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Bar Talk: Toque Time

Posted on  | May 26, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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Chefs Club by Food & Wine—the New York follow-up to the Aspen original, tucked inside Nolita’s Puck Building—showcases distinctive dishes from an array of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs past. To complement the imaginative menu, lead bartender Anthony Bohlinger infuses classic libations with just the right touch of adventure.

Anthony Bohlinger, Chefs Club by Food & Wine, NYC

The Beverage Network: The restaurant is certainly a unique one. There is the everyday menu, and then the Studio, where guest chefs visit to create prix-fixe menus for intimate dinners. Is there synergy between the drinks served in both settings?

Anthony Bohlinger: My favorite part is when the chefs come in and I get to collaborate with them to figure out the best cocktails for their meals based on the ingredients they are using. Our standard drink menu, on the other hand, is fun and approachable; I didn’t want anything too serious.

TBN: Have you found cocktail lists to be too intense?

AB: When I went around to different New York bars for research I was put off by a lot of the cocktails I saw because I didn’t understand what they were trying to accomplish. Although our drinks reflect a culinary style, I wanted the ingredients we use to be relevant. Even if a drink has six or seven ingredients in it, on the menu we will only list a few prominent ones, to not overwhelm the guests. Most ideas have been done before, just like with a chef’s food. With drinks you need to develop your own style.

TBN: How would you describe your style?

AB: I am a big fan of clean, easy, sour-style cocktails; classic riffs. I poke my nose around the kitchen and see what they are doing in pastry because what they are working on and how I can complement those flavors is interesting to me. I also veer towards making drinks with great acidity, because you need that element if you’re going to pair it with food, which we want to do here.

TBN: Cocktails like the Bon Voyage (spiced tequila, mezcal, banana, lemon, egg white) and Wildflower (gin, watermelon, lavender, lemon, vanilla) sound very compelling for cocktail aficionados. What are people really enjoying?

AB: One of our most popular drinks is the Socialite, which is a hybrid between a Boulevardier and a Manhattan. It’s boozy. We use High West Rye, Carpano Antica Vermouth, add a rosemary extract to Aperol, and I worked with the pastry chef to make a syrup out of Seckel pears that rounds it out. It’s topped off with housemade bitters. But really, the favorites among our clientele are tequila and whiskey.

TBN: The cocktails, while grounded in the classics, definitely reflect unusual combinations. How do you alleviate any skepticism among patrons?

AB: When they are sitting at the bar we can talk to them. They ask questions and the dialogue organically evolves. We work off their palates and they become more adventurous. They might not even know they are there to learn, but once they start talking and see the bar tools and bottles of bitters on display their eyes light up and they want to know what’s going on. It provokes conversation. 

TBN: Is there something new you’re tackling?

AB: Just like the food menu isn’t automatically wiped clean when the seasons change, we start taking out heavier, wintery ingredients and replace them with different, lighter ones. It’s a smooth transition. We just debuted our brunch menu on Mother’s Day and of course the Bloody Mary is popular. But instead of just the vodka version we make a Bloody Maria with a habanero-spiced tequila and the Bloody Belle, where we infuse bourbon with smoked Iberico ham. They might be different takes, but they remain simple.


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