In this interview, Raines Law Room (48 West 17th Street) head bartender Meaghan Dorman chats about her fondness for rich flavor profiles, Champagne cocktails, and Campari.
How do you handle dealer’s choice requests?
There are a lot of different questions we ask people to get an idea of what will make them happy. Sometimes [dealer’s choice] goes over well, but sometimes it can go the wrong way because bartenders love Campari and things like that. So we’ll ask things like, “Strong? Stirred? Citrus? Spicy?” Sometimes the easiest thing to ask is, “Is there anything you’re allergic to or really don’t like?” A lot of the time people will want to avoid strong flavors, such as ginger or absinthe. There was a time when the Jungle Bird (Black Strap Rum, Campari, pineapple juice, and lime) came back around in New York — that was a really fun drink to introduce people to because it’s so unique. It has really funky maple syrup and coffee flavors.
What is your go-to drink?
It always changes — even based on the time of day. I’m a huge Champagne cocktail drinker. I always like to start a little lighter, too. I’m also a big fan of Campari. I really love wintery, sweeter drinks. If I can drink my dessert, I’m all about that. I just had a really delicious drink at Nitecap, which was doing friends and family this week. It had aged rum, Pedro Ximénez sherry, and bitters. It was a boozy drink but definitely with a rich and sweet side, which is totally up my alley.
What should people know about Champagne cocktails (which carve out a nice section on your menu)?
People don’t always think of Champagne cocktails, but when you suggest something with bubbles, they’re like, “Oh, yeah!” There isn’t a plethora of old Champagne cocktails, so it’s fun to play around with that. It’s also really important to have lighter options on menus for people who might not want an old fashioned during a meeting or can’t have four boozy, bitter bartender cocktails. I think it’s important to have a menu that’s approachable to everyone who comes in.
What goes through your mind when creating a new cocktail?
We’re strongly rooted in classic drinks, but we have expanded our menu a lot in the past couple of years because people are looking for other things we can offer them. A big request right now are spicy and savory cocktails, which are definitely not a big thing in terms of classic drinks from the late 1800s — so that’s something we’re taking a fresh approach to, and we’re seeing where we can add things like spice and peppers.
Also, when we get a cool product in — like a fun rum or liqueur — we’ll play around with it, and usually something good will come from it.
What is an undersung bar placeholder?
I’m a big aged rum fan because I love those richer flavor profiles. I think there are a lot of avenues one can take with them. Our kind of formula when we come up with drinks is to try it in its most classic form — try a rum in a daiquiri and try a tequila in a margarita. But then sometimes, it’s when you swap those things out that you can come up with really fun things. It’s kind of like the Mr. Potato Head theory — swap things in and out and see where they fit. Eventually, when you take something enough steps away from the classic, it can become its own drink.
Do you receive requests for drinks that have been around since the bar’s inception?
We still make a ton of Manhattans — when you taste one, you know there’s a reason it’s been around for 200 years. We had a Gold Rush on our opening menu, which is basically like a whiskey sour with honey. People still come in and ask for those.
How is your menu categorized?
Three years ago we changed the menu from being organized by spirit to flavor profile. It’s fun because it kind of allows people to move away from thinking “I drink whiskey” to more of an approach of “I want a seasonal drink” or “I want something spicy.” They are a bit more willing to try other spirits that we offer when it fits the idea of what they want to drink.
Do you have a preference when it comes to shots?
If we just want to send a little something to a table, or if people want to do a shot before they leave, the one drink we make the most often is the Paper Plane — it’s one of Sam Ross’s drinks from Milk & Honey. It’s equal parts bourbon, Amaro Nonino, Aperol, and lemon. It’s not super boozy — everyone likes it, but it’s still really unique. If people are doing shots, everyone wants to enjoy it, but you don’t want to put one person over the edge, either. It’s the perfect drink to split up.
What inspired the idea of the Kitchen at Raine’s Law Room, which is where all of the bartending action happens?
Our concept was always to be as approachable as possible. That is why we built the bar to have that kitchen aspect, so that people are a little bit closer to us and can ask questions, and it’s also relaxed and fun. Basically, the idea is that we’re inviting you to our house party. We just really want guests to feel, in the most genuine sense, that they’re being included and catered to.