5 Napkin Burger (150 East 14th Street; 212-228-5500) may be known for its craft beer selection, but the comfort-food-centric chain is about to see an upgrade in the cocktail department. Elad Zvi and Gabe Orta, the duo behind South Florida–based cocktail consulting company Bar Lab and award-winning Miami Beach bar The Broken Shaker, have been commissioned to reinvent the beverage program. And both Zvi and Orta will be in town for a bar takeover this week.
The Broken Shaker is known for its playful, seasonal, ingredient-driven menu. The drink list changes every couple of weeks, but includes things like a Thai-Tea Old-Fashioned, made with Old Forester bourbon stirred with Thai tea reduction and a touch of cream; and the Parcha Caipirinha, for which Leblon cachaça is shaken with passion fruit and pink peppercorn reduction. Many of the ingredients are made on the premises, and many herbs and other fresh ingredients come from the bar’s garden. The vintage, Old Florida–style spot has received nods from across the industry from organizations like the James Beard Foundation and Tales of the Cocktail.
When 5 Napkin CEO Robert Guarino started looking for ways to step up the chain’s cocktail game, he met with Zvi and Orta through a connection of the Miami location of the burger joint. “When we met with Gabe and Elad, we fell in love,” he says. “What they’re doing at the Broken Shaker is ingredient-driven and exciting, but it’s approachable and fun at the same time.”
Part of Zvi and Orta’s mission in life has become exposing a wider portion of the population to cocktail culture — and they’ve done an impressive job in Miami. So when the chain approached them about elevating the program, they were equally excited about the opportunity. “It’s obvious to get a great cocktail at a cocktail bar, but it’s not so obvious in a chain restaurant,” says Zvi.
Together with management, Zvi and Orta have transformed the entire beverage operation. They’ve sourced different styles of ice, new glassware, and a wide array of ingredients. Many bitters, tonics, and elixirs will be made in-house. The group’s bartenders have gone through extensive training; the initial session was four back-to-back six-hour days, but they plan to maintain with courses and updates throughout the year. That’s actually how Orta and Zvi like to work. At the Broken Shaker, they prefer to train bartenders from scratch, rather than take on individuals who have developed years of bad habits behind the bar.
Even with the enthusiasm and a lot of support on the corporate side, developing a cocktail program for a chain is a completely different ballgame from what Zvi and Orta do at home. In Miami, they work with farmers to source cutting-edge ingredients. They couldn’t do that at 5 Napkin, so they had to work on recipes that could be made with an exact level of consistency, and that would still be innovative.
To put it all together, the pair visited the Miami branch of 5 Napkin for a tasting. Taking cues from the burgers and other menu items, they set out to build a bold menu with classic American flavors. The rum swizzle punch contains Atlantico reserve rum, fresh pineapple juice, passion fruit purée, and house-made banana bitters. The New York State of Mind features Bulleit bourbon infused with apples, vermouth, grapefruit, and Angostura bitters. The Peanut Butter Old-Fashioned is made with Woodford Reserve Bourbon, orange bitters, and house-made peanut butter elixir. “We went there, got a burger, and were like, ‘What would be great with this?’ ” says Zvi. “Something super-American, super-tasty, big, big flavor.”
The goal for Guarino and his team was to appeal to a wider audience. The chain has embraced craft beer from the beginning; however, as the menu has expanded to include a wider assortment of dishes, the group felt the beverage program should reach out to a larger customer base as well. “I think it makes sense in the beverage aspect to look at it along the same lines,” says Guarino. “We like to appeal to a lot of different markets.”
Going forward, the plan is to change the cocktail list about four times per year. It won’t be nearly as seasonal as the Broken Shaker (there, bartenders modify aspects nearly every day), but Guarino doesn’t want to see the menu as a one-time, set thing. “We want it to be a living list, not just fifteen recipes and call it finished,” he says.
On Tuesday, March 24, at 8 p.m., Zvi and Orta will be at 5 Napkin’s Union Square location for a bar takeover to debut the new cocktail list. Each drink will be regularly priced.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.