage Chartreuse and sprayed with a house made tobacco bitters is that kind of drink. It isn’t. The plain truth is that most people that walk into your bar couldn’t give a toss what Chartreuse is or its inherent “herbal notes.” No one cares that you love Fernet and have its logo tattooed on your arm. 

You know what people want? They want drinks that are delicious. Sometimes, they don’t want to think about what they’re drinking. And that’s ok. Everything you serve doesn’t need to be so contemplative. One of my great friends and mentors in my life, Ryan Magarian (who runs the amazing Oven & Shaker in Portland), once asked me: “Where did all the delicious drinks go? When did people stop describing drinks simply as ‘delicious’”? Which got me thinking. He was right.

Since when did a delicious well-made Mojito become a cocktail that bartenders despise? Why did the humble Tom Collins become chastised? Is there any shame in making someone a classic Daiquiri? As the cocktail does indeed evolve and competition stiffens with every passing minute, bartenders are seeking out the weird and obscure to set themselves apart from other bars. And that’s great. Competition is healthy.

But at what cost? Making our guests feel stupid because all they want is a Moscow Mule, or heaven forbid a vodka & soda! My point is, each bar (and by extension, its menu) needs to find a balance between the weird and wacky that your geeky bartender friends will enjoy and those drinks we call ‘crowd pleasers;’ drinks that literally anyone will enjoy, no matter what they usually drink or how old they are, man or woman, it doesn’t matter. Such drinks transcend all this. 

Which gets me back to my original point. What are those ‘delicious’ drinks that your guests crave? Do you have a cocktail that is in the hands of every second or third person in your bar? How do you create such a drink, one that people dream about all week? Do you have a cocktail that is so damn tasty that all your guests can think about is how quickly they can get to your bar when they walk out of their office on a Friday night? Such a drink needs to be fast to make, have a high profit margin and ideally be spectacular to look at. But most importantly, it should have a flavor profile (and an ABV) that allows people to sit there and drink 3, 4, 5 of them. That is also smart business.

A case in point was our Celery Gimlet at Saxon + Parole. The drink became a sensation with our guests. People would tell me that they had indeed been thinking about that first sip all week and that’s pretty damn cool. When I kept hearing that, I knew we were onto something. Having a core group of drinks that never changes can be a very good thing for a business as it creates a regular clientele. Our Celery Gimlet became our version of that whipped ricotta cheese. 

Another such drink was our Moscow Mule. That drink might sound rather rudimentary for those ‘mixologists’ reading this, but it’s a drink I was proud to stand behind. We made our own ginger beer (the best I’ve ever tried, thanks to a recipe from Linden Pride), used fresh lime and served it in a traditional copper Mule cup. Of course, we weren’t doing anything cutting edge here, as we certainly weren’t the first bar to make their own ginger beer or serve this iconic drink in its signature vessel. 

But it became a metaphor for our venue: that each drink was thoughtful and was more than the some of its (often simple) parts. Again, people came to Saxon + Parole just because they craved this delicious cocktail. We balanced the list with some other geeky or innovative cocktails, but these were our bread and butter. They were just delicious. 

So next time you’re compiling a cocktail menu (or have a read over your current list), ask yourself: “Are there any drinks on there that people literally crave? What is something that everyone should try and also represents what it is we’re trying to do here?” It’s not always easy and might not work for every venue, but all I can say is, it’s worked for me.

Here is a list of five drinks that all fit into this philosophy; drinks that are just plain tasty and you can safely put in the hands of anyone. Even if someone is, say, an ardent bourbon lover, and they wouldn’t drink one of these, then that’s ok. But most human beings with even a simple palate know when something is simply delicious. And that’s something we can all cheers to.

CELERY GIMLET

  • 1.5 oz. Spring 44 gin
  • ¼ oz. Green Chartreuse
  • ¼ oz. St Germain
  • ¾ oz. lime juice
  • ½ oz. lime syrup
  • ½ oz. fresh celery juice
  • Pinch of citrus salt
  • 5 dashes of verjus
  • 3 dashes of The Bitter Truth celery bitters

METHOD: Shake and strain on fresh ice

GLASS: Rocks

GARNISH: Celery stick & a lime wheel

MITCH MARTINI

  • 1.5 oz. Zubrowka vodka
  • ¾ oz. peach liqueur
  • ¾ oz. passionfruit puree
  • 1 oz. fresh red apple juice

METHOD: Shake and double strain

GLASS: Coupe

GARNISH: Floating passionfruit half

 

MOSCOW MULE

METHOD: Build over ice

Top with house made ginger beer

GLASS: Copper Mule Cup

GARNISH: Lime wheel & candied Ginger

 

INTRO TO APEROL

METHOD: Shake and double strain

GLASS: Large Coupe

GARNISH: Flamed orange twist

 

MAI TAI

  • 2 oz. dark rum
  • ¾ oz. orange curacao
  • ¾ oz. lime juice
  • ½ oz. orgeat syrup

METHOD: Shake and strain on crushed ice

GLASS: Rocks

GARNISH: Mint sprig 

 
@ForkandShaker


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