If you’re a bartender, you’ve likely heard of Junior Merino’s Liquid Lab. If you haven’t scored yourself an invite yet, it’s well worth it to try, if only for a chance to glimpse the lab itself. The space, accessed via an Old World-y courtyard in Riverdale, houses more booze than most people will ever set eyes on in one place.
Junior Merino has turned cocktail consulting into a global business. His drinks can be found on airplanes, cruiseships, and in a dozen or so restaurants around New York and beyond. He hosts the Lab, he says, to encourage discussion and experimentation among his colleagues. And because he never knows where his next brilliant idea will come from. At his most recent Lab, bartenders from Hotel Delmano, Pranna, and Eleven Madison Park, as well as lauded Boston cocktail dens Drink and Craigie on Main, were in attendance. After dutifully donning their lab coats and knocking back Junior’s “special breakfast” of cereal with spiked punch instead of milk, they set to tasting a plethora of herbs and spices, then several liqueurs, followed a first flight of five spirits. There would be five flights over the course of the day.
As the day wore on — the Lab lasts from around noon until early evening — the bartenders experimented with liquid smoke, liquid nitrogen, and Junior’s vast library of libations. One bartender ended up with chunky frozen “popcorn” (a result of too much nitrogen), another managed to use grasshoppers in his concoction (Junior prides himself not only on his massive booze collection but on the other many — and oft strange — ingredients he stocks). By the end of the day, some 80 drinks had been invented. And eight bartenders were, well, three sheets.
The Liquid Lab is booked up for the year, but Junior is taking reservations for next year. Whether you’re a working bartender or an aspiring mixologist, you would do well to get yourself an invite.