Posted on | August 24, 2014
Written by | Alia Akkam
A native of France, Damien Aries is head bartender at the sexy Lower East Side outpost of the decidedly European sensation, Experimental Cocktail Club, which previously has set up shop in Paris (2007) and London’s Chinatown (2011).
THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: What compelled you to leave the Parisian bar world for New York’s?
DAMIEN ARIES: I always wanted to come work in New York and was seeking the right location to make it possible. Experimental Cocktail Club has an interesting scene, which was right for me.
TBN: ECC also celebrates all those other hallmarks of a great bar that often get overshadowed by drink lists—like food, music and hospitality.
DA: The cocktails have to be good, but ECC is very much about the service and atmosphere, too. Some places the music is just too loud to have a conversation. We don’t want that. Here, we want you to drink and also have a chat. On the weekdays it’s an especially low-key place, which is nice.
TBN: What are some of the biggest differences you’ve noticed between imbibing in New York and Paris?
DA: New York’s bar community is way bigger than it is in Paris. It’s grown over there, for sure, but there aren’t as many bars and there are only about 30 of us making drinks like this. In New York there are hundreds of bartenders and it’s a lot more competitive. But the trends, in terms of what customers like to drink, are similar. The French are just as interested in drinking things with homemade bitters and fresh vegetables as New Yorkers.
TBN: Vegetables are certainly having a moment in cocktail form.
DA: There are so many ways you can add fresh vegetables to drinks, so everywhere you go you see it now. I recently made a few with kale and celery. Basing drinks on fruits and vegetables that are in season really allows you to customize them.
TBN: The new menu at ECC features many layered, herbaceous drinks, like the Brazilian Cup [Yaguara Cachaça, Green Chartreuse, pineapple juice, verjus, honey syrup]. Is there one that customers seem most drawn to?
DA: La Medicación (Calle 23 Blanco Tequila, Ramazzotti Amaro, lime juice, ginger syrup, allspice dram, Del Maguey Vida Mezcal mist). The combination of the tequila with the ginger and bitter profile is a nice combination for our guests.
TBN: It’s an extensive menu. Do customers seem to know what they want immediately, or does it usually require a walk-through?
DA:They do ask a lot of questions, which is a good thing, because through questions we can give them advice on what they might like to drink. It’s really having a laidback conversation with them.
TBN: How do you think the cocktail list expresses the soul of ECC?
DA: We will change the menu every couple of months, working with every spirit that’s available. Like our name, we’re always experimenting, bringing in new recipes and making drinks with unexpected ingredients. At the same time, the ingredients have to be understandable. Drinks can be originals or drinks can be unexpected, but if they are on the menu they have to be approachable.