Cocktails – Craft versus Cool




It was Saturday evening, in a city known for its (over)abundance of local character and characters. I was shopping for next season’s lipsticks, when a huge fight broke out at the department store’s entrance.

Shoppers inside and bystanders outside ran with their camera phones towards the drama. Security guards lowered the massive steel doors to keep rioters from breaking through the glass entrance walls, and looting the high-class, designer-label merch. An ambulance and cop cars showed up.

Helluva way to start a bar crawl.




The bar I went to for some post-riot Zen showcased their offerings beautifully. It was almost happy hour, and the place was filling up quickly. I managed to get a seat at the bar and ordered a dry martini with olives.




In under a minute, I felt that something was off. I looked around to see what it could be. There was no background music. The chatter was getting louder as more people arrived; the noise was crashing against the concrete walls and low ceilings. Plus, the lights were too bright.

I could usually chill at a bar with a normal-ish vibe, but somehow, this evening, everything and everyone at this particular bar was getting on my nerves. Maybe that adrenaline rush from the riot was making me crave another kind of cocktail experience – something odd/interesting/dangerous. And so I just didn’t have the patience for “normal” right now. I finished my cocktail and left.





I wandered over to a bar with a balcony like a stylish penthouse overlooking downtown, and had the Shen cocktail, an Asian spin on the Manhattan. Sipping it was like floating in a volcano-heated pool in the middle of a forest on a warm summer night. Pure bliss.

I was ready for my next experience.





Just for the sake of contrast, a dive bar was next on my list. In every Chinatown I’ve been to, I have always felt that walking alone in a sketchy part of town, surrounded by grime, crime and shadows was really stupid. And I was feeling all kinds of stupid now. I hurried over to the bar. The last thing I needed to be doing was standing alone in an alley in Chinatown, pulling out a camera phone in front of these staring, homeless men to capture this Instagram moment. If I kept moving, I might just be okay.





The bar was populated with beardos with attitudes, hipsters, sex industry workers and “tourists” who drove in from the west side for some atmosphere. The booze selection was limited to beer (NOT the craft brew variety), hard liquor shots and PBR. Their idea of a cocktail would be Jagermeister in a clean shot glass. I opted for good, reliable Makers Mark – also my bourbon of choice for Manhattans.

I love bars with an interesting history. Back in the day, guys who got falling-down-drunk at this and other bars in the area would be kidnapped and transported in underground tunnels. When the men woke up, they found themselves on a ship, out at sea, and forced into servitude.

I sipped my drink while trying not to stare at a couple of call girls, dressed like Barbie doll twins. They sat, silent and bored, next to a couple of young, clean-cut, obviously drunk guys dressed in business casual, talking and laughing overly loud about software companies and upcoming projects. Suddenly, one of the guys looked over at the two rent-a-dates, yelled “Yeah! YEEAAAAHHH!” and pumped his fist into the air. The girls looked at him briefly then away, still silent, still bored. I finished my drink, left quickly, and burst out laughing as soon as I was outside.




One of my girlfriends texted me to meet up at a downtown bar, one of her favorites. It was named after a thief that operated within a labyrinthian network of hideouts in the criminal underworld of 1930s Morocco. She was downstairs, saving me a seat.




The foyer was bright, but the lights got dimmer as I walked down a stairway to a small, subterranean cocktail bar. I spotted my friend waiting for me at a table in the far corner, glaring at me like some moody European when I walked over and took her picture.




The bar’s ceiling was curved, the walls decorated with tastefully framed porn, and I found “secret” meeting spots just around the corners. I was enamored with the place. The cocktail, though, was another story.




The drinks menu was a short but impressive selection of house cocktails and classics. According to my research, the bartender at Pepe Le Moko was outstanding, but he wasn’t working that night, unfortunately. Because I was enjoying myself so much and thought nothing could possibly go wrong, I decided to order off-menu. Nothing strange, just another classic cocktail.




I was sure a place with a reputation for cocktail greatness couldn’t possibly screw up the Corpse Reviver #2. I checked with the server, to see if the bartender had the knowledge and materials to create the cocktail I wanted. I was assured that she did.

And yet there it was, a very pretty cocktail that tasted like disappointment. First of all, the absinthe was missing. The cocktail should have had either a rinse or a dash of absinthe. There was no smell or delicate flavor of absinthe at all. After just a couple of sips, I pushed my cocktail aside.




Second, instead of fresh lemon juice the bartender used some liquid that poured suspiciously out of a white plastic bottle. And that citrus flavor – that wasn’t Cointreau or Triple Sec, plus there wasn’t an orange peel in the glass. Oh no…did they use… store-bought citrus instead of fresh??

I made the mistake of not observing the mixology and methodology before ordering my cocktail, like I would usually do, because I was busy chatting with my friend. But now, I watched the bartender as she used that citrus liquid to prepare other cocktails. When a classic cocktail recipe calls for fresh lemon juice, it must come directly from actual fruit.

My takeaway from this night’s final crawl is, a bar’s choices of liquid refreshment,  combined with its ambient offerings, can definitely affect your state of mind, what drink you order, and your level of enjoyment while sipping it.





