Andaz Hotels enlisted Alchemy Consulting to craft the classic cocktails for Bar Seven Five, set to open January 25 in the new Andaz Wall Street hotel. Jason Cott, one of the partners in Alchemy, reveals what to expect from the new bar, how he likes to recover from a bender, and why he was never afraid of the Angostura shortage.
What is the concept behind the new bar?
Just like the entire Andaz Hotel, the philosophy is based on being in a friend’s kitchen. [In the kitchen,] it’s a very communal atmosphere, with no staid responsibilities for the staff. The bar is the same. It’s not one long bar — it’s different pods. The bartenders and servers work together, and the guests are closer to the action.
Drawing on the past, we were inspired by the Pullman trains during pre-Prohibition, where people could get five-star cocktails right on the train. The train was always moving and there was no main back bar, so the servers had to come to you. We came up with these “Pullman shakers,” so servers can shake [and pour] the tins tableside. And, instead of trays, we have Pullman caddies, which are much more portable and ergonomically correct.
Is there a house specialty?
Again, drawing on the pre-Prohibition and Prohibition eras, our signature cocktail is the Se7en Five Smash, which is made with Lairds Bonded Applejack, fresh lemon juice, fresh mint, and Fees Old Fashioned Bitters. We also have a Dark & Stormy, made with Cruzan Black Strap, fresh lime juice, and house-made ginger syrup. It’s really spicy and delicious, if you like ginger. And there’s also the Perfect Pearl Manhattan, which has Bulleit Bourbon, Dolin Sweet and Dry Vermouth, and just a rinse of Lagavulin Scotch, for a touch of peatiness.
You mentioned bitters in one of your drinks. Are you concerned about the Angostura shortage?
There never really was going to be a shortage. They went into receivership and were bought out, that’s all. I’m confident they won’t run out.
You use Fees. Do you think that the panic over the Angostura shortage is an opportunity for other bitters makers to break into the market?
Yes. Bitters is more in fashion. It’s the salt and pepper of cocktails. Finding the correct bitters for the correct drink is tantamount to its success. Angostura’s is delicious, but it’s not right for every drink. Alchemy has created 20-25 different bitters at our bar in Chicago (The Violet Hour). There’s a chance we’ll get to create our own bitters at Bar Seven Five.
When you started consulting, did you ever think that cocktail lists would become so important to the restaurant/hospitality business?
Certainly. There should be a direct correlation between the bar and kitchen programs. We create a bar program with a culinary tone. People spend so much time and energy perfecting the food; they should spend the same time and energy perfecting the cocktails. You put both in your mouth, after all, to satiate your palate.
Did you find that catering to a Wall Street crowd was very different from the Village-type clientele you normally target?
Not really. We try to design delicious drinks. The palate tends to be universal.
What’s your favorite drink to make?
You’re gonna make me choose between my children? Tastes vary at different times of the year, and even throughout the evening. Our list is seasonal because what a person craves in winter is not necessarily what they want in the summer. Like with the [food] menu. No, I have no favorite. As long as it’s made with fresh juice and quality spirits.
You helped design the tiki drinks at Rusty Knot. What do you think of the current tiki craze gripping the city?
It’s fun. There’s a sense of high seriousness [with the drinks], but rum is fun. If you can lighten the atmosphere and have both the guest and the bartender enjoy themselves, then that’s always nice.
Do you have a favorite hangover cure?
It’s on our list of classic cocktails at Bar Seven Five. It’s called a Corpse Reviver #2, made with Plymouth gin, Lillet Blonde, fresh lemon juice, and Pernod Absinthe. It’s light, refreshing and, like its name suggests, will being you back to life, no matter how badly you feel.
What other projects do you have coming up?
We’ll be working on the new Andaz property at Fifth Avenue in the late spring. It will be the same kind of idea.