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Come Fly With Me -- The Aviation

"Come Fly With Me" is one of my favorite Frank Sinatra songs. The Aviation cocktail took flight (pun intended) around the time the late Chairman of the Board was born. In 1916 Hugo Ensslin published a cocktail recipe book that included the Aviation.  Just as wind currents and shear can affect an aircraft in flight, the history of the Aviation has been a bit turbulent. Many thanks to our friend Alexandra Barstalker, who we met at Bryant & Mack during Tales on Tour in Edinburgh, and her Aviation Project for inspiring me to try to make this pre-Prohibition classic.

Aviation1.75 ounces dry gin
.5 ounces Luxardo maraschino liqueur
.5 ounces crème de violette
Juice from 1/4 lemon

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake as if you could use some exotic booze and know there's a bar in far Bombay (now Mumbai; listen to the song), and strain into a chilled glass.  Luxardo cherry garnish optional.

So what is crème de violette? It's what gives the Aviation its pale purple color, and it's what distinguishes the original Ensslin recipe from later recipes. You can get it online if you can't find it at your local liquor store. Crème de violette is a 40 proof liqueur that's floral and vaguely sweet. Without it the Aviation basically becomes a gin sour, which is fine but doesn't evoke the old school glamour of flight and air travel.

Aviation 2When Ensslin wrote about the Aviation human flight was a pretty new technology, and when Sinatra sang about air travel it wasn't nearly as widespread as it is today. As with the Frank Sinatra cocktail, I doubt he would have had a drink that looked like the Aviation.

Many modern versions of the Aviation have a little more gin and a little less crème de violette. To me those versions result in a drink with unnecessarily heavy juniper and citrus flavors. My version incorporates those flavors and introduces a subtle hint of sweetness.

Does the Aviation intrigue you?  Then come fly with me, let's fly, let's fly away.


Polite And Powerful -- The Danish Road Rage

Denmark has aggressive drivers?  Not really. During our time wandering around Copenhagen, Ms. Cocktail Den and I learned bicycles are the preferred mode of transportation.  The name of the Danish Road Rage comes from an offhand joke our walking tour guide made as we explored the city. The "incident" occurred when one bicycle rider rang their bell at another rider. Twice. The inspiration for the cocktail comes from an off menu item from Richard at the great 1105 bar in Copenhagen (he's from Scotland; this is yet another example of the transnational nature of cocktail culture).

Danish Road Rage3 ounces aquavit (preferably from Denmark)
.5 ounces dry vermouth
2 dashes lavender or orange bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the graceful rhythm of navigating Copenhagen's bicycle lanes, and strain into a chilled glass.

The Danish Road Rage essentially is a martini using aquavit instead of vodka or gin. If James Bond worked for PET (the Danish intelligence agency) instead of MI6, he would drink this. I suggest using a clear aquavit such as Taffel or Jubilauems (I used the former in the picture, Richard used the latter when he made a drink for me) from Aalborg. Make sure whatever vermouth you use is reasonably fresh. As for the bitters, lavender is tough to find, but using it will make a spectacular Danish Road Rage. If you're willing to go online, I suggest ordering lavender bitters from Embitterment, which also makes excellent orange bitters.

Regardless of whether or not you have to deal with traffic stupidity, the Danish Road Rage is the cure.


Fruit With Wildfire -- The Intense Spiced Pear Martini

Pear and ginger might sound like a weird combination.  Sometimes weird is good.  In the case of the Intense Spiced Pear Martini, it's really good. Why is it intense?  Because I used Barrow's Intense ginger liqueur (full disclosure -- Ms. Cocktail Den and I are small investors).  This original creation is an adaptation of a drink on the menu at a McCormick & Schmick's restaurant.

2 ounces pear vodka (I used Wild Roots) Intense Spiced Pear Martini 1
1 ounce Barrow's Intense ginger liqueur
Juice from 1/8 lime
1 dash cinnamon
1 dash nutmeg

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with fiery emphasis, and strain into a chilled glass. Candied ginger and/or nutmeg garnish optional.

