Cachaça: Primed For Mainstream?

In Conversation with Avuá Co-Founder
Nate Whitehouse

Article by Virginia Miller

Avuá Cachaça (pronounced ahv-wah kah-SHAH-sah) is spreading the cachaça gospel. Founders Nate Whitehouse, Pete Nevenglosky, and Mark Christou are key voices raising awareness of the complexities and range of Brazil’s beloved sugarcane spirit, best known as the base for the Caipirinha cocktail. Though it surged in popularity a few years back with major brands, the category never quite took deep root in US bars as a wide diversity of brands did not make it to the US.

Cachaça is primed for far greater exposure as Brazil hosts the 2014 FIFA World Cup this summer and the 2016 Summer Olympics, where the nation’s favorite drink will surely be consumed in copious amounts. Though the spirit has long been lumped in with rum, despite being considerably different, recently gaining its own official classification/category won’t immediately help bring it to the forefront of spirit drinkers’ minds. Education and greater access to the range of cachaça out there is still greatly needed.
(Photo credit: www.avuacachaca.com)

(Photo credit: www.avuacachaca.com)

I first tasted Avuá (the Portuguese word voar, meaning “to fly”) back at Tales of the Cocktail last summer, both the clean, fruit and floral notes of Prata (aged 12 months before bottling), and the 24-month aged Amburana, named after the wood it’s aged in, exhibiting savory vegetal notes alongside the soft caramel of the wood. I was immediately impressed by Avuá’s quality and complexity above other brands I’d previously tasted. Made from single-sourced cachaça, Distiller Katia Espírito Santo is one of few Brazilian female distillers who also grows all sugarcane used to make Avuá on her family farm, Fazenda da Quinta, in Carmo, roughly four hours north of Rio de Janeiro.

Talking cachaça, I recall pisco a few years ago. The Peruvian and Chilean grape-based spirit has long had a close connection with San Francisco where there have have been bars dedicated predominantly to pisco for years, even when most of the US didn’t know much about it. Pisco really didn’t place on the national cocktail consciousness until recent years when brands like Encanto upped the profile and quality of pisco and bar managers began to feature it more. In my visit to Peru last year making pisco in Ica and visiting cocktail bars around Lima, I was amazed at the diversity of ingredients mixed with pisco in cocktail menus often 50-deep, far beyond how it has been used in the US. Though the spirit has gained much more attention in recent years, there’s still unexplored worlds of its possibilities best represented in its home countries. I see similarities with cachaça.
In a recent conversation with co-founder Nate Whitehouse, I immediately caught his passion for Brazil and cachaça. There’s a growing US community of cachaça producers, importers and aficionados who are uniting to educate and share in a greater way than ever before. Whitehouse is working with cachaça expert Felipe Jannuzzi, who runs the extensive site, Mapa da Cachaca, to translate it article-by-article into English (English site here; more on Facebook).
(Photo source: https://www.facebook.com/mapadacachaca)

(Photo source: facebook.com/mapadacachaca)

Whitehouse compares the rise he hopes to see in the cachaça category to the way mezcal has captured the national cocktail scene. His hope is that as knowledge of the sugarcane spirit deepens, it will face a similar widespread growth. He talks of over 4000 registered cachaça producers in Brazil, but that actual estimates range from 7000 to more than 30,000 producers. With over 500 years of history, cachaça is one of the historic spirits of the world. It can be young, clean and cocktail-friendly or aged in a wide range of woods, resulting in elegant, sipping cachacas. Whitehouse describes these cachacas as embodying, “… a richness we’re not familiar with because of many of them have not come into the US market.”

Similarly, Brazilian bartenders mix cachaça with a wide range of fruits from the Amazon, punches are commonplace, and some infuse the spirit with Amazonian barks and other unusual ingredients. Alongside the revival of the dining scenes in Rio and Sao Paolo, the cocktail scene is thriving.

Inspiring views from Centro de Tecnologia in Cachaça in Brazil (photo source: Mapa da Cachaca https://www.facebook.com/mapadacachaca)

Inspiring views from Brazil’s Centro de Tecnologia in Cachaça (photo source: Mapa da Cachaca facebook.com/mapadacachaca)

The story of how lawyer-turned-entrepreneur Whitehouse fell in love with cachaça and Brazil is a good one, well told in 2012 in Gourmet. Whitehouse was inspired by famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, sharing with me Niemeyer’s most famous quote, a passage that inspires the ethos behind Avuá: “It’s not the right angle that attracts me, nor the straight line—stiff, inflexible, created by men. What really attracts me is the free, sensual curve. The curve I see on the sinuous course of our rivers, on the clouds in the sky, on your favorite woman’s body. The universe is entirely made of curves.”

While Avuá launched on the East Coast in NYC this fall and at a few choice spots here in San Francisco, its official rollout in California is right now: late February. In San Francisco, you can find it bars like Smuggler’s Cove, Lolinda, Absinthe, AQ, Wingtip, Local Edition, Laszlo, Penelope in Oakland, and more.

