Julie Reiner Crafts Inventive Cocktails at Leyenda and Shares Recipes in a New Book

Julie Reiner
Julie Reiner
Photo by Daniel Krieger

In Tallahassee, the Natty Light-guzzling, keg-stand capital of Florida, Julie Reiner got her first taste of working behind the bar. From pouring cheap brew and shots of Jäger, Reiner worked her way up through the industry to become the proverbial godmother of the cocktail world. In addition to owning two renowned bars, Flatiron Lounge (37 West 19th Street, 212-727-7741) and Clover Club (210 Smith Street, Brooklyn, 718-855-7939), Reiner has a new cookbook, The Craft Cocktail Party: Delicious Drinks for Every Occasion and just opened a third drinking spot, Leyenda (221 Smith Street, Brooklyn; 347-987-3260).

It just so happenes that both projects are debuting around the same time. For the past two years, she's been working on creating a volume that would not only speak to cocktail geeks, but home-entertainers as well. "Really, my goal was to create a book that was geared toward my sister-in-law and my mom," says Reiner. "People who like to make drinks at home, to further up their game in an easy way."

Her sister-in-law complained to her that other cocktail books gave recipes for ingredients that are used in just one recipe. In her book, Reiner made sure to include several drink recipes for each ingredient. And since friends have been calling her for years around the holidays for cocktail recipes and pairings, she geared it toward seasonal parties and get-togethers. There are tiki drinks for summer, spritzes for spring, a leftover-Cosmopolitan with cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving, The Scofflaw for Repeal Day, sherry-centric drinks and Champagne cocktails for winter celebrating.

Here's how to up your cocktail party game
Here's how to up your cocktail party game
Image courtesy Grand Central Life & Style

The Craft Cocktail Party takes cues from Reiner's fascination with the seasons. A native of Hawaii, she was a college student in Florida, and a bartender in San Francisco. Reiner didn't experience fall and winter until she moved to NYC at the age of 27, when she started exploring the way drinking habits and palates change throughout the course of the year. In fall, she became obsessed with pumpkin, apple, and cinnamon. In winter, she discovered the warming effects of whiskeys and hot toddies. By the time she opened Flatiron Lounge in 2003, Reiner had a fully developed, ingredient-driven approach to mixing drinks that was determined by both the weather and the fresh products available at any given time.

While interest in home cooking has been steadily increasing over the past decade, Reiner started to see the burgeoning trend for mixing creative bar drinks. In the book, she speaks to the domestic mixologist. "A lot of people will make a soufflé in their house, but won't juice a lemon," says Reiner. "But a lot of home bartenders are now willing to try it out for parties."

At the forefront of the craft cocktail scene, Reiner started off making classics, grasshoppers and Manhattans at the Red Room in San Francisco. For several years, she'd experiment with fresh fruits and juices on the fly. When she moved to New York and started managing C3 in the West Village, her creations started to take off. She talked to the chef about flavor pairings to explore the culinary side of mixing drinks, but it was more about entertaining herself than making a name. When Dale DeGroff and Tony Abou-Ganim walked into her bar after hearing about her work, she quickly found herself included as one of a growing number of trendsetting mixologists. The press took notice and Reiner was quickly catapulted into mixology fame.

When she opened Flatiron, Reiner was one of the few female mixologists in the game. She's made a concerted effort to give women the opportunity to get behind the bar. "I like to see a little bit of everything behind the bar," says Reiner. "In many cases, you have to be a bar-back to get promoted to bartender. I give cocktail waitresses the opportunity to move up, too."

Ivy Mix, Clover Club bartender and founder of Speed Rack, a women's charitable bartending organization, has worked for Reiner for several years. Together, protege and mentor opened Leyenda, inspired by Mix's years living in Guatemala. Serving Pan-Latin food and craft cocktails, the bar has a vintage feel with a geometric-patterned copper ceiling, exposed brick, and decorative boxed shelving displaying bottles of rare South American spirits behind the bar. "She wanted to open a place," says Reiner of Mix. "This speaks to who she is. Ivy is a white girl from Vermont, but lived and bartended in Guatemala. It's like a piece of her should've been born there."