There aren't many pear vodkas on the market.  If you can get your hands on Wild Roots, do it. We tasted its vodkas at the recent Tales of the Cocktail conference, and the people there generously provided us with some free bottles for cocktail experiments. Grey Goose also makes a good pear vodka, but Wild Roots has a more pronounced pear flavor. I tested two versions, one with Wild Roots and one with Grey Goose.  In our view the one with Wild Roots was the clear winner.

Barrow's Intense is in liquor stores in most states.  If it's not yet in your local store, you can get it online. Without Barrow's Intense, the drink just won't be the same. If you don't have pear vodka on hand, you can use Barrow's Intense to make something similar, such as an Intense Ginger Lime Martini.

This cocktail is spiced but not spicy. I thought the drink upon which it is based was unnecessarily complicated. That one had seven ingredients.  In comparison, the Intense Spiced Pear Martini has five and is far superior. If it's a little too spicy for you, add a little St. Germain elderflower liqueur (used in drinks such as the Flower of Normandy), orgeat syrup, or super simple syrup.

Do you want to be a little wild? A little spicy?  A little intense?  Then answer the call from the Intense Spiced Pear Martini.


Tales Of Evolution

You say you want an evolution? Well, you know. We all want to change the cocktail world. That's not exactly what the Beatles sang in 1968, but a similar sentiment from John, Paul, Ringo, and George could apply to the Tales of the Cocktail 2018 conference Ms. Cocktail Den and I recently attended. After some public turbulence and a change in ownership, there was curiosity in the cocktail community about what would happen. For those who never have been to Tales, for those who've been in the past, and for those who were with us thus year, here's our take on the evolution of Tales.

TalesoftheCocktailFairmontBut first, let me give you some personal background. In a way, Ms. Cocktail Den and I went to Tales before Tales. Many, many years ago we participated in a great Southern Comfort sponsored cocktail walking tour of New Orleans (among other places, it stopped at Antoine's, our favorite restaurant in the city and the source of the Antoine's Smile). Tours such as that and like minded industry professionals and cocktail enthusiasts eventually formed the base of Tales of the Cocktail.

New Orleans is a city that's big on tradition, so let's start with traditions that carried over from the old Tales to the revamped Tales.  First and foremost, the friendliness (pardon the alliteration).  One of the many wonders of Tales is we get to see friends we've made at previous Tales in New Orleans, e.g. Josh Morton and Danielle Hengge, friends from Tales on Tour, e.g. Michele Colomb and Erik Puryear, and new friends, e.g. Nicole Torres-Cooke, who we'd been following online for awhile. You never know who you might meet. For example, we went to a Disaronno event featuring Simon Difford, the founder of Difford's Guide. I use this website a lot when researching cocktails, and it's a great resource. We went to introduce ourselves to Simon, and what we figured at most would be a 60 second introduction turned into a fascinating 30 minute private conversation.

This ties into the second carryover from the old Tales -- the knowledge sharing. Simon gave us his insightful input about how we could continue to pursue our cocktail passion. Ms. Cocktail Den and I have learned a lot of from people over the years at Tales, and this year was no exception. Whether it was new spirits, new recipes, or new techniques, there's a lot you can takeaway so you and your cocktails can evolve.

There were two big differences between the old and new Tales, one physical and one psychological. The physical one is there were noticeably fewer people in attendance. That wasn't a surprise, as I suspect a lot of people stayed on the sidelines.  From my perspective the smaller turnout was a good thing. Maybe it's because I generally don't like large crowds, but this year Tales felt less overwhelming and chaotic than in years past.  At previous Tales there seemed to be a collective frenzy based on FOMO (fear of missing out; I'm not hip enough to use the acronym, but I don't care), which led to clusters of people running around the Quarter and the city without stopping to savor the moment. It was sort of a cocktail version of people who jostle to get a photo, and they end up looking without seeing (there is a huge difference between the two).

