How can a drink menu stand out today? I mean, really stand out? That seems to be the question many operators and drink makers most often ask, but I’m beginning to think it’s the wrong question. Maybe people in charge should think about doing less than they are able — instead, just do "less" very, very well. Let’s look at two dramatically different programs, one not actually even open yet, to see what new directions are being taken that hold promise for guests who want something special:
Tad Carducci and Paul Tanguay, aka the Tippling Bros., have been given a free hand in the opening of Chicago’s Tavernita. What have they come up with? Kegged cocktails and wine, offered on tap. They’ve developed a system using soda kegs to deliver their batched, signature cocktails, and Carducci says that in taste tests made with batched and made-to-order drinks, “We were surprised to find that, if anything, people seem to prefer the flavor of the cocktails from the kegs. We suspect it has to do with the fact that the ingredients are able to marry, producing a rounder, richer flavor.”
At Tavernita, approximately eight drinks will be offered on tap at any given time. The potential benefits include shorter wait times for a drink for guests, better consistency, and — something I love — the option to order half-cocktails.
The boys also are joining the green movement, choosing to serve wines from kegs, dramatically reducing bottle waste produced at the restaurant. But they have yet to exhaust the tap idea, and also will offer vermouth from a keg — two housemade vermouths as a nod to the “vermut de grifo” offered in Spain — produced through a rapid-infusion method to infuse aromatic herbs, roots and bark into a fortified wine base. They will be offered as a part of various cocktails, as well as straight, over ice, as is popular in Spain.
Find out what they are up to, along with some running around silliness, in this video:
So that’s one way to stand out: Develop a program that limits you somewhat (I’m sure you could get a good Manhattan at Tavernita, but if you order one you’re missing the point). Another is the way Omni Hotels has managed to make what in the minds of most guests is essentially an interchangeable bar experience in Anywhere, USA, into something special.
Guests at Omni Los Angeles Hotel at California Plaza and Omni Interlocken Resort in Colorado can order San Francisco-based bar Owner Duggan McDonnell’s Shanghai Gimlet (Absolut Wild Tea Vodka, Thatcher’s Organic Elderflower Liqueur, lime juice and fresh cracked black pepper). At the Omni in Texas, native Kim Hassarud created among other drinks the Dr. Woodford Bell, an adult milkshake made with Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream, Dr Pepper and graham crackers. At Omni properties in the Midwest, Adam Seger’s Ponche el Patron is served (Patron Silver, Seger’s own HUM Botanical Spirit, citrus juices and smoked tea). In the Northeast, customers find Christy Pope’s cocktail menu, which includes the Pear & Rosemary Buck (Patron Silver, pear puree and lime juice muddled with rosemary and topped with Fever Tree Ginger Beer). Finally, Freddy Diaz’s Southern Basil-Berry Smash, served in Omnis in the Southeast, mixes Woodford Reserve, Dry Sack Sherry and Cointreau with muddled strawberries, basil and fresh lemon.
From left: Christy Pope, co-founder of Cuffs & Buttons Cocktail Catering & Consulting company; Freddy Diaz, co-founder of AlambiQ beverage consulting company; Kim Hassarud, founder of Liquid Architecture; Adam Seger, founder of HUM Spirits; and Duggan McDonnell, founding partner of San Francisco's Cantina.
One big chain, many new drinks: It can be an operational hassle, but if the drinks are executed well, loyal Omni guests have something to look forward to the next time they’re staying at one of the participating units. It pays to remember how far a little excellence and thought can go. Special is often far more welcome and achievable than perfection, and both of these programs promise that. Let’s see if they deliver.