While any bar worth its rim salt should be able to mix up a standard cocktail, many bar managers put a great deal of thought and creativity into their house specialties. A well-honed cocktail list is like a bar’s personality profile, giving guests a peek into the (muddled) minds of its mixologists. We got into the spirit of things with a dive into Fire & Vine Hospitality group’s Bellevue bars at El Gaucho, The Lakehouse, and Civility & Unrest.
Here’s what to order:
El Gaucho Bellevue
Spirits Director Lonnie Anderson
A classic steakhouse, El Gaucho is known for its theatrical elements and tableside service. Anderson wanted to keep that old-school thread in the bar program, as well, so he created two riffs on some classic recipes that can be served tableside. And when he says classic, he’s going way back for the first cocktail. As in Benjamin Franklin’s favorite cocktail, and one of the oldest recorded cocktail recipes.
Stories are important to the food and beverage culture at El Gaucho. “A story captures our clientele,” said Anderson, who likes creating complex drinks that make customers think a bit. Though most of his job centers around the business end of the bar, Anderson enjoys flexing his imagination behind the bar, calling it his “fun time.” That’s why he re-created Milk Punch.
This cocktail poured tableside is a fascinating study in chemistry, citrus, and spices. Preparations require a three-day process.
On day one, Anderson muddles together a fresh pineapple; a pound of sugar; six lemon peels; fresh lemon juice; and spices like cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom. To that he adds three types of rum and some Elijah Craig bourbon, along with brewed green tea and boiling water. The mixture is sealed and allowed to steep.
On the second day, he boils six cups of whole milk, then pours it directly into the boozy mixture from the previous day. The milk curdles as it hits all the acids in the mixture, and the proteins settle to the bottom. This sits overnight until the chemical reaction is completely finished.
On day three, everything is sent through coffee filters and cheesecloth 30-35 times until it is totally clear, leaving nothing but a golden liquid with rich, decadent texture. Anderson plans to retool the recipe for fall and winter with a Latin twist involving tequila, mescal, pisco, and hibiscus. Another classic cocktail favorite is a Barrel-Aged Manhattan. This riff drink is barrel-aged for six to eight weeks in a five-liter barrel, and then served tableside with a frosty magic trick. An ice press transforms a clear cube of ice into a perfect sphere ready for the glass. Manhattans are a study in simplicity and complexity — only three ingredients, but each brings exceptional flavor and balance to the table. This Manhattan features Montenegro Amaro Italiano, Russell’s Reserve 10-year bourbon, and Cocchi Vermouth di Torino — which is not too sweet and offers hints of star anise and coriander.
Bar Manager Chris Le Roy
At The Lakehouse, it’s all about light, bright, and fresh — think fresh fruit juices, herbs snipped from live plants on the bar, and spirits infused with local produce. Le Roy likes to take ingredients and change them into something new before using them in a cocktail recipe. Infusions utilizing local seasonal produce and high-quality base spirits are a major way he accomplishes those transformations. When you go, order the Seasonal Smash.
At any given time, The Lakehouse has a number of infusions barrel-aging. During the end of summer and early fall, peaches and cinnamon take a two-week bath in a barrel of bourbon. The transformed spirit becomes the base for one of the more perfect sunshine-y cocktails around with the addition of ginger and honey syrups, lemon juice, and a lemon basil garnish.
During cooler months, Le Roy likes to use apples, Cara Cara oranges, and other fruits and spices in the smash base infusion.
Civility & Unrest
Bar Manager Joe Dietrich
Tucked away under the W Bellevue, Civility & Unrest can be dark and moody, or whatever you want it to be — fun and lively, or like a secret whispered in your ear. The cocktail program reflects this customization. It’s always changing thanks to its creative bar team. Each member brings a unique passion to the menu. And the coolest part? You don’t even need to choose from the menu. Here you can leave it up to the bartender — throw out a word (gin, silky, bright, brooding, citrus), and he or she will whip up a customized drink for the occasion.
Owner of both The Lakehouse and Civility & Unrest, Chef Jason Wilson has made seasonality and sustainability core concepts throughout his projects. Dietrich channeled this with a rather unusual cocktail that he created out of the blue. Or, perhaps out of the green would be more accurate, since he noticed a pile of pea shells discarded by the kitchen upstairs at The Lakehouse. He saw an opportunity to reduce waste while creating a distinct drink, so he juiced the husks and added lemon juice, chamomile syrup, gin, and Dolin Blanc (a sweet white vermouth). The result was ultra-fresh, surprisingly sweet, and a somewhat vegetal cocktail radiating vibrant green sustainability goodness. “I felt like I could do something creative with a waste product,” said Dietrich.
The bar offers a tasting menu of five different cocktails for guests looking to expand their palate with something new. The full menu generally has 40+ cocktails. Dietrich said he’s often inspired by his dreams — if a good idea strikes in the middle of the night, he gets up and makes it at the bar he installed in his home. Case in point? The edible Negroni made with gin “glass” (gin crystallized by molecular gastronomy) and sweet vermouth fluid gel with Campari-flavored Pop Rocks.
Dietrich said he loves changing people’s minds about things when it comes to cocktails — whether it’s introducing a customer to a particular spirit or pushing the envelope on other cocktail ingredients. Originally called the “Beauty and the Beast”, this cocktail is a chilling black color topped by fluffy white egg foam and a dried rose petal. The color comes courtesy of a dash of squid ink, which also lends body to the texture of the drink. Psychologically, it seems like it will be heavy or murky on the palate; however, it is quite the opposite. Passionfruit and lime juice pop out of the dark elixir, which is based with Weller Special Reserve, sweetened with chamomile syrup, balanced by cinnamon bitters, and lightly smoked.