A perfect example of a non-manic event was the cell phone free Spirited Dinner we attended. Hosted by Jonathan Pogash and Pamela Wiznitzer, the event focused on conversations and connections without the distraction of modern technology. Ms. Cocktail Den and I were pleased to see this Tales did not have episodes of that collective mania. Neither of us cared for what appeared to be a deliberately and overly packed schedule on one or two days, but like everyone else we adjusted and had fun anyway.

TalesoftheCocktail2018WGSPartyThe psychological difference was that this year's conference seemed to have an increased emphasis on topics other than the spirits and drinks themselves. This aligns with what we've seen and heard since the change in ownership and to become a foundation. In fact, the most pronounced example of a non-booze emphasis was the William Grant & Sons party, which was alcohol free.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Personally I enjoyed the venue (Mardi Gras World) more than the actual party (which Ms. Cocktail Den really enjoyed), but I applaud William Grant & Sons for its bold move.  Don't get me wrong, the spirits definitely were still at Tales in full force. We did plenty of sampling and learning.

Our coverage this year focused on the tasting rooms and private events. Of course, there were plenty of seminars at the conference. In addition to traditional seminars focusing on spirits and history, many of this year's seminars focused on being better, whether as an industry professional, home bartender, or cocktail enthusiast. They included useful, practical topics such as the Beyond the Bar program (helping industry professionals take better care of themselves) and the Green Dot program (de-escalating difficult situations). Creating and serving cocktails can be tougher than you think, and if seminars like these help people evolve both personally and professionally, we're all for it.

Want to see more of our Tales of the Cocktail experience? Check out our Facebook page for our photos:

So what's in store for next year?  We'll find out together.  In the mean time, keep on cocktailing!


Lively, Strong, And Pink -- The Scandinavian Suntan

Scandinavian Suntan 1After spending a few days in Copenhagen, Oslo, and Stockholm, I got a pleasant surprise -- a suntan.  Ok, I really turned more of a darker shade of pale, but for me that's a suntan. Just as the unusually sunny weather in those cities gave my skin a pinkish color, trying aquavit in its native countries gave my taste buds some fun.  The Scandinavian Suntan evokes memories of the fun Ms. Cocktail Den and I had during our journey. It is inspired by a drink I had at Ruby bar in Copenhagen.

1.5 ounces aquavit
1 ounce Campari
.5 ounces super simple syrup
Juice from 1/8 grapefruit

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the joy of a Scandinavian who's able to experience almost constant daylight during the summer, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Orange peel garnish optional.

Nyhaven district in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Nyhavn district in Copenhagen, Denmark.

 As aquavit is a quintessential Scandinavian spirit, it had to be the base of this drink. It literally means the "water of life," and the Scandinavian Suntan is a lively cocktail.  If you want a true pink color that resembles my idea of a suntan, use clear aquavit; I used Aalborg Taffel in the pictured drink.  Campari, a widely available Italian amaro, isn't from Scandinavia, but its sharp citrus flavors complement the aquavit nicely. While in Copenhagen I noticed the Danes seem to love all things Italian, so it actually makes sense to use Campari in the drink.

The combination of aquavit and Campari makes the Scandinavian Suntan undeniably pink, and the fresh grapefruit juice enhances the color and flavor. Don't let the color fool you.  The Scandinavian Suntan is a pretty strong drink, but the super simple syrup keeps it from knocking you into the Baltic Sea (metaphorically speaking, I swear).

So who's up for some liquid fun from the Scandinavian sun?


My Long Lost Scottish Family -- Kin

Kin 3Even though I don't actually have any Scottish blood in my family, I feel like I do after going to Kin in Edinburgh.  Ms. Cocktail Den and I went to Kin twice during Tales on Tour. The bar's motto (arrive as friends -- leave as family) is very appropriate. Jody Buchan and Sam Baxendale really do make you feel like kin at this easy to miss but definitely want to visit bar.  