As I listen to bossa nova, which I’ve been crazy about since I was teen, while sipping Avuá cocktails I’ve made at home, I long for a visit to a few of Brazil’s many cachaça producers myself. Every time I get up close and personal with a spirit – particularly when I visit its home country and distilleries – I fall further in love with it and the people who make it. But until I get there, I’m grateful for people like Whitehouse and Jannuzzi who are working to share the best of what’s going on in Brazil here at home.
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Bay Area Bottled Brandy-Fruit Infusions

Article and Photos by Virginia Miller

San Francisco Bartender Bret Sylvester has done the somewhat impossible: created a line of fruit-infused brandies to please the spirits and non-spirits drinker alike. I recently tested out his sparkling line on visiting family and friends.

(photo source: drinkverbena.com)

(photo source: drinkverbena.com)

My wine drinking and even some generally teetotaling family members all loved Drink Verbena, while I and other spirits drinkers found the line complex as it was refreshing. Granted, we each had different favorite flavors but the universal appeal is the bubbly balance of these dry, bright infusions. With convenient Zork corks to reseal and maintain carbonation, Verbana comes in small 187 ml bottles ($7) or larger 375 ml ($14). At 13% ABV, it’s low alcohol, ideal to take out on picnics, usable in cocktails but each perfectly lovely on its own.

Playing off his years of experimenting with infusions at bars, Sylvester sources an unaged brandy as the base, then infuses with a range of ingredients, including fruits all sourced from Nor Cal farms, from Fresno to Sebastopol. In the case of the Meyer Lemon Infusion, for example, he works with lemon, lime, green cardamom, coriander seeds, lemongrass, juniper berries, allspice, black peppercorn, lemon zest, agave, gentian root, weaving all together into a seamless whole.

Impressively, Sylvester is a “one man show” since he launched in March 2013, making and bottling everything himself, currently just for the Bay Area. He continues to experiment with and test out a range of infusions. Of the few I’ve tried, my favorite is the dry tart of the Cherry Infusion, balanced by vinegar, pineapple, vanilla bean, lime, lemon zest and gentian root.

The bottles don’t need to be refrigerated, although being bubbly, they taste best chilled. Citrus-based infusions can keep up to 5 months, while some, like Pineapple Infusion, can last up to 10. One of my longtime favorite restaurants, Brenda’s, serves the Cherry and Meyer Lemon Infusions, as does Grub. In San Francisco, bottles are sold at Whole Foods, Liquid Experience, Noe Valley Wine Merchants, Swirl on Castro, and now also at SoMa StrEat Food Park, to name a few (more locations for purchase here).

I suspect expansion will be in Sylvester’s future as demand for Verbena continues to grow.

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Alchemy 3-Virginia Miller

Oakland’s New Spirits Shop Extraordinaire

Article & Photos by Virginia Miller

ALCHEMY BOTTLE SHOP, Oakland (3256 Grand Avenue, temporary number: 415-553-0803)

Alchemy's upstairs art gallery

Alchemy’s upstairs art gallery

Oakland will soon have a spirits shop to delight spirits and cocktail lovers. Alchemy Bottle Shop, from Tova Herman, formerly in the wine industry, and Peter Mustacich, who quit his Financial District day job (where he frequently spent breaks at Cask) to open their Grand Avenue spirits shop, is going to be the kind of store that’s heavy on amari and unusual, small-batch spirits, one with an art gallery upstairs featuring local artists, primed for tastings and events.

As they finish the build-out, opening date is still an estimate. They are hoping for March, and with a space as airy, elegant and welcoming as this one promises to be (not to mention the prime location on busy Grand Ave.), it looks like East Bay-ers will have another spirits shop destination along with Ledger’s Liquors in Berkeley.

After my “hard hat” visit to the under-construction shop, I chatted with Tova and Peter about Alchemy. It quickly became apparent that their love and knowledge of spirits ensured we not only had plenty to talk about, but that spirits lovers can expect good things while novices will benefit from their desire to share and educate:

Virginia: Can you tell us about a few unique spirits you’re particularly excited to be stocking at Alchemy?
Tova: There are SO MANY amazing spirits that we are super excited to be carrying, but here are a few of our favorites:
Breckenridge Bitters – An American take on Genepy, made in CO using local Alpine herbs
Firelit Coffee Liqueur – Made in CA, using beans from Blue Bottle and other local roasters. Unlike other coffee liqueurs we’ve tried, this one actually tastes like coffee! And delicious cold brew coffee at that.
OOLA Barrel Aged Gin – It is absolutely one of our favorites – partly because of their unique choice of botanicals (rose petal and black lemon!) and partly because of the amazing creaminess they get from barrel aging.
Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky – Made using a Coffey still, this is unlike other Japanese whisky because it’s a blend of grains rather than a single malt, but we love it for it’s balance and smooth, full-bodied texture.
Alchemy's elegant, white shelving

Alchemy’s elegant, white shelving

Virginia: What type of events, classes or tastings can people expect at Alchemy in your shop and art gallery?
Tova: We really want to focus on engaging our customers and teaching them about new products they might not be familiar with, so we’re hoping to bring in lots of producers who can actually talk about how their product is made and what goes into it. We also think that context is really important when it comes to spirits so rather than just tasting them straight, we really want to get into demonstrating how to mix our products into cocktails. We’re hoping once we get up and running to do a weekly series of interactive cocktails classes that people can sign up for in advance, in addition to our in-store tastings and art gallery openings.

