Ben Scorah is the bartender you want to introduce to your parents.
The affable Brit (London-born, New York-based) helms the bar at Bill’s Food and Drink, the revamped Midtown restaurant that previously held Bill’s Gay Nineties. Scorah has such an appreciation for the history of the venue, and he works to incorporate an old world vibe into his modern cocktail menu. To be more specific, Scorah’s drinks are equally suited to satisfy the old souls and the young at heart.
Not that any of his success should come as a surprise. In 2009, Scorah was named GQ Magazine and Bombay Sapphire’s Most Inspired Bartender in New York City. He’s also a partner in the uptown favorite, Beekman Bar and Books. Today, Scorah chatted with Fork in the Road about cocktail integrity, his hangover remedy, and what to make of a little hanky panky.
The original Bill’s was a seminal New York establishment with a time-warpy kind of feel to it. How did the speak-easy, prohibition-era mentality factor into your cocktail menu?
Bill’s has so much history for New Yorkers and having been there a few times over the years I knew how important it was to keep those old standards of cocktails alive in the new place. For years and years scotch, bourbon, rye and gin cocktails have been drunk at Bill’s so we wanted to keep that tradition going by serving Manhattans, Rob Roys’, Old Fashioned’s, Sazeracs, Martinis, Hanky Pankys, Negronis the list goes on. Every day someone comes in and wants the drink that they drank at Bill’s with their grandfather 20 years ago.
Everyone would like to be able to drink like an old man. How do you keep things modern at the same time?
We definitely wanted to keep the old themes of Bill’s alive. Most of the drinks are served pretty much the way they were back in the old days. Some of the drinks incorporate ingredients we love and with added little twists. Our Sazerac, for example, is made with a little dash of house-made gingerbread syrup, very nice and seasonal. Also the Whiskey Sour that is made with beautiful Meyer Lemons and a local raw honey which really make the drink yummy.
What’s the story behind the Hanky Panky cocktail? Was is born out of wishful thinking or personal research? More importantly, what’s it made of?
The Hanky Panky cocktail was actually made first in 1925 at The Savoy Hotel in London for Charles Hawtrey by the head bartender there, a lovely lady called Ada Coleman. The drink is truly spectacular and needs more recognition! It has equal parts Gin and Sweet Vermouth with a couple of drops of Fernet Branca, an Italian digestif. It’s light and refreshing and is a great pick me up, as it was intended by the creator. We use Dorothy Parker Gin from New York and a wonderful vermouth called Cocchi. Its my favorite drink.
We’re pretty heavy into the holiday season right now. What are the essentials components of a solid winter bar?
I know, it’s great! I love the strong drinks in the winter to take that chill off: Apple cider is great with a touch of whiskey or tequila and topped off with some boiling hot water and maybe a cheeky dash of honey. Also try a hot buttered rum, sounds weird but is so tasty!! Use amazing butter with all the great holiday spices — cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice, cloves, vanilla — add Jamaican rum some hot water and a little salt, bitters, and demerara sugar and you’re ready for a day by the fireplace!
A little while back you were named one of GQ’s “inspired bartenders.” What would you say is your greatest muse?
It’s crazy inspiring being in New York and London with so many talented drinks people. I always love the bartenders who make your day better and make you and your friends feel welcome whatever the circumstances. I love the bartenders who dedicate there life to making their customers happy with great conversation and wicked cocktails and the guys who dedicate there lives to making the perfect cocktail or the most perfectly balanced gin or the most delicious blended Scotch. I wish i could have that dedication for my whole life!
Answer this question: “The one cocktail I’ll never drink again is…”
Oh my god, A CAR BOMB. That’s horrible.
And now, let’s suppose it’s the morning of January 1st. What’s the best drink to cure a hangover?
A small glass of Glenmorangie 18 (my favorite scotch). Start the year as you mean it to go on.