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Margaritas and Martinis and Cosmopolitans may be the most popular libations in the country, but beyond these bestsellers there’s a whole lot of shaking going on in cocktail culture. Interest in classic combinations continues to be strong, while many bartenders are working clever variations on traditional recipes, and the strong thirst for high-end spirits has yet to be quenched.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY PAUL GODWIN
“People are trading up,” says Bryan O’Shields, vice president of food and beverage at the Bellagio Hotel Casino in Las Vegas. “They’re drinking better cocktails, better brands. More than ever they’re saying, ‘Give me a Ketel One, a Stoli, an Absolut Citron.’ You don’t have people saying, ‘Vodka, tonic.’ They ask what you’re pouring in the well.”
Cocktail quality, selection and service have become a battlefield in today’s crowded marketplace. “It’s a competitive edge to have something that’s distinctive,” says Andrea Immer, dean of wine studies at New York City’s French Culinary Institute and a beverage consultant to restaurant and hotel chains. “One thing that almost all new restaurant or bar owners want to do is to develop a signature cocktail. It’s the twist that makes your place more of a destination. If there’s a signature drink t*er at Yankee Stadium,”
CITY OF DRINKERS
Focusing on a particular spirit can work well, especially if it matches the cuisine of a restaurant. At Ciudad, an LA pan-Latin establishment run by celebrity chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, the cocktail program has made a distinctive splash by emphasizing rum drinks.
“We wanted to do something different from what you find on every other kind of cocktail list,” says Francesco Ferrario, who manages Ciudad and runs the beverage program. “People in Los Angeles don’t cook a lot. When you go out three or four times a week, you’re starving for something different.” In addition to offering 15 to 20 premium sipping rums, Ciudad showcases the spirit in three variations on the Mojito, selling upwards of 150 of them a night.
Making a better cocktail is more important than ever. That means precision and consistency. “Just because you make a drink stiffer doesn’t make it better,” says Bellagio’s O’Shields. “Our goal is to make a great drink in the fashion it should have been made. That means using the right ingredient, the best ingredient.”
COURTESY OF MARIE BRIZZARD
Greg Harrington was relentless in his pursuit of the perfect ingredients when creating the signature cocktail at Blue Fin, which opened last spring in New York City’s Times Square. “I absolutely refused to use blue cura