Virginia: What will be different about Alchemy than other liquor/spirits stores?
Tova: I think the main difference we’re striving for is a higher level of interaction with our customers. There are many places that you can go if you’re simply looking to buy spirits, but for someone who is just getting into craft cocktails, or who wants to know more about some of the unique and obscure spirits we’re starting to see more of, it can be very overwhelming and intimidating. There is sometimes a certain attitude around spirits and mixology that can feel exclusive and we want to work as hard as we can to dispel that. Through our classes and tastings, we really want to engage our customers as much as possible and pass on our knowledge as well as the knowledge of all the distillers and other industry professionals that we know. We want to be a fun and accessible place that people come to learn and talk about spirits, as well as a place where you can pick up a number of great bottles.
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Perfection: Chris McMillian's Absinthe Suiessesse

Perfection: Chris McMillian’s Absinthe Suissesse

Best Cocktails in NEW ORLEANS 2013

Article & Photos by Virginia Miller

Ramos Gin Fizz

Ramos Gin Fizz

Back for Tales of the Cocktail in my beloved city of New Orleans, my last visit yielded these standout drinks at some new and some not-so-new spots (the latest on food and dining in Nola here).

KINGFISH, French Quarter

Wherever bartender Chris McMillian tends, I would go. As the consummate, lifelong bartender who showed me back in a 2008 visit to Nola what a true bartender is, I couldn’t miss drinks at his new home of Kingfish, conveniently located in the French Quarter.

Just try McMillian’s perfect Ramos Gin Fizz on a sultry Nola day. As he foams up egg white over the back of a spoon in a tall glass, served cool with absinthe, creme de menthe, orgeat, cream, you know you’re being served by one of the greats… and that the classics often pale made by the hands of others. Case in point: his Absinthe Suissesse is equally mesmerizing and thirst-quenching.

LOA, CBD (Central Business District)

Loa's enchanting Absinthe Suissesse

Loa’s Absinthe Suissesse

As I wrote about in 2012, Loa remains the truly inventive cocktail menu of New Orleans thanks to Bar Manager Alan Walter. Another two returns this years was no exception. The swank, mellow bar of the International House is the kind of place where New Orleans’ classics like an Absinthe Suissesse ($11) are given a unique turn using coconut milk instead of cream, mixed with Dolin Dry Vermouth and Kubler absinthe, topped with an anise pod.

Additional kudos for fascinating creations like Pearly Gates ($12), decadently mixing 20 year old Grappa Stravecchio, Rothman & Winter Orchard pear liqueur, a lush-bracing golden raisin-Pinot Grigio vinegar and sparkling lemon radler (traditional German lemon soda-beer concoction); or a bright watermelon reduction intermingling with my beloved Redbreast Irish whiskey, gorgeous Crispin Rose Liqueur and herbaceous Elisir M.P. Roux in a Drawing Room cocktail ($13).

BELLOCQ, CBD (Central Business District)


Bellocq’s genepy/creme de cacao/gin cocktail

Of all the newer-wave of cocktail bars in staunchly-classic-cocktail-driven New Orleans, Bellocq is possibly my favorite. In my estimation standing far above its sister bars, Cure and Cane & Table (see below).

As a cobbler-based bar, it doesn’t copy bars done better elsewhere in the country, sharing a distant kinship with the cobblers and juleps at London steakhouse Hawksmoor. Bellocq’s luxurious velvet couches and corners still call to me on a hot Nola night. The bartenders know their stuff, while the unique focus on icy cobblers, sometimes served in frosty silver mugs akin to a Julep cup, might be nutty with Maidera or herbaceous-sweet with yellow Chartreuse.

They also serve a range of cocktails outside the cobbler. This summer, I was smitten with a preview of a new drink soon to launch on their menu, a subtly complex blend of Genepy, Marie Brizard Creme de Cacao and Hayman’s Old Tom Gin.

COQUETTE, Irish Channel

Cocktails at Coquette

Cocktails at Coquette

One of my all-time favorite restaurants in Nola, Coquette is the “whole package”: heartwarming service, in a historic building, serving fine cocktails and fantastic, contemporary New Orleans cuisine (read more about the food here). Cocktails ($8-11) keep pace. I sampled four, all well made and gratifying without being complicated or fussy. They do lovely things with mezcal, while their St. James Sour is a beauty of Legendre Herbsaint, lemon, egg white and bitters perfected by root beer extract – a sort of root beer absinthe sour.

CANE & TABLE, French Quarter

Cane & Table

Cane & Table

Cane & Table just opened this summer within days of my trip to Nola. From the team behind Cure and Bellocq, it’s a restaurant and rum-heavy bar some have dubbed Tiki in theme. There’s nothing Tiki about C&T other than that they serve tropical drinks. The feel is more Colonial-era rum trading with a Caribbean-influenced food menu, which launched after I visited.

As with Cure, which, after multiple visits over the years, I’ve found overrated in the scheme of great US cocktail bars (though original for Nola when it debuted), Cane & Table’s drinks did not overwhelm. But given the right ingredients, it’s the Nola bar for an elevated rum focus. Improved Bombo ($10) is an example of the right mix: the subtle funk of Smith & Cross Navy Strength Rum, smooth Plantation 5 year rum, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, Bittermans Tiki Bitters and fresh nutmeg coalesce into a pleasing whole. The only-in-New-Orleans back patio seals the deal, even if I can’t help but recall rum bar greats like Smuggler’s Cove or La Descarga‘s back room when sipping a C&T cocktail.

