Posted on | September 30, 2013
Written by | Alia Akkam
For nearly 30 years, chef Alfred Portale’s Gotham Bar and Grill has been serving up green-market cuisine in classy Greenwich Village digs. With the arrival of Jeremy Hawn, the bar has taken a forward-thinking turn, adding cocktailian flair to a beverage program better known for wine.
The Beverage Network: How do you inject new life into a classic restaurant via cocktails?
Jeremy Hawn: You don’t want to interfere with what made the restaurant successful, but that’s the easy part. I looked at Gotham’s menu and made cocktails that featured many of the same ingredients used in our food, and also designed cocktails that would pair well with menu items. You’re really just doing everything you can to try to have the cocktail program and the bar reflect the quality of the food, service and atmosphere that have made that restaurant an institution.
TBN: Explain Gotham’s new cocktail program. What’s the mission, and how does it jive with the restaurant’s vision?
JH: Aside from drawing ideas from Chef Portale’s menu, I have tried to move toward more locavore, farm-fresh, seasonal ingredients. For example, one of my summer cocktails, the Hook and Blush, featured Greenhook Gin—which is distilled in Brooklyn—and a strawberry/rhubarb jam grown by Blue Hill at Stone Barns, up in Westchester.
TBN: Do you and Chef Portale work hand in hand on the drinks?
JH: I am lucky to be where I am. Chef leaves the cocktail menu entirely to me, and I’m grateful for that trust. But, I have drawn ingredients and flavors from his dishes and followed the philosophy set forth for the restaurant in general, so the cocktails end up working in tandem with the dishes even if we aren’t collaborating.
TBN: Which drinks have proven the most popular so far?
JH: The Seersucker. We infuse Greenhook Gin with cucumber and mint, then mix it with my own orgeat, lemon and top it with club soda. It’s a crisp, herbal, refreshing drink that helps you get over the heat and humidity of a New York summer.
TBN: And what can we look forward to this autumn?
JH: My fall menu will feature many flavors that people associate with the season: plum, allspice, beets and cranberries. I believe in having cocktails that are seasonally appropriate. People’s palates change with the seasons. They’ll be eating a bit heavier and heartier in the fall than in summer and the cocktails will reflect and support that.
TBN: Many of Gotham’s guests are regulars, who are eager to order their favorite glass of wine or a familiar martini. How do you educate them about the new offerings?
JH: I’m not trying to tell people what or how to drink. What I focus on are the people who are interested in either trying something new, or in trusting us as bar professionals to be able to make them something that will appeal to their specific tastes. The key, really, is having cocktails that will resonate with different people, using a range of spirits and flavors to get them interested. To give a food analogy: If someone knows they like pasta and doesn’t tend to be adventurous, you don’t tell them they’re wrong and then take them out for sushi. But if someone says they’re feeling adventurous, then you might feel free to take them to that great Sri Lankan hole in the wall down the street.
TBN: What is the biggest challenge of working at a bar set in a restaurant?
JH: In restaurants, the bar itself is often built for the aesthetic pleasure of the guests first and the efficiency of the bartender second. In a bar, the space is designed from the perspective of the bartender and their ability to make drinks quickly and efficiently—then with the thought of how it looks from across the room. I am lucky, however, to work at a bar that has plenty of space for anything we could possibly need and a management team that is committed to doing everything they can to make the bar as efficient and well-equipped as possible.