The Star Ledger's Inside Jersey (at nj.com) just wrote a great article about us. Click on the title to link to the original article.
by TJ Foderaro
When Bristol-Myers Squibb booked a dinner at Elements in Princeton to celebrate a product launch, the planners asked bar manager Jamie Dodge to come up with a special cocktail to set the mood. They wanted a “drink that would please the masses, both men and women, and that was reddish in color with orangish accents — the colors of the medication logo,” Dodge recalls.
After a little research and experimentation, Dodge settled on a punch — a blend of rums, amaretto, Campari, pineapple juice, lime and other ingredients. He called it Eliquis Punch, after the new drug. “Everyone in the group was very pleased,” says Dodge, 25. “I batched out about two-thirds of a gallon to start with and had to make another two-thirds of a gallon.”
Only a few years ago, it would have been unheard of for a sophisticated restaurant such as Elements (where an appetizer can set you set back $25) to feature a punch. Cosmopolitans? Sure. Mojitos? Maybe. But punch? Wasn’t that something your grandparents served around the holidays?
The fact that young bartenders such as Dodge are experimenting with punch — perhaps the world’s oldest mixed drink — shows how far cutting-edge mixologists are willing to go in their quest to rediscover classic cocktails.
The drink menu at the Strip House in Livingston features a half-dozen classics, such as the Aviator and the Sidecar. At Catherine Lombardi in New Brunswick, the cocktail menu reads like a history textbook, with sections titled “Gilded Age Cocktails (1860-1890)” and “Classic Age Cocktails (1890-1930).”
The recently opened Moonshine Modern Supper Club in Millburn evokes the golden age of the American bar, pre-piña colada. Co-owner Joe San Philip, who developed the concept, pays homage to classics such as Bees Knees (circa “New York 1920,” the menu notes) and Chicago Fizz (whose froth derives from egg whites and club soda — just like the old days).
In researching drink recipes, San Philip developed a respect for 19th- and early 20th-century bartenders who were able to work wonders with limited fresh and local ingredients. “It’s easy to mix with all the flavored vodkas,” he says. “But the original mixologists faced all kinds of challenges.”
Few New Jersey restaurateurs are as dedicated to the cause as Mark Pascal and Francis Schott, co-owners of Catherine Lombardi. They hosted their first “cocktail dinner “ — pairing each course with a cocktail — back in 1993, when wine dinners were still a novelty.
Today, the bar at Catherine Lombardi is a veritable shrine to “craft” cocktails. Pascal and Schott go out of their way to source exotic ingredients, such as crème de violette and a liquor made from allspice. One shelf is cluttered with strange-looking bottles, many capped with eyedroppers.
“This one is orange-flower water,” Schott explains. “This is lavender water, and this is absinthe. Oh, and this is toasted pumpkin seed oil. I also have 10 types of bitters.
“Americans invented the cocktail,” Schott says. “But we sort of lost our legacy.”
“No. 1 — Prohibition,” explains Schott, who has consulted countless old bar manuals and leading modern-day mixologists in his quest for authenticity. Although Prohibition failed to keep Americans from drinking, it put the country’s best bartenders out of business. Many of them, Schott says, fled to Europe.
By the time Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the country was deep in the Great Depression. Then came World War II. By the 1950s, Americans had begun their love affair with processed foods and artificial ingredients. And the counter-culture of the 1960s looked upon cocktails as retrograde. “It was your grandfather’s drink,” Schott says.
The low point, in Schott’s mind, was the 1970s, when the idea of a fancy cocktail was cheap rum and frozen strawberries pulverized in a blender and topped with canned whipped cream.
The turning point came in the late 1980s, when a visionary bartender named Dale DeGroff insisted on using only top-shelf spirits, fresh-squeezed juices and other traditional ingredients at the Rainbow Room in New York. Schott credits DeGroff with single-handedly inspiring the renaissance in American cocktails. “Dale DeGroff changed the world,” he says.
Certainly, Schott counts himself as a disciple. The Catherine Lombardi drink menu includes not one but two versions of the Aviation Cocktail — one from a bartenders’ manual published in the early years of aviation, the other from a cocktail book that came out 20 years later.
“There are two versions of the same cocktail, both on the menu,” says Schott. “Having both allows people to participate in the history of the American cocktail.”
Here’s the original Aviation cocktail, as re-created by Schott:
2 ounces gin (preferably Plymouth)
1/2 ounce Maraschino liqueur (Luxardo)
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1/4 ounce crème de violette
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Serve without garnish.
New Jersey bartenders, such as Jamie Dodge of Elements, above, and Joe San Philip of Moonshine, facing page, have embraced pre-Prohibition era cocktail culture.