21st AMENDMENT, French Quarter

21st Amendment

21st Amendment shows classic films over the bar

Though feeling more like a mediocre bar riding (late) on the speakeasy, Prohibition-era bar trend than actually truly knowing (much less perfecting) the genre, the one promising moment at newer 21st Amendment in the touristy depths of the Quarter was a drink called Anybody Wanna Peanut? Though sounding “iffy” as a mix of peanut-infused Maker’s Mark bourbon, honey syrup and Xcolate Mole Bitters, what made it fascinating was the peanut-y texture of the bourbon. Even though the drink wasn’t entirely balanced, it wins strong points for truly tasting of peanuts as other peanut-infused drinks often lack the flavor at all. They turned a tricky consistency into a rich, nutty sip worth perfecting – and creating more drinks from.


January 15, 2014

“There’s no time like now, there’s no time like this time.”
- Sam Phillips song, No Time Like Now on Push Any Button

Hearthfire glow ... the source of all cooking at TBD

Hearthfire glow … the source of all cooking at TBD

Amazing how swiftly January has already kicked into gear. This constant 70′s weather in SF is providing daily joys of sun, brilliant sunsets, beach walks, and welcome clarity.

Alongside fellow food writers, I recap the year in dining at Eater.com, and here are my Best of 2013 lists (local, national, international) on food and drink.

This issue:

Cocktail winners on the new Trick Dog menu

Cocktail beauties on the new Trick Dog menu

The LatestBest New SF Restaurant of 2013: Warmed by the hearthfire glow at TBD.
ImbiberTrick Dog’s New Menu: Spin the Zodiac wheel for another artful, themed menu at SF’s hottest bar opening of 2013.
ImbiberForeign Cinema’s New Bar Program: New manager and focus at beloved SF restaurant.
Wandering TravelerNYC Cocktails: 2013 highlights (and low points) from visits to over 20 NYC cocktail bars.

As your personal concierge who tells it like a good friend would, I also create personalized itineraries: trips, meals, explorations (under “Services“).


Spoonwiz Restaurant Reviews & Travel Articles
Liquor.com Contributor Page
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/theperfectspot

**Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Virginia Miller**

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Trick Dog's new zodiac sign menu

Trick Dog’s new zodiac sign menu


Photos and article by Virginia Miller

TRICK DOG, 3010 20th Street at Florida, 415-471-2999


Aquarius is vibrant & bracing for a vodka cocktail, using Absolut vodka, Combier Rose, with a hint of bitter from Aperol – but it’s the generous dose of lime that makes it

The Bon Vivants’ (Josh Harris, Scott Baird, Jason Henton) Trick Dog has been the hottest bar opening in San Francisco of 2013, and one of the big openings of the year anywhere in the cocktail world.

Though it certainly made my “best of” list of 2013, the constant stream of crowds make it a tough place to visit as often as I’d like. Thank God for the 3pm opening hour, particularly this week of January 8th, the day the team launched their new menu.

Trick Dog menus are an event not merely because there are new cocktails to taste, but because each menu is art concept and themed exploration in one. It started with their striking Pantone color wheel, fanning out featuring color-toned cocktails. Months later, they went on to an elaborate, big book of LP sleeves, each filled with a record listing a song-titled cocktail.

My favorite: Libra, lively, light, savory, brilliant with Tequila Ocho Plato Blanco, tangerine, dill, lime, egg white and a dusting of matcha green tea powder

My initial favorite: the lively, light, bright, savory Libra with Tequila Ocho Plato Blanco, tangerine, dill, lime, egg white and a dusting of matcha green tea powder

Coasters offer meet-up opportunities to exchange phone #s

Coasters offer cheeky meet-up opportunities

2014 ushers in a Zodiac wheel that when turned to one’s “sign”, uncovers drinks themed by sign, many with blessed savory components, covering a range of spirits.

One day in to the launch, I tasted through eight of the twelve “signs.” All worked: only a couple left me longing to taste more of the flavors listed, a couple surprised, and most delighted.

Via photos, here are highlights and observations on the 8 cocktails tasted…

Though I loved the boozy, smoky-clean Scotch hit (from Black Grouse & Ardbeg 10 yr) of the Cancer cocktail, what I really wished I could have tasted was the listed peanuts, sage and salted pineapple - they seemed lost on the palate even as the drink unfolded a bit as the giant ice cube slowly diluted... the peanuts seem to add more of a texture than a flavor as all is overwhelmed by peat

Though I loved the boozy, smoky-clean Scotch hit (from Black Grouse & Ardbeg 10 yr Scotches) of the Cancer cocktail, what I really wished I could have tasted were the peanuts, sage and salted pineapple – sounded like my dream cocktail but those elements seemed lost amid all the peat, even as the drink unfolds once a giant ice cube slowly dilutes… the peanuts add more of a texture than a flavor

A beaut: the vegetal, ultra-fresh carrot taste of the Taurus: Beefeater Gin, Dolin Blanc, carrot, miso and coriander served up

My second favorite cocktail: the vegetal, ultra-fresh carrot taste of the Taurus, mixing Beefeater Gin, Dolin Blanc, carrot, miso (brillaint!), coriander

