Not so long ago, bar owners and chain restaurant operators would spend hours debating whether to put prices on their drink menus. Hard to believe they’d even consider leaving out such an important piece of info, but that was before the $10+ cocktail was routine and customer price resistance hadn’t been thoroughly tested. It was also before bar owners at the forefront of the cocktail revolution decided they had to share their geeky passion for the origin and provenance of recipes, the doings of once-obscure bartenders and the evolution of the drinking scene. Some of it shot far over the top, but all were designed with the idea that the customer deserved to know what was in their drink – and its history, progenitors and ingredients.
A recent model I like was rolled out at the newly opened Church and State in Washington, D.C., the third (after Wisdom and Fruit Bat) cocktail bar opened by Erik Holzherr; each of 12 American-created drinks get their due. (Church and State also serves only American-made ingredients; sounds jingoistic, but with all those craft distillers laboring away to make any and all spirits and liqueurs, why not?).
Recently, I’ve seen menus that are taking a slightly different, more functionally instructive road. At the Rum House in the Edison Hotel in Manhattan, classic cocktails are presented by ingredient – Old-Fashioned lovers can choose theirs made four ways, with ryes or bourbons at two price points. Ditto Manhattans, and Martini mavens have the choice of two vodkas or gins. Of course, everybody always has a choice, but the purpose of the menu is to introduce, soften, suggest and even wheedle a guest into their drink. It’s merchandising 101, and many bar operators look down on it, but they forget that most customers have no idea what they want even after they’ve sat down, and they need clear and understandable choices; otherwise, the menu becomes a distraction and the bar a library.
Speaking of unusual ingredients,if you’re going to the Nightclub and Bar Show next month, check out the smaller offerings at the Boutique Brands Pavilion. If you haven’t tried them, it’s a good chance to sample a handful of brands at one pass. Expect cordials Rumchata, Sharkwater Tropical Liqueur and Travis Hasse’s Apple Pie Liqueur, Love Potion #9 and Spirit of Liberty Bourbon Cream Liqueur, Nut Liquor peanut butter vodka, Muchote Tequila and Ed Hardy vodka, among others. Also on hand" ingredients including McClure’s Pickles, Hijinks Energy and Dr. V.