Classic cocktails are having a resurgence. The almost cultish trend is one-part organic, two-parts local content, with a splash of Iron Chef and a dash of Mad Men for style.
The new darling of the drinking crowd is rooted in the belief that drinks are meant to be sipped and savored, not slammed and forgotten. Apparently, the slow-food movement and its emphasis on farm-to-table, sustainable, and artisanal, applies to what’s on your plate — and in your glass.
“It’s a natural progression,” says Antoine Przekop, sommelier and beverage manager for Bourbon Steak and SaltWater at the MGM Grand Detroit. “[With craft cocktails], people want to push the envelope and do things that you would not expect, just like chefs do.”
“Mixology” is fast becoming considered as much a skill and science, as are brewing and winemaking. Dave Kwiatkowski, head mixologist at Detroit’s soon-to-open Sugar House Bar on Michigan Avenue, says, “People are looking for more quality in what they’re eating and what they’re drinking, demanding more for their dollar. The craft cocktail is the next natural step. This isn’t anything new; it’s been around for 150, even 200, years, but people just kind of forgot about it.”
Toasted Oak Grill in Novi, and Cork Wine Pub in Pleasant Ridge are among those at the forefront of the new breed. In addition to Sugar House, another speakeasy-style bar is planned for Ferndale (opening sometime this spring). In a space once occupied by Nami, owner Sandy Levine, formerly of Atlas Global Bistro, will offer the in-vogue drinks.
Craft cocktails employ the same principles and sensibilities as a chef’s cuisine. Seeking flavors that are balanced and complex, mixologists will spend hours perfecting one drink. Sugary, flavored vodkas are shirked in favor of quality gins, whiskeys, bourbons, and vermouths.
At Roast in the Book Cadillac, cocktails receive as much attention as other beverages. Joseph Allerton, Roast’s wine and service director, says, “We’re seeing a new focus on high-quality ingredients.”
Cocktails at Ann Arbor’s Grange Kitchen & Bar reflect the restaurant’s seasonal-food concept. “We wanted to dig deeper into what it meant to get the full experience,” says Jennifer Richtmyer, bar manager at Grange, where she says the bacon-infused Bulleit Bourbon has been well-received.
Consumers have a way of creating their own culture, and self-proclaimed cocktail nerds have a way of finding one another. “Small worlds become even smaller when you throw that element in,” says the MGM’s Przekop. “It becomes kind of a microcosm [in which they are] basically creating the market out of nothing.”
With everything from cottage-industry start-ups to home charcuterie clubs and underground dinner parties, locals know if they want something done, they have to do it themselves. Kwiatkowski says that was the inspiration for Sugar House. “I’ll finally have a great bar to drink at,” he says. “Problem is, I’ll be working there every night.”
The growing community of Detroiters who are excited about food and drink is creating the market they desire. And like the pleasure of sharing a good cocktail, the trend is creating a newfound camaraderie. Says Roast head bartender Travis Fourmont, “There’s a great community of things going on here … the collaboration factor is unbelievable.”
View two classic cocktail recipes on the next page.
1-1/2 ounces black-tea infused Beefeater gin
3/4 ounce Rosemary simple syrup
1/4 ounce lemon juice
1/4 ounce grapefruit juice
— David Kwiatkowski, Sugar House, Detroit
THE BAR FLY
(Based on the Negroni, a cocktail classic)
Equal parts fig-infused Old Raj gin, Campari, Cherry Heering (Danish liqueur), and cranberry juice. Add a healthy dash of Angostura bitters, and garnish with a vanilla-soaked fig.
— Travis Fourmont, Roast, Detroit