The Buena Onda
The Buena Onda

At Leyenda, you'll find a wide assortment of tequila, mezcal, cachaças, and piscos. Cocktails range from stirred and boozy, like the $13 Arinato (mezcal, Lillet, dry vermouth, yellow Chartreuse, maraschino, Peychaud's bitters, and grapefruit oils) to stirred and refreshing, such as the $12 Buena Onda, a slightly herbal Pisco-sour inspired blend of Yerba Mate-infused Chilean pisco, lemon, lime, egg white, and hopped grapefruit bitters. The $13 Shadow Boxer is almost like a South American Negroni with cachaça, Campari, dry vermouth, apricot, eau de vie, grapefruit, and orange oil.

The menu, developed by consulting chef Sue Torres, features riffs on classic Latin dishes. Empanadas ($12) are stuffed with spinach and Manchego and served over artichoke-orange escabeche. Pupusas ($8) with savory refried black beans, chihuahua cheese and smoky, slightly spicy guajillo salsa are served with topped with citrusy cabbage salad. Airy cheese croquettes ($8) with bechamel, ham, chiles, chihuahua and Manchego cheeses are accented by pepper aioli. Peruvian ceviche ($13) has similar notes to the classic version with habanero, orange, and lime, but watermelon and cucumber add a refreshing twist.

Ham and Cheese croquetta
Ham and Cheese croquetta
Sara Ventiera

Frustrated by a series of unsuccessful concepts in the space, Reiner's landlord at Clover Club asked her if she was interested in doing something with the location. Knowing Mix had a vision, Reiner and her partners decided to back her, aiming to fill a gap in the South-of-the-Border cocktail realm that Mix holds close to her heart. Although Mix had direct experience with the Central American drinking culture when she tended bar overseas, Reiner has seen a newfound interest in spirits and cocktails from the Americas. "I've certainly noticed a shift, with people focusing on Latin flavors in food and beverage," says Reiner. "Everyone is always asking me what the new trend is going to be. Things are cyclical."

Click to the next page for Reiner's Clover Club recipe.  

Reiner's Clover Club
Reiner's Clover Club
Photo Courtesy Grand Central Life & Style

Clover Club

My second bar is named for both a cocktail and a place. The cocktail, listed here, is a gin drink for people who hate gin, at turns fruity and dry. In my version, dry vermouth adds a necessary layer of flavor that keeps the raspberry syrup in check. But before the drink, Clover Club was the name of a gentlemen's club based out of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia. Founded in 1882, it ran through the 1920s and its membership was made up of the intellectual elite of the time, including many respected journalists and writers. It was the tradition that invited guests--generally celebrities and politicians--would give an address to the club, and each was subjected to the sharp-witted comments of the audience when he finished. These roasts were well documented and word of them spread far and wide. I find it humorous that the original Clover Club was a real boys' club, and that my Clover Club is run by three women. I like to think we are snarky and bawdy enough to have held our own with those boys.

Ingredients:

11⁄2 ounces gin (I recommend Plymouth) 1⁄2 ounce dry vermouth (I recommend Dolin) 1⁄2 ounce lemon juice 1⁄2 ounce raspberry syrup (see berry syrup recipe on page 19; or muddle 5 Raspberries in 1⁄2 ounce simple syrup) 1⁄2 ounce egg white (about half the white of 1 egg) Garnish | 2 raspberries

Method:

In a shaker, combine the gin, vermouth, lemon juice, raspberry syrup, and egg white.

Shake without ice for 20 seconds to emulsify the egg white, then add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a coupe glass, spear the berries on a pick, and lay it across the rim of the glass to garnish.

Excerpted from the book THE CRAFT COCKTAIL PARTY by Julie Reiner with Kaitlyn Goalen. © 2015 by Julie Reiner. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Life and Style. All rights reserved.

Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.




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