By Effie Panagopoulos
*****This story sat in the INSIDE F&B vault for four years, waiting for just the right moment to see the light of day. That day is now; and once we dusted it off and took another look at it we discovered it was just as fresh and relevant today as it was back then when it was written. Of course some things have changed; Gianfranco Verga is no longer the Beverage Director at Louis 649, and the Louis 649 TNT program is currently on hiatus as it undergoes a refresh, but despite these minor things that happened as time marches on it is interesting to see that some things never change.
Read it for yourself. And then attend a seminar at Tales (www.talesofthecocktail.com) like “The Art & Science of Cocktail Menus” (www.talesofthecocktail.com/events/art-science-cocktail-menus/) or “For Profit Consumer Education? Yes!” (www.talesofthecocktail.com/events/profit-consumer-education-yes/) and see what positive changes you can make happen in your bar, all because of a finely tuned menu…
Tuesday nights have become the new industry night, spurred by almost a year full of consecutive Tuesday Night Tastings at East Village cocktail bar, Louis 649 (www.louis649.com). Pioneered by Gianfranco Verga, Beverage Director at Louis 649, and going almost a year strong every Tuesday, the TNT’s like their eponymous song, and Good Times’ Jimmy Walker –are pretty darn dyno-mite. Every week offers the chance to try a wine or spirit you’ve never tasted; learn something new about a spirit you may always drink yet never knew anything about, or like on this chance evening, get to meet a leader in the industry and find out what makes him tick. What started as a weekly gathering of an industry-only crowd, has refreshingly become an ever-changing group of imbibing enthusiasts– a feat in and of itself.
A few Tuesdays back, I rushed over to get to my 7:00 feeding, for what I assumed would be an intimate presentation by one of New York’s preeminent poster boys for all things cocktail, Jim Meehan. But “rushing” in Greek-people-time means I got there at 7:05 (5 minutes late), and to my dismay Louis was already packed to the gills for their TNT (Tuesday Night Tastings). Well, Jim was only voted American Bartender of the Year last year, and it was only fitting that the cocktail community and common folk alike came out in droves to hear the secret workings of the mastermind behind the cocktail program at neighboring watering hole, PDT www.pdtnyc.com. You could taste the anticipation in the air as Jim, and his apprentice for the evening, Pernod Ricard’s (www.pernod-ricard.com)Jamie Gordon, were scurrying about to get the amuse-bouche drink to the thirsty, ornery crowd. Jim brushes past me and I am quickly reminded why I and the roomful of people like this guy so much. Tray of drinks in hand, he smiles a quick hello to me along with everyone in a 3 foot radius. You’d never know there was an ounce of stress in his body, as he acknowledges us with the warmth and grace of Mr. Rogers welcoming you to his neighborhood. During his prologue to the evening, we find out just that. He’s been living in the this East Village neighborhood for eight years, and rather than talk about his beginnings in the biz, he starts by applauding Louis 649 owner Zach Sharaga and manager (and East Village neighbor) Gianfranco for taking a little bar built by hand by a carpenter, and morphing it into the jazz-wine-cocktail denizen den it has become.
Neighborhood pride aside, it’s time to get down to business, and for Jim, in the bar business , it’s all about creating an experience and making money. How does PDT make money? Jim goes on to explain what I’ll call the 3-drink principle, “It’s all about three drinks and a hot dog.” PDT shares an entrance with Crif Dogs, the gourmet answer to an American pastime, and while you’re sipping on Old Fashioned, you can’t resist a bite since the smell of fries and hot dogs is usually wafting through. If he can get every customer to spend $63, everybody’s happy.
What’s the formula to that equation? The “rocket science” of it all according to Jim:
1. The first impression is the front door.
2. Kind of like theater, the bar/bartender is meant to teach and entertain. Meehan notes, “A bar is teaching a message to the guest.”
3. The biggest challenge is training servers both to read the customer, and guide them to the best experience.
4. The menu sets the tone for the guest. (We were lucky enough to peruse some globally renowned menus with various fonts, finishes, rules of etiquette, and recipes galore from the likes of Philip Duff, of Amsterdam’s Red Light district’s Door 74, and London’s Nick Strangeway, whose back bar is a showcase of modifiers, and whose menu focuses on punches, and who a makes blasphemous allegation that although the cocktail may be an American creation, “mixed drinks” in the form of punches originated in London first. Can’t those damn Brits give us any credit?)
5. Recipes, recipes, recipes.
a) Meehan’s recipes have a culinary bent, mixed with a splash of psychology—down to what type of cocktail XXX???? and how to serve them.
And now, down to the actual drink menu for the evening.
Jim’s recipe for success incorporates the tenets mentioned above and ties back to the three drink principle, and how the menu should encourage what Meehan calls “cocktail coursing.” Throughout a guest’s evening at PDT (www.pdtnyc.com), Meehan aims to create something akin to a restaurant experience. Most of the industry peeps reading this right now may very well be rolling their eyes, and thinking “wow, how enlightening.” Well, whether you’ve earned your stripes banging out Vodka Redbulls at Crobar, or tightening up your britches at Milk and Honey, we all know that what looks simple on paper never is in the service industry.
Although we didn’t get a sneak preview of his spring list that just debuted (tease!), the three cocktails below were our courses for the evening.
2 oz. Plymouth Gin
1 oz. Lillet Blanc
.75 oz. Suze
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled coupe
Garnish with a lemon twist
(By Nick Blacknell, former Plymouth Gin Brand Ambassador)
Taking into consideration a mixed demographic of cocktail geeks, regulars, Crif dog junkies, and Time Out reading tourists who might visit PDT, the first drink needs to be a mixture of things people have heard of (ie–a Negroni, or at least gin!), and a little something different to whet the mind and pallet. In this case, it’s the inclusion of Suze, a French bitter liqueur made with the root of the gentian plant. Great intro. Give ‘em a twist on a classic, light and bitter, “with not so much booze that you fall off the chair,” intrigue the novice, and stump the liquor snob who thought she knew all the esoteric booze on the planet.
What to do about the vodka drinking prepster who got dragged in by his friend who happens to be a girl? By the second course, Meehan’s hoping the menu, and the staff will have eased him into it, and maybe he’s eager to please the girl friend.
So the second cocktail continues the journey down the yellow brick road, and Jim likes it to be some sort of sour, with a progression from white to brown spirits, and a touch sweeter, and as its name indicates, gives a little kick.
1 oz. Famous Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky (or Chivas)
1 oz. Jameson Irish Whiskey
.75 oz. Lemon Juice
.5 oz. Orgeat (a lovely almond flavored cordial)
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled coupe
(by Harry MacElhone,The ABC of Mixing Cocktails,1922)
By the round three, we’re revved up and it’s time to bring on the booze. In a city of spirit-forward cocktails, the Vieux Carre from New Orleans’ Hotel Monteleone (www.hotelmonteleone.com) suits us just fine.
1 oz. Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey (or Wild Turkey Rye)
1 oz. Hine V.S.O.P. Cognac (or Martell Cordon Bleu Cognac)
1 oz. Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
.25 oz. Benedictine
1 Dash of Angostura Bitters
1 Dash of Peychaud’s Bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled rocks glass over one large cube
(By Stanley Arthur Clisby Famous New Orleans Drinks & How to Make Them,1937)
And the grand finale? The cocktail geek is satiated, the vodka-drinking prepster may have earned his stripes and some points from the friend that’s a girl…but, Jim Meehan, like a good girl trying to find a husband, is not giving up all his secrets on the first date—you’ll just have to go to PDT to see the magic happen firsthand.