Capricorn goes robust with a lush, bitter undercurrent from Cynar mixed with Fighting Cock bourbon, Dubbonet, Orange Curacao, cacao and rosemary

Capricorn goes robust with a lush, bitter undercurrent from Cynar mixed with Fighting Cock bourbon, Dubbonet, Orange Curacao, cacao, rosemary

Circling the entire wheel

Circling the entire wheel

The condensed milk with Leblon Cachaca texture of the Leo is a beaut, though the one flavor coming through is guava - as pleasant as that is (& as easy as this goes down), I wanted to taste more of the Stout Beer & Mandarine Napoleon Cognac undergirding the drink

The condensed milk texture of the Leblon Cachaca-based Leo is a beaut, though the one flavor coming through is guava – as lovely as that is (& oh-so-easy to drink), I hoped to taste more of the Stout Beer & Mandarine Napoleon Cognac

The Gemini is an ideal aperitif: two amari, Amaro Lucano & Amaro Montenegro, give structure, while Noilly Pratt dry vermouth & Cava add lightness & bubbles, sour orange & sesame the intrigue

The Gemini is an ideal aperitif: two amari – Amaro Lucano & Amaro Montenegro – give the drink structure & body, while Noilly Pratt dry vermouth & Cava add lightness & bubbles; it’s sour orange & sesame that add intrigue



Oh, Virgo: a little Tanqueray Malacca Gin structured with manzanilla sherry & kiwi soda

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Brunch favorite:

Frothy, invigorating brunch favorite, No New Tale to Tell: Spirit Works Sloe Gin, Perry’s Tot Navy Strength Gin, lemon, Angostura bitters, egg white, soda

Foreign Cinema’s New Bar Program

Article and photos by Virginia Miller

FOREIGN CINEMA, Mission (2534 Mission St. between 21st & 22nd Streets, 415-648-7600)

Kevin Dowell crafts a Painkiller # 3

Kevin Dowell makes a Painkiller # 3

Foreign Cinema will always hold a special place in my heart. Not only was it one of the hottest restaurants in town back in 2001 when I moved to San Francisco (as a lifelong film buff, I also love the theme and movies playing on the wall), but it was the site of my engagement dinner after The Renaissance Man proposed to me in 2003. The effuse service, celebratory cheer and the bubbly we received from the staff that night – all while ensconced at our corner, fireside table – made it unforgettable.

Through the years, brunch has been a favorite way to take in that magical courtyard while the food and wine list has stayed consistently strong. But cocktails have been more of the mainstream variety, not a strong feature of the restaurant… until now.

New Bar Manager Kevin Dowell (who is also crafting the cocktail menu at Outerlands expanding space, and formerly worked at Zero Zero, Wo Hing General Store, Rio Grande, to name a few) oversees the new bar program. Dowell also manages neighboring bar in the front of the restaurant off the long hallway entrance to Foreign Cinema (FC), Laszlo, an industry favorite and casual outpost for FC food.

Lady Grinning Soul: Reyka Vodka, La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry, lemon, Giffard Pamplemousse (grapefruit cordial), cucumber with subtle, dry sherry finish

A vodka winner, Lady Grinning Soul, with Reyka Vodka, and a clean, bright mix of lemon, Giffard Pamplemousse (grapefruit cordial), cucumber – its a solid dose of La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry that gives the drink its subtly-complex, dry sherry finish, but wouldn’t be obvious to the vodka-drinker


Tiki goodness in a Surfer Girl garnished with toasted coconut & banana chips: El Dorado 12 yr rum, Pierre Ferrand Cognac, lemon, soda, coconut, banana, honey, sea salt

While FC may be quite late to the game in terms of a cocktail emphasis, they jump in strong with Dowell’s expertise, offering balanced, well-crafted drinks that are definitely a real step up from what they were doing, but keeping their wide-ranging, longtime clientele in mind (i.e. this won’t be a boundary-pushing, cocktail hotspot, rather a reliable, relevant restaurant bar). All three new menus (FC dinner and brunch, plus Laszlo’s new menu) launched January 4. I had a preview a few days before, tasting through most of the menus. 

Laszlo is all about approachable classics like a Hanky Panky, Philadelphia Fish House Punch (El Dorado 12 year rum, Pierre Ferrand Cognac, lemon, peach) and a beauty of a Painkiller # 3 (three-rum blend, orange, pineapple, coconut, nutmeg) – plus one rotating Mission/Bernal neighborhood bartender recipe, currently John Ottman’s After the Gold Rush (Old Grand-Dad, lemon, apricot, pineapple gum) of Holy Water.

Foreign Cinema's newly built bar

Foreign Cinema’s back bar

Foreign Cinema’s dinner menu is divided into sections of four “Originals”, three “Classics” (currently a Sherry Cobbler, Casino, Saratoga), and three “Friends”, the latter category being cocktails by mentors and bartenders Dowell has worked for. The initial menu features cocktails by Joel Teitelbaum, Brooke Arthur, and Scott Baird in the “Friends” section, with drinks like Teitelbaum’s bright, bracing Vida Vida mixing Altos Blanco Tequila, Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, lime, Green Chartreuse, and agave.

Via photos and notes, I explore highlights from the new menus.

