Posted on | December 29, 2011
Written by | Alia Akkam
During breakfast, Michael McCarty’s Midtown destination will be filled with New York’s powerful washing down California omelets with coffee. A few hours later, deals will be made over salade niçoise and La Caravelle Champagne. Now, thanks to the arrival of Michael Flannery behind the stick, weekday evenings have spawned a lively bar scene around cocktails like the Parisian Negroni.
The Beverage Network: Creating a cocktail program at a wine-centric restaurant as legendary as Michael’s is both exciting and challenging. What was your and Michael McCarty’s vision for building the drinks menu?
Michael Flannery: To be completely honest it is very humbling to be working in a restaurant such as Michael’s. Throughout my career I have opened many restaurants and hotels, but building a program for a 22-year-old restaurant in midtown Manhattan has a completely different feeling. My priority was to focus on the classics while being able to offer anything a modern cocktail drinker enjoys. I’ve stocked the bar with the best tools and now proudly can refer to any classic anybody desires to create something fresh for adventurous guests.
TBN: I bet a lot of the regulars are used to their traditional martinis, yet you’re also whipping up cocktails with, say, Santa Teresa Venezuelan rum and Louis Royer Cognac. What has reception for the bar program been like?
MF: Incredibly positive, even from the guests who will still get their vodka sodas. Guests might be conservative but they still want a fun experience while they are in our restaurant to dine. They love Chef Kyung’s menu and his specials and they have an adventurous side.
TBN: How do you encourage guests to go beyond their comfort zone?
MF: One of my first nights, I started a gentleman with his usual vodka soda but he said I could be creative for his next drink. I made him an Aviation and he loved it. After that he was more intrigued and said he was not afraid of whiskey, so then I had that same gentleman drinking a deep purple highball with whiskey, maple syrup and fresh blackberries. He loved it! Today he still always starts with his vodka soda, but continues to try new drinks afterwards.
TBN: One way the restaurant has successfully introduced cocktails to bar patrons is Mixology Wednesdays. What is the goal of that program?
MF: Mixology Wednesdays started as a way for me to come into the restaurant one night per week to get a feel for the establishment and the clientele I would be entertaining. It has developed into our busiest bar night and along with our special bar menu from Chef Kyung, and some great cocktail prices, we get to have some of the other office workers come in, not just the bosses who are known to lunch at Michael’s.
TBN: I think another part of the program that is exciting is the bar food. How do the cocktails complement the experience?
MF: Chef Kyung has developed a great menu of bar bites that allow us to offer a more affordable evening. Matching cocktails with food is like pairing wine with food. So whatever the guest wants, from our market crudo which is light and savory to our Korean tacos that are spicy and rich, I will match for them a cocktail varying from something with sour and citrus to my personal favorite being a stirred spirit-forward cocktail like a Manhattan.
TBN: I like that you’re using some classic brands like Campari as well as the increasingly popular Del Maguey mezcal. Is this an opportunity to engage customers?
MF: Absolutely. Just as the guests are trying new cocktails (with lots of classics, too) I tell them about what spirits are in their drink. So many brands have great history—a little education gives the guest a bit of knowledge and will ultimately bring them back again for more. I’ve been making my cocktails to the flavors that are in the bottles, so working with great brands is important and leads to giving our guests something they possibly have not heard of before.