Our first time at Kin was on an off night, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves and were able to have a great conversation with Sam and Jody. These guys know they're doing. Regardless of your level of cocktail knowledge, they will make you feel right at home.

Kin 2What the cocktail menu lacks in breadth, it more than makes up for in unusual (in a good way) creativity and great tasting drinks. Also, Jody and Sam are more than happy to go off menu. I put my liver in their hands, and they rewarded my trust.  Jody made something for me that tasted like a joyful marriage of amari. That was followed by tastes of some fine 20 year old Plantation rum and Smokey Monkey Scotch from Monkey Shoulder.

The next time we went to Kin was for a Tales on Tour takeover event.  It was an odd juxtaposition -- New Orleans blues music and Southern Comfort based drinks in a basement bar in Edinburgh. While we had fun, I preferred the relaxed atmosphere and camaraderie of our first time there. Kin is quite small, so it doesn't take a lot of people and a high volume of music to come perilously close to overwhelming the place. Perhaps it's my preference for meeting and speaking with bartenders, but I'm really glad we went to Kin when it was calmer.

Sometimes you want to avoid family. Kin is family you'll like.


Scottish Bears And Owls -- Panda & Sons and Hoot The Redeemer

Wildlife in the heart of Edinburgh? No if you're looking for actual animals, but a resounding yes if you're looking for fun cocktail bars. We went to Panda & Sons and Hoot The Reedemer (I'm going to call them Panda and Hoot because I'm too lazy to keep typing their full names) during Tales on Tour.  Panda and Hoot are the creations of Iain McPherson, who we briefly met at Hoot and heard present about Ballin' On A Budget.

Panda & Sons 3The big difference between Panda and Hoot is the atmosphere. Panda is a speakeasy with a theme combining barbers and panda bears (I know it seems weird, but it works). I thought the vibe at Panda is lively and mature without being boring. Somewhere I read a description of Hoot being the "cheekier younger cousin" of Panda, and description is spot on. Imagine if a good dive bar and a mid 20th century carnival had a baby ...

So what are the similarities? As I told Iain, he has very good people at Panda and Hoot. For example, at Panda Ms. Cocktail Den and I had a great time hanging out with bartenders Jonah (from Australia) and Zee (from the Czech Republic).

The drink menus at both bars are approachable, creative, and unpretentious.  The drinks are quite good; I really enjoyed the Long Island Eclipse (pictured) at Panda, and Ms. Cocktail Den really enjoyed the slushie version of the Queen Street at Hoot. It's easy to see why the bars have garnered a lot of acclaim. Both Panda and Hoot are located in fairy small basements. It doesn't take a lot of people to fill up the joints. You won't have a problem if you don't like enclosed spaces, and even if you do, isn't a cocktail a temporary cure for claustrophobia? 

Want to have your own cocktail Nature Channel show in Edinburgh?  Now you know where to go.


Solving The Cocktail Case In Edinburgh -- Bryant & Mack Private Detectives

Bryant & Mack 1Here's a mystery -- where in Edinburgh can you find a top notch bar that's also fun and unpretentious?  This one is easy to solve.  Simply go to Bryant & Mack Private Detectives.  Ms. Cocktail Den and I did when we attended Tales on Tour earlier this year. 

Behind a humble exterior lies a small, dark bar with great drinks and great people. To me the interior evokes the intimate atmosphere of somewhere Humphrey Bogart, who played private detectives in classic films such as The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon, might have a drink or two as he contemplated his next move. Neither Bogart nor films like those were the inspiration for the bar's theme.  The inspiration was the deceptively effective television detective Columbo, played by Peter Falk.

