In Praise of the Gin and Tonic


Sick of your usual call drink? Try something new. In this series, we’re asking the city’s bartenders to name their current drinks of choice.

Today’s call comes by way of Zack Bezunartea of Boqueria (171 Spring Street, 212-343-4255).

What’s your call drink?
Few things are better than a classic gin and tonic. Even well gin with cheap tonic shot right from a soda gun comes to life with a just a little squeeze of fresh lime. It’s a perfect drink — fresh and easy but with a subtle complexity from the botanicals in the gin and the quinine in the tonic.

What is it about this drink that you like so much?
I love to try new and different drinks when I’m out, and we are always experimenting with new cocktail and sangria recipes at Boqueria. But when I just want to relax, I want something simple and familiar but well done.There is just something so familiar and easy to appreciate about a good gin and tonic. When barkeeps revisit them with an eye for innovation and execution, the results can be amazing.

Has it always been your favorite? How long did it take you to find it? How did it become your regular order?
Well, the dive across the street from my house in Tucson, Arizona, used to sell gin and tonics for $1.50. I guess that was the start of the “process.” Then again, they also served crockpot hotdogs for $1, and those are definitely NOT on the top of my list…

Really though, all of the credit goes to Spain. When I was young and visiting family there during the summer, I would drink Kalimotxos (half wine, half Coca Cola), but as I got older and was able to travel around the country more, I discovered gintonics (yes, in Spain, it’s just one word). Every bar and restaurant takes pride in creating a signature version, and whenever I go, I try as many as I can. On a recent visit, I had some great versions with an old friend at a little hidden cocktail bar called Old Fashioned in the Gracia neighborhood of Barcelona.

Any chance something might replace it down the line?
Of course, it gets replaced all the time. Manhattans, Negronis, Old Fashioned’s — they’ve all had their run, but I always come back to the G&T. Also, NONE of the former cocktails are a safe bet at an airport bar or on the Amtrak!

Could you name a few places around town that make your favorite drink?
Well, Boqueria, of course, but my favorites are off the menu. Joel Islas, the head bartender at our Soho location, makes the best one: Fever Tree Tonic, Hendricks, a slice of cucumber, a little sprig of rosemary, a wheel of lemon bruised ever so slightly, and a quiet little whisper of bitters. Ask him for the “Islas and Tonic,” and he’ll know what you want.

Whitehall in the West Village also always has a good version on the menu. They add a dollop of seasonal jam and a little bubbly to their version. I often walk by on my way home from work, and sometimes I’ll slip in to steal a sip before calling it a day.

Could you give us a recipe?

Islas and Tonic
by Joel Islas, as told by Zack Bezunartea

Start with a big glass — Joel uses a Burgundy wine glass and adds the accoutrements first. Add two dashes of bitters to the glass, and then turn the glass upside down and shake them out. Run one slice cucumber across the rim and drop in the glass. Do the same with one two-inch sprig of rosemary, and then again with a round of lemon. Smash the lemon just a little with a muddler or spoon.

Add two ounces of Hendricks and let it sit for a minute or two. Then add big ice, if you have it — Joel freezes big round spheres in water balloons!

Crack open a bottle of Fever Tree and barely cover the ice with the tonic. Taste and add more tonic as you please. ¡Salud!