Sunday, January 25, 2009


There is a new cocktail movement afoot in America. Buy me a drink and I'll tell you about it. Ambitious bartenders are hearkening back to a bygone era, resurrecting forgotten recipes, shunning mixes in favor of fresh fruits, developing creative cocktails, and even making their own bitters. What is this--another yuppie obsession with some imaginary past (see "swing dancing," see "Sinatra," see "cigars"), still mining the ore of Rat Pack, Mad Men culture? Well, yes and no.

According to the New York Times (December 2, 2008) it's not just a fad; it's a movement. There are many new types of bartenders--mixologists-- vying for your attention. Belly up to the bar, and have a look-see.

There are Pre-repeal Revivalists, such as Julie Reiner of The Flatiron Lounge in New York (in the video above), who go back to gaslights and garters and classic, long forgotten drinks from pre-Prohibition days.

“I moved to New York and started managing a lounge in the West Village,” she says to Nightclub & Bar Magazine. “At the time, it was called C3, and I started putting out seasonal cocktail menus. I was kind of just entertaining myself...The next thing I knew, I was on the front page of the New York Times Dining section.”

Julie Reiner mixing drinks at The Flatiron Lounge in New York

Reiner cut up Granny Smith apples and let them steep in vodka for three weeks. The press jumped on her Apple Tini and similar "infusions." In 2003, Reiner and five partners opened Flatiron Lounge, one of New York’s first venues bringing culinary to the cocktail. The Flatiron (37 West 19th Street, 212-727-7741)–– a space whose ancestral patronage included members of the Rat Pack –– combines a 1920s ambiance and Reiner’s seasonally inspired cocktails. It might be the flagship for the revivalist cocktail movement. For some of Julie's drink recipes, click here.

There are others. The Neo-Classicists update the classic cocktails--just slightly--with fusions; the Farm-to-Glass Movement mix artisinal cocktails with seasonal fruits and herbs, such as persimmons and anise; and the Liquid Locavores, such as distiller Christian Krogstad of House Spirits in Portland, who fashion a drink around local spirits (there are nine craft distilleries operate within the city). House Spirits makes the excellent Aviation Gin, among other things.

House Spirits co-owners Christan Korgstad (left) and Jeff Medoff, craft distilling in PDX

"Our competition isn't local," Medoff told Willamette Week. "We all want to brand Oregon. The more the merrier. We're after Ketel One and Grey Goose."

"Portland was a culinary wasteland," says Stephen McCarthy, proprietor of Portland's Clear Creek Distillery, speaking recently with Distinctly Northwest. When he was a student at Reed College a few decades ago there were no good restaurants, he says. No coffee shops worthy of noting. There were no wineries, no breweries. A culinary wasteland indeed. "Now it's like Paris!"

We wouldn't go that far, but anyone can attest who has eaten at (or even read the write-ups of) Le Pigeon--or devoured the sticky-sweet Thai street food at Pok Pok/Whiskey Soda Lounge, Portland is a serious "foodie" town. The drinks go with the territory. At Pok Pok, you might get a muddled kaffir lime gin and tonic, a lime and palm sugar whiskey sour, or--like me--an Aviator, a martini made with House Spirits' fine Aviation gin.

Get drinks and wings at Pok Pok/Whiskey Soda Lounge -3226 SE Division St, Portland, 503-232-1387

What else is out there? There are the Home Brewers, who make their own bitters, and fortified wines, and are centered around Tenzing Momo in Seattle, a shop that specializes in teas, and exotic dried herbs. There are Minimalists, who might change a single ingredient in a cocktail and explore the mutations; Molecular Mixologists, who mix "progressive cocktails" with scientific methods and might produce a solid, edible cocktail; Faux Tropicalists, who mix Singapore Slings and Mai Tais like your dad drank at Trader Vics. Check out the Luau in Seattle, and drink from a coconut.

Of course, you can still make your own drinks at home. Here, mixologist Allen Katz tells you how to make the perfect Martini:

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