Bryant & Mack 2Bryant & Mack Private Detectives is the brainchild of Ross Bryant and Jason Cormack. We happened to have a great conversation with Jason our first time there; we also met Alexandra Barstalker, a kindred cocktail spirit.  We briefly met Ross on a different night during a memorable Tales on Tour event with Buffalo Trace and Fratelli Branca (premium bourbon and vintage Fernet Branca at low prices ... need I say more?). While they are both very proud of what they have accomplished (and they should be), they are very modest.

The drinks are flavorful, creative, and well executed. Ms. Cocktail Den really liked the On Green Acres, and I particularly enjoyed the Perla Nera and the Bijou. Something else I enjoyed is the no standing policy.  If you're not sitting at the bar (something we always prefer) or one of the tables, you're not having a drink. It's a counterintuitively brilliant move.  Even though the policy sacrifices potential revenue for the bar, it enhances the customer's experience because it won't get crowded.  Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade would approve.

So here's a new mystery -- when are you going to Bryant & Mack Private Detectives?


Tales Of Ballin' (And Branding) On A Budget

Are you rich beyond your wildest dreams?  Having many Millionaires doesn't count.  If you're like me and most people, you have to do what you can with a limited budget. This was the focus of a seminar titled "Ballin' On A Budget" that Ms. Cocktail Den and I attended at Tales on Tour in Edinburgh. Led by Iain McPherson, the man behind the bars for Scottish Bears and Owls, the panel included Sullivan Doh, Mia Johansson, Vasilis Kyritsis and Boudewijn Mesritz, all of whom are successful bar owners in Europe.

Balling on a BudgetLike the seminar that was the focus of Tales of Grain and Suggestion, the panelists covered a number of topics geared towards people in the bar industry (I never have been in it).  However, one topic resonated with me because of its broad applicability. McPherson spoke about the importance of branding.  His advice -- your branding should consist of two understandable sentences.  Think of it as a corporate elevator pitch. The branding doesn't have to be fancy or high tech (either of which can bust your budget).  What counts is being clear and concise.  Interviewers generally know within the first 30 seconds of an interview whether or not they like the person they're interviewing.  The same goes for businesses, whether they are bars or not, trying to attract customers.

Want an example?  Here's one -- the Wulf Cocktail Den has fun and inspires people through the world of tasty libations. If you want to enhance your cocktail experiences, you're at home in the Den. Cheers!


Na Zdrovye New York -- The Russian Vodka Room

Russian Vodka RoomGot vodka? The Russian Vodka Room does. A lot of it.  The Russian Vodka Room is a great and relatively inexpensive bar in the theater district of New York City.  Ms. Cocktail Den and I discovered it almost 20 years ago, and we go there every time we travel to New York. 

As the name suggests, vodka is the main focus at the Russian Vodka Room. It carries an impressive selection of "little water" (what vodka literally means).  The real showstoppers are the house infused vodkas. The flavors are different than you what might see at other bars.  My personal favorites include the garlic, pepper and dill, apple and pomegranate, and ginger. If you want to put some hair on your chest (metaphorically speaking), have the horseradish.  The food is quite good, too. I can embrace my Russian and Baltic ancestry by pairing vodka with herring (I think this combination is awesome, Ms. Cocktail Den thinks it's disgusting).

Vodka infusions in all their liquid glory.
Vodka infusions in all their liquid glory.

At any top notch bar the people are just as important, if not more, than what it serves.  The Russian Vodka Room is no exception.  We've always had great service from the bartenders (thank you Bo) and your fellow drinkers are sometimes very interesting.  For example, the last time Ms. Wulf Cocktail Den and I were there we had a great conversation with Dale Badway, a Tony award winning Broadway producer.  Speaking of people, another good thing about the Russian Vodka Room -- some native Russian speakers hang out there.

Whether or not you're like me and have some Russian blood in you (or blood from somewhere that used to be part of the Soviet Union), the Russian Vodka Room is a great place to have a drink or three. You'll be saying na zdrovye (the Russian equivalent of "cheers") in no time.