My top drink of the new creations? Stranglehold inspired by Trinidad Sour; Diplomatico Rum, Rittenhouse Rye, lime, orgeat, Angostura bitters (1/2 oz.), spiced, rust orange

My top drink? Dowell’s Stranglehold, inspired by a Trinidad Sour, with generous, spiced dose (1/2 oz.) of Angostura bitters, Diplomatico Rum, Rittenhouse Rye, lime, orgeat


At Laszlo, a 2011 recipe from Holy Water Bar Manager John Ottman: After the Gold Rush (Old Grand-Dad, lemon, apricot, pineapple gum syrup)


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The Dead Rabbit - cocktails in tea cups

The Dead Rabbit -  punch in teacups

COCKTAIL-ing in Manhattan

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Naren Young's cocktails at Saxon + Parole

Naren Young’s cocktails at Saxon

Back in my beloved New York, home of my teenage years. Until just a few years ago, it was the place I’d come home to for the holidays when my parents still lived in New Jersey.

Despite only a couple lovely days out of a ten-day visit in late May through early June (the rest were either pouring rain or sweltering hot and suffocating), my last research trip visiting friends and family, involved dozens of restaurants and cocktail bars, plays and treks through Eataly for espresso and rooftop beers.

Here’s a list of drink standouts – and the overrated – from this trip (highlights in food and dining here):

The Best

At the now-closed Beagle: series of twists on Old Fashioneds with changing bases from navy strength gin to Calvados with marriage/divorce-themed names like Remember the Alimony

At the now-closed Beagle: series of twists on Old Fashioneds with changing bases from navy strength gin to Calvados with marriage/divorce-themed names like Remember the Alimony

Two of my best bar experiences all year were in New York City at bars with now-changed circumstances: one is The Beagle, which sadly just closed, where Tom Richter churned out of some of the great understated drinks in all of NYC in a relaxed setting tinged with Old World elegance. Richter also happens to be a genius with the often forgettable category of beer cocktails, crafting winners like the Hop Over, mixing a hoppy IPA,  lemon, Bols Genever, orange flower water, and house Velvet Falernum, or Smog Cutter, combining mezcal, Negro Modelo, ginger, tonic and lime, garnished with a cucumber. I miss the Beagle.

Young's gorgeous cocktails at Saxon+Parole

Young’s gorgeous cocktails at Saxon+Parole

The second is Saxon + Parole under Naren Young. Young recently came on board at Empellon, no doubt even better under his watch. When he was in charge of the menu at Saxon (along with The Daily and other bars), each drink, like a Celery Gimlet, sounded straightforward. But Young’s cocktails are among the finest examples of nuance and balance that I have tasted anywhere. They exhibit complexity and robust flavor in plainclothes. As a master of balance, I’d drink at whichever bar Young is crafting cocktails.

AMOR Y AMARGO, East Village

Amor y Amargo

Amor y Amargo

Amor y Amargo is what I’d want out of an amaro bar. A beautifully bitter respite in the former Carteles sandwich shop that was once the entrance to neighboring bar Cienfuegos, the space is tiny, intimate, welcoming. With a broad selection of amari, bitters and bitter liqueurs, there’s a range of cocktail possibilities, and a wealth of”bitter knowledge from former chef, now Beverage Director at Amor, Sother Teague.


The Daily

The Daily

The Daily, managed by Naren Young when I last visited (who now runs the bar at Empellon, see below), is an urban respite with a straightforward, daily changing cocktail menu and welcoming, skilled bartenders. There’s one cocktail to choose in each category like bottled, up, “on the rock” and frothy. Start with the likes of a bag of house chili “cracker jack” and an Orchard Sidecar lush with Poire Williams (pear liqueur), Calvados, fresh apple and lemon.

THE DEAD RABBIT, Financial District

Dead Rabbit's glowing space

Dead Rabbit’s glowing space

The Dead Rabbit is as special as you’ve heard. Though the raves and accolades in this, its first year, have been excessive, there really is no bar like it, with a cocktail geek’s attention to detail and history. Reading through the book that is the cocktail menu is an event in itself – and how I wish for a copy on my bookshelf. Recipes from as far back as the 1600 and 1700′s come with stories, history and artwork, best perused over classic punches served in teacups.

The atmosphere of the intimate, upstairs bar is the second high point besides the menu: low ceilings, candelight and hurricane lamps, an upright piano played soothingly in the background by a local pianist, a bronzed eagle atop the bar and paintings of figures in colonial history lining the walls.

Dead Rabbit cocktails

Dead Rabbit cocktails

Cocktails can be uneven (like the candied medicine taste of a Kilrain mixing Rhum J.M., Rabarbaro Zucca, raspberry cordial, Dead Rabbit Orinoco bitters, rhubarb root tincture and mint, topped with berries), particularly given the extensive drink selection, but there are thoughtful high points like an Evening Daisy of nettle tea-infused Jameson Black Barrel Irish Whiskey, Chase elderflower liqueur, lime, fennel syrup, dashes of Pernod absinthe and cucumber soda. It’s both refreshing and nuanced.


Looking across Evelyn's bar into second room

Looking across Evelyn’s bar into second room

An East Village gem, Evelyn: A Drinkery is all about punches ($7 small – love this option; $11 large), phosphates charged with Co2 (same pricing), and egg creams ($9), both with and without booze. The two-room, candelit space invites lingering while bright, rosy concoctions like Neverland Ranch, a phosphate combining Bombay Sapphire gin, crème de cacao, house beet shrub, orange and lemon, go down all to easy.