However, a bar’s fun theme – sexy cool, edge-y, moody, freaky or quirky – will not make up for a cocktail’s poor execution. Ever. This is especially true if they’re charging a lot of money for it.

Ambience is just the opening act to the real star of the show – the cocktail. Bartenders should learn to create each and every cocktail on their menu to perfection, or be honest and offer an alternative if a special request is beyond their ability or expertise.

When it comes to the art of the cocktail, precision and mindful creativity are key.
Faking it ’til you make it just doesn’t cut it.



Corpse Reviver #2



Here’s are recipes for this delicious classic cocktail, courtesy of and Cheers!

Saveur’s recipe:

1 oz. gin
1 oz. Cocchi Americano or Lillet Blanc
1 oz. Cointreau
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 dash absinthe
Orange peel, for garnish

Shake all ingredients together in an ice-filled cocktail shaker; strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with orange peel.

Liquor’s recipe:

Absinthe rinse
3⁄4 oz Plymouth gin
3⁄4 oz Cointreau
3⁄4 oz Lillet Blanc
3⁄4 oz Lemon juice

Rinse a chilled coupe or Martini glass with absinthe and set aside.

Add the remaining ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice.

Shake, and strain into the prepared glass.



The Beautiful and Damned: Intoxication



Nothing smoothes you out like slipping off your work day, and sliding into a sexy martini. First sip to test, the second to enjoy its perfection. With the third sip, you realize that all the worries of the day that seemed so important at the time, really don’t matter. Especially now. And certainly not in the grand scheme or big picture that is your life.

After that fourth sip, ah yes. The world starts to fall away, and all that is left is sheer bliss…and you.

In his novel, The Beautiful and Damned, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a passage about how that intoxication bliss puts a golden glow, a romantic, softening haze over the sharp edges of everyday reality:

“There was a kindness about intoxication – there was that indescribable gloss and glamour it gave, like the memories of ephemeral and faded evenings.




After a few high-balls there was magic in the tall glowing Arabian night of the Bush Terminal Building – its summit a peak of sheer grandeur, gold and dreaming against the inaccessible sky. And Wall Street, the crass, the banal – again it was the triumph of gold, a gorgeous sentient spectacle; it was where the great kings kept the money for their wars…




…The fruit of youth or of the grape, the transitory magic of the brief passage from darkness to darkness – the old illusion that truth and beauty were in some way entwined.”




All photos and Photoshopped intro image by JE Alexandria Julaton

Mezcal: The Rockstar Agave


I was at a Mexican bar one evening. Late enough, and in a neighborhood cool enough, that Uber smacked me with surge pricing. Ugh.

Anyway, it was the kind of warm, late spring night that made it seem all kinds of wrong to stay home. I hooked up with several of my friends who suggested we go to a mezcaleria. I’ve never been to one and didn’t know what that was, but they lured me with sweet promises of an outdoor patio, tiki bar and fire pit. They did not disappoint! And even better, it was “international beats” night, so live deejays played Eurolounge, deep house, electronica, etc. – the good stuff!


One of my girlfriends turned to me. “You ever had mezcal?”
No, I said. What IS that?
It’s like tequila, she said. But more…interesting. Better.

And she was right. On her recommendation, I first tried the house special margarita – margarita made with mezcal – since I was told it was quite delicious. Plus, she said it was a good “gateway” cocktail to prepare my palate for direct contact with the strong stuff. That was probably the best margarita I’ve ever had, made by someone other than myself (I won’t even pretend to be humble. My margaritas as amazing!).


It intruiged me. I had to get to know this magical mezcal thing, one-on-one. Savor it more closely, intimately. I ordered a shot of one of their mezcals, asked the bartender to recommend one for me. The patio bar was wall-to-wall hipsters, gyrating, posing, being witty…is that “medicinal” herb I smell? But I was far from being distracted.


I sipped the mezcal, held it in my mouth and throat, inhaled and exhaled slowly, the way I do when trying a new whiskey. Then swallowed. It was dark, smokey and there was something else. Tobacco? Leather? It was just that complex and yet utterly fascinating. Mezcal, like tequila, is made from the agave plant. But while tequila can only be made from the the blue agave, mezcal can be made from different agave varieties, which accounts for its array of flavors.

Preparation is another way mezcal distinguishes itself from tequila. To make tequila, the agave heart is baked and steamed prior to its juice being extracted. With mezcal, the agave heart is instead roasted underground with wood charcoal and hot rocks prior to juice extraction, resulting in its smokey taste.

If you love tequilas, you have to try mezcals. Just look out for the worm when you get to the bottom of the bottle.



The Mezcal Margarita
(From article “The Perfect Margarita Is Made With Mezcal”)

Salt (Recommended: A half-kosher, half-wood-smoked salt blend from Mountain Rose Herbs)
1½ oz. Del Maguey Vida mezcal
¾ oz. green Chartreuse
¾ oz. lime juice
½ oz. agave nectar

Lightly moisten the rim of a glass with a lime wedge, then roll it in salt. Combine remaining ingredients with ice in a shaker, give it a couple of hard shakes, then pour into the glass and top off with fresh ice. Garnish with a lime wedge and a sprig of mint.