To create the beverage program for Lure, a 170-seat modern fish house in Atlanta, beverage director Vajra Stratigos took a unique approach. “Years ago, it was the industry standard for a beverage program to be inextricably aligned with the cuisine served from the kitchen,” he explains. “The current trends across the country seem to be leaning toward [beverages] creating their own separate identity apart from the cuisine.”
The culmination is an eclectic mélange showcasing communally served sips, effervescent bottled cocktails and a ubiquitous Japanese spirit.
Lure always offers three different punchbowl drinks, which are available in two sizes, serving two to four (priced at $40) or five to eight ($80) guests. Though at first glance the price appears a bit steep, Stratigos points out that a maximum portion of 9 oz. per patron makes the average cost per person more reasonable.
To maximize versatility, management offers a classic punch, a trendy riff and one with an in-house innovation. Lure’s punch potables have included Your Money, My Looks, made with Aperol, Jim Beam, prosecco, honey and rosemary; and Pre-Siesta, with Almond Horchata, honey, El Jimador Blanco Tequila, Bénédictine, Kronan Swedish Punsch Liqueur and allspice.
“While they aren’t ever going to land on every table, they have great application and impact for large parties and those looking specifically for an alternative cocktail experience,” says Stratigos. Lure sells two to four punch bowls per evening.
Shochu and premixed, bottled sips
Elsewhere on the Lure drinks menu, shochu is described as “somewhere between a martini and a glass of white wine.” Stratigos deems shochu—a clear, distilled Japanese spirit similar to vodka—perfect for the delicate nuances of a seafood experience.
Though he sees shochu as highly mixable, Stratigos strives to honor the purity and subtle differences among brands, while positioning the spirit as approachable to guests.
Eschewing shochu-based cocktails, Lure serves eight offerings, priced at $9, with specific accompaniments that complement the aroma and flavor profile of each. The “light, floral and very clean” notes of Hakutake Shiro “White Mountain,” for example, are a perfect match with coconut water and bark. Most popular has been Kannoko “God River,” a Scotch-like shochu selection aged in used oak barrels that’s served with burnt orange and an Amarena cherry.
Premixed cocktails on tap have been a recent drinks trend; Lure twists it by selling premixed, bottled libations.
“We really wanted to creative fun, engaging ways for guests to enjoy a cocktail and at the same time demystify the mixology hype,” Stratigos says. Recent creations include Micha Caliente, with lemon-lime soda, jalapeno vodka, orange liqueur, cranberry and verdejo; and Blue-Eyed Boy, combining Bombay Sapphire gin, mint, elderflower and peach bitters.
Each effervescent elixir is priced at $9, and Lure sells about 50 of them per evening. “The fabricated, almost commercial feel to a prebottled carbonated cocktail was just the right thing,” Stratigos notes.
Enhancing the experience
The restaurant’s theme is subtle nautical, with a decor palate of neutrals and grays, along with distressed wood. Large-scale, bold nautical design elements include a wooden anchor chain and lighting reclaimed from vintage ships. This enables Lure to drive home the feel of a fish house without resorting to kitsch.
To properly pique patrons’ palates with the multitude of mixology, staff undergoes comprehensive and proprietary training. Stratigos started the education program six years ago at all seven concepts of the Atlanta-based Fifth Group Restaurants. “This program is designed to build confidence and passion for all things liquid,” he says. Beverage managers lead staff in a 13-unit roadmap of topics called “The Period Focus” covering food pairing, spirits analysis, selling and tasting.
In the kitchen, executive chef David Bradley’s philosophy is to serve the freshest, sustainably caught seafood (local when possible), in preparations and flavors that make an impact yet don’t overwhelm. He has an affinity for cured and preserved products (sublime cocktail partners, he says), and dabbles in spirited cuisine. Oysters on the half shell are served with a shochu-based mignonette, while mussels are bathed in Allagash White Ale.
In one of Bradley’s favorite food and cocktail pairings that gives a nod to the Big Easy, any of Lure’s available punches stands in for a Hurricane, washing down cornmeal-coated fried oyster sliders served po’boy style with watercress and Cajun remoulade. It’s easy-drinking, eclectic and fun—like Lure’s drinks program itself.