Boozy egg creams

Boozy egg creams

In addition, there’s cocktails, “Twisted Classics”, long drinks ($12 each), and stirred and boozy cocktails ($14), making it one of the more playful, fun menus in Manhattan, exemplified in their “Drinking Language” terminology (e.g. “If the bartender doesn’t say ‘hello’, ‘hey’, ‘how’s it going’, or offer some sort of greeting, call him/her out on it.”)

Intriguing cocktails include Daisy Ferrigno (Oxley gin, Green Chartreuse, pineapple, jalapeno syrup, lime, cilantro, served up), Improved Hit By A Car Number 2 (Fidencio Classico Mezcal, Tequila Ocho Plata, Green Chartreuse, Aperol, chipotle agave, lime, grapefruit bitters, served up), and my favorite, the savory, vibrant Mo F*#King Way (El Jimador Blanco Tequila, Benedictine, chipotle agave, Memphis BBQ bitters, passion fruit, lemon, Perrier, cayenne).

PDT, East Village

PDT flips

PDT flips

In a few short years, PDT is legend in the cocktail world, thanks to Jim Meehan. But for those of us who spend every day in restaurants and bars around the world, fighting through people pushing into a phone booth in a hot dog shop, Crif Dogs, trying to get into this famed “speakeasy” is far more work than we have time for to get a drink. However, if you happen to find yourself in the intimate bar, as I did upon my first return visit in years, I’d encourage you to go off-menu and ask for a flip (meaning it includes a whole egg) or a beer cocktail. While menu cocktails didn’t quite enchant, those two categories did.


PDT cocktail using the yet-to-be-released-in-the-US Nardini Bitter liqueur

Head Bartender Jeff Bell crafted a beauty when I asked for something using house-infused Four Roses bourbon, smoky with Benton’s incomparable Tennessee ham, which I noticed on the menu in an Old Fashioned. Wittily named Nose to Cock-tail, he mixed the bourbon with lemon, orange, demerara syrup, and whole egg to decadent perfection. Ditto with a Black Flip using Brooklyn Brewery chocolate stout as a base with whole egg. Another beer cocktail highlight? Beer Cassis combining Ommegang Witte beer, the bitter-sweet of Byrrh Quinquina, and Caledonia elderberry cordial.


Sadly, my photos did not turn out from my visit to Pouring Ribbons but it is one of NYC’s great bar newcomers since fall 2012. Once you deal with yet another speakeasy-doorman scenario, head upstairs to a chill, roomy space where the cocktail menu is famously charted by taste profiles: refreshing to spirituous, comforting to adventurous.

PDT's friendly bar bear

PDT’s friendly bear

Cocktails please with approachable but not-too-simplistic combinations - like Gentleman’s Agreement ($14), mixing Beefeater gin, lime, like Spanish citrus-vanilla Licor 43 and cinnamon bitters with a five-spice salt rim.  The unique feature of the bar, however, is the extensive Chartreuse selection, some of it dating back to the 1940′s. My Chartreuse flight, thoughtfully selected by bartender Otis Steven Florence, included a 15 year old V.E.P. Liqueur Fabrique Par Les Peres Chartreux (green 54%, yellow 42%) and the now-defunct Sussex Green Chartreuse with fascinating notes of ginseng, heavy chamomile and fresh-cut grass.

THE RUM HOUSE, Times Square

In love with the Rum House

In love with the Rum House

The best thing to happen to Times Square in ages? The Rum House. This classic bar was revamped by the crew behind Ward III back in 2011, entirely to its benefit. While maintaining a dim, “lived in”, Old World feel, the spirits – particularly the rum – selection is stellar and the cocktails vastly improved. A heavenly respite from the madness of Times Square and the tourist throngs outside, its a true cocktail haven that feels like stepping onto an old movie set. Here, over a luxurious Negroni Leoni ($16), mixing Santa Teresa 1796 Solera rum, Ilegal Mezcal, sweet vermouth and Campari, I feel as if I’m in the Manhattan of old, comfortable in my vintage dresses, open to intriguing conversations with strangers at the bar, soon to become friends.

The Rest


Beautiful city views from Eataly's rooftop

Beautiful city views from Eataly’s rooftop

No, this isn’t about cocktails. It’s all about a stunning rooftop bar in view of the Flatiron building and the Manhattan skyline, idyllic on a warm day. Cask-conditioned beers ($10 a pint) and wines (like Bastianich wines on tap, $12-18) are the drinks on offer.

Best of all, beers are brewed rooftop in glistening gold tanks (“made 30 feet from where you sit”), are unfiltered and unpasteurized, naturally carbonated, and served at traditional cellar temps of 50-55 F. I enjoyed Wanda (chestnut mild ale), Giuseppina (Italian-American IPA), and Patrizia (American dry stout brewed with Wellfleet oysters from Matthew Shellfish Co.)

BOOKER & DAX, East Village

The glow of Booker & Dax

The glow of Booker & Dax

Despite the molecular raves (I ever long for the experimental side of cooking and cocktails to be prevalent in the mix next to classic and straightforward) and though I loved Dave Arnold‘s cocktails at national events, I was a bit disappointed in my experience at Booker and Dax. Much like my visit a few years ago to its already legendary parent restaurant Momofuku Ssam next door, things sounded better than tasted.

