"Little Bird has a classic French bistro theme with a Pacific Northwest flair, and I tend to approach cocktails that support that theme," says Tom Lindstedt, lead bartender at Little Bird Bistro on Portland's SW 6th Avenue. "I like to take something recognizable and give it a French twist." We asked Lindstedt which cocktails we should order the next time we stop by Little Bird. Here's what he had to say.
'Bartender's Choice' on Serious Eats
Bar Amá's tequila-heavy cocktail menu features a number of refreshing drinks meant to temper the spice (or in some cases, intensify that spice) in many of the restaurant's dishes. Pulling double-duty as both the General Manager and Bar Manager at Bar Amá is Daniel Flores, who was tasked with creating a cocktail menu to fit the specific flavors of Texas and Mexico.
Todd Thrasher's TNT Bar in Arlington takes a bombastic approach—the menu is comprised of cocktails inspired by classic rock songs and a "Road Trip" section of drinks borrowed from Thrasher's friends across the country.
When you enter Smuggler's Cove on Gough Street in San Francisco, it's as if you're inside a ship, decked out with ropes and fishing buoys, lanterns and ancient bottles of rum. But when you're done gawking, there's a decision to be made—what to drink? There are 75 different cocktails on the menu, so we reached out to bartender Steven Liles for a little help.
"We're really just big nerds who don't know how to do any other job," says Ross Hunsinger, lead bartender at Aviary on Alberta Street in NE Portland." Hunsinger says that creativity and collaboration are encouraged and boundaries between the kitchen and bar are non-existent. "I am really lucky to have people with really great palates to bounce ideas off of," says Hunsinger. "The constant collaboration brings us all to a higher level."
Anyone who's been to Firefly in Dupont Circle has been greeted by the large tree just inside the entrance. The tree establishes a storybook feel that's only been enhanced by Firefly's recent renovation. With more reclaimed wood, a kitchen façade made to look like a cottage, and warm, overhead lighting designed to emulate the soft glow of a firefly, dining at Firefly feels even more like being deep in a thick forest than before. And the new bar manager, Jon Harris (formerly of The Gibson), has taken cues from the wilderness/fairy tale aesthetic in crafting the newly launched bar program.
You probably already know that the folks over at the 30s era inspired diner, Ted's Bulletin, make a killer alcoholic milkshake, but their bar is more than boozy shakes and homemade pop-tarts. Mixologist George Menold has been working hard on upping the cocktail game at Ted's to differentiate itself from other DC bars. To that end, Menold's been experimenting with a variety of techniques and ingredients, including barrel aging and infusions, plus a truly unusual ice program.
The man behind the bar at The Tasting Kitchen is Justin Pike, whose bartending days began in Boston before moving to Portland, where he worked with Jeffrey Morgenthaler at Clyde Common, then at clarklewis with Casey Lane (now the chef at The Tasting Kitchen). When The Tasting Kitchen emerged in 2009, Lane called on Pike to shape the bar program, looking for someone with "a Northwest angle," as Pike puts it. "In the Northwest there's a little more experimentation," he says.
Difficult as it may be to remember, there was a time, not so long ago, before classic cocktails were commonplace and "secret entrance" neo-speakeasies were the norm. Such was the case in 2004 when Employees Only opened its (not so obvious) doors in the West Village.
"I've always been inspired by chefs," says Lia Termini, head bartender at Tabla in the inner-NE quadrant of Portland, OR. "I've always been interested in the different techniques they use to extract, preserve, intensify, and create new flavors." Termini has adopted many culinary techniques and brought them behind the bar at Tabla.
"People talk about how cocktails don't pair well with food," says Aaron Polsky, the man behind the menu at West Village Japanese restaurant Neta. "And sure, maybe cocktails as we know them don't pair with food. But what if there were a paradigm shift?" I've seen other savory cocktails that, say, use vegetable juices, or actually incorporate salt. But Polsky's push much farther into the territory. When was the last time you had a cocktail that made use of sautéed maitake mushrooms; or infused a spirit with bonito flakes? Umami bombs are all over the place. Come take a look at Polsky's favorite drinks on the menu (and a few soon to come).
At Botanica in Red Hook, the cocktails marry the flavors of the Caribbean and the Mediterranean—a nod to the heritage of owner Daniel Preston, whose parents are Dominican and Italian. "Most of the drinks draw on the ingredients and flavor profiles of those areas, but hopefully bring them somewhere new and interesting," explains bartender Dan Carlson.
"I'm on a mission to make drinking fun again," says says Brandon Wise of Beaker & Flask in Portland, OR. "Mixology started taking things too seriously, which made drinking stuffy and took the emphasis off of the guest."
It says something about the talents and reputation of Neal Bodenheimer, Kirk Estopinal, and Matthew Kohnke— best known for Cure in New Orleans—that they can open a bar entirely dedicated to 19th-century cocktails and have it be a runaway success. Cobblers and sherry cocktails and milk punches—"These ancient forms of drinks seem sort of bizarre to us," Kirk Estopinal told me, "but that's why we find them fascinating." We asked Estopinal to show us three of his favorite drinks right now; here's what he poured us.
"I was in Newport, maybe 15 or 16 years old, working as a busboy when the movie Cocktail came out," says Greg Seider, partner and head bartender at The Summit Bar in New York's Alphabet City. "I was just obsessed with it. I memorized it. The bartenders would ask me how to make certain drinks, and after I got off my shift, they'd let me go behind the bar and do...you know." He mimes flipping a bottle, and laughs. "They probably just thought it was cute."
Portland's Rum Club has been a perennial favorite for industry folks looking for a post-shift drink since Mike Shea first opened the bar in 2011. We asked the Rum Club crew (including newcomer Adam Robinson) to pick their 5 favorite drinks on the menu.
Bar Manager/Beverage Director Tommy "Tweed" Klus of KASK in Portland says that their cocktails are "approachable, with a hint of geekiness". We asked the KASK team to pick their five favorite drinks from the menu.
Wylie Dufresne's wd~50 is known as a place of relentless experimentation. So perhaps it's to be expected that bar manager Kevin Denton has just as much fun with the cocktail menu. He showed us 6 of his favorite drinks: some with cold-smoked spirits, some with centrifuged infusions, and some that grow as you drink them.
The team is serious in their drink creation, but playful in their attitude towards their cocktail creations. Drink names like Deez Nuts and Berries show a sense of humor, a wink to the Castro neighborhood, and, Vergara hopes, "remove the pretension" that can be implicit at some serious cocktail bars.
Beretta was recently included among the semi-finalists for the James Beard Foundation's Outstanding Bar Program award. We put the bar manager, Ryan Fitzgerald on the spot and made him select his favorite drinks from the classics-with-a-twist cocktail menu. Here's what he chose.