Booker & Dax cocktails

Booker & Dax cocktails

In the case of a Lechuga ($14), a mix of gin, lemon, and bibb lettuce freeze-dried then muddled into powder,  the end result is little flavor. I guess I should have expected that with bibb lettuce, but I was hoping for vegetal notes in a fresh, clean cocktail. It tasted like icy water with a backbone of gin. Likewise, a BDX Marg, sounded delightful, combining mezcal, yellow Chartreuse, Cointreau, and lime served over shave ice (a nod to Hawaii and Japan), but tasted more icy than nuanced. The cocktail that worked for me was surprisingly the sweetest and best as dessert, a Banana Justino. Merely two ingredients – Zacapa 23 rum and bananas – are run through a centrifuge, yielding a thick elixir, sweet and bracing.

CASA MEZCAL, LES (Lower East Side)

Casa Mezcal

Casa Mezcal

Charming, funky Oaxacan decor (Day of the Dead paraphernalia, colorful lights and artwork) and friendly service goes a long way in making Casa Mezcal a worthwhile stop, though I haven’t eaten here so can’t vouch for the food. Mezcal cocktails aren’t exactly noteworthy, especially given the average $14 and up price tag. But they are good and the mezcal selection strong (menu grouped by agave plant varietal). Over mid-afternoon cocktails with grasshopper salt, it feels as if I’m right back in Oaxaca.

EMPELLON, East Village

Empellon cocktails

Empellon cocktails

With one of my two best bar experiences of my 20+ bars this visit being Saxon + Parole under Naren Young (see above), I am eager to return to Empellon Cocina, no doubt even better under his watch. That being said, there were already some players on the menu, particularly a rosy, beet and reposado tequila cocktail, tinged with mezcal smoke, alive with ginger, vanilla, lemon.

ELSA, East Village

Elsa's classic book bill holders

Elsa’s check holders

Settling in to my East Village apartment rental directly above Elsa, I was pleased to have a charming, intimate bar downstairs, replete with vintage touches (like old books used as check holders and Victoriana-style menus). I was less thrilled, however, with only big brand liquor behind the bar – given their “craft” style, there was a nary a smaller brand to be found – and solid but not memorable cocktails. Black Book ($12) sounded lovely, mixing bourbon, rhubarb rose water reduction, cucumber, Aperol, and lime rhubarb bitter. But as with all the cocktails I tried here, the more vegetal, herbal I hoped would shine, were barely discernible.

MILK & HONEY, LES (Lower East Side)

Milk & Honey

Milk & Honey

As essentially the speakeasy that launched the speakeasy trend of the past decade plus way back in 2000 (if you’re not counting Angel’s Share, a favorite haunt of mine in the ’90′s with hidden cocktail bar upstairs through an Asian restaurant), I will always have a soft spot for the original Milk and Honey through a dingy door on a sketchy, Lower East Side block. That’s all gone now as LES is plenty gentrified, while the original, dim, dive-y space is now Attaboy, a similar bar from the same owners.

The new Milk & Honey reminds me a bit of Dutch Kills in Queens or The Varnish in LA or any other derivative spot across the country, with elegant, understated, Prohibition-era decor. That is to say, I don’t find it particularly original or memorable – but when in the Flatiron District, the swank location of M&H is a solid stop for well-made cocktails and doo-wop over the sound system, as was the case on my last visit.

PRESERVE 24, LES (Lower East Side)

Preserve 24's downstairs bar

Preserve 24′s downstairs bar

Having just opened when I rented a nearby apartment, Preserve 24 is most notable for its Jules Verne-esque, old world look. Circa 1800′s underwater diving equipment, beer taps made from piano pedals, an eclectic mishmash of woods and antiques in a two-floor, multi-room space are delightful.

I haven’t tried the food, but the cocktails are lovely in concept and solid, if not as balanced/nuanced as I would hope for, like a Compass Rose ($13) mixing pisco, bourbon, Green Chartreuse, house strawberry rhubarb preserves and Peychaud’s bitters, or a smoky-soft El Hecho combining mezcal, velvet falernum, lime and parsley honey.

THE WAYLAND, East Village

The Wayland's

The Wayland’s Garden Variety Margarita

Though it can be a bit too noisy to talk, the glow over over rustic wood floors, vintage ceramics and glassware is all-encompassing at The Wayland. Their famed Garden Variety Margarita ($11) is really is all that, laden with blanco tequila, ginger, lime, agave nectar, smoked sea salt and beautiful use of kale. Not merely trendy, I could happily do more kale cocktails. Another winning mix? Indian Summer ($11), combining Ford’s Gin, lime, curry, cilantro and chili salt. Hail to refreshing, savory cocktails!

WHITEHALL, West Village

Whitehall cocktails

Whitehall cocktails

Impressive as Whitehall’s gin collection is, the understated cocktails don’t quite showcase the beautiful botanical spirit.

They are simple, understated, yes, but also forgettable, even soft and muddled in terms of flavor. Too bad, as the cool, white ceramic walls and relaxed bar staff make it an inviting place to pop in while in the West Village.

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