Posted on | January 21, 2016
Written by | Alia Akkam
Last year saw the widely heralded arrival of GreenRiver in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood. At this restaurant and bar, a collaborative effort between Danny Meyer’s Union Square Events and Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry of The Dead Rabbit in New York, Julia Momose is the head bartender.
Beverage Media Group: Few bars receive as much praise as The Dead Rabbit. How is GreenRiver similar yet different?
Julia Momose: GreenRiver and The Dead Rabbit share a focus on hospitality and the craft behind creating the best cocktails possible. I think many bars can say the same. Unlike any other, however, GreenRiver is located on the 18th floor of a medical building. There is no “seated policy.” There are times when there are people three-deep, some drinking cocktails, others beer or wine. Either way, it is accessible, and can be very lively, allowing for a unique blend of cocktail bar, restaurant bar and neighborhood bar.
BMG: What kind of establishment do you hope you are creating through the beverage program?
JM: A place where staff are constantly growing and learning, and a place where the guest leaves satiated, wanting to return. I hope for a program that excites without bewildering. Just as drinks are balanced, the program must be balanced too, so that it is approachable, and any person may walk in and find the beer, wine, soda or cocktail that suits their taste. I want to develop a trust with the guest, and show them that no matter what they are craving, we will happily make them the best Gin and Tonic we possibly can. Or, when they are ready to branch out and try something new, they are comfortable letting us pick for them.
BMG: Winter can be challenging for bartenders. What are some of the concoctions catching fire during these coldest months?
JM: I find winter to be fantastic for cocktails. It is the season for citrus. Lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit taste brighter, sweeter and juicier. I also like to introduce warm, spice-driven flavors. For example, Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, shaken with fresh lemon juice and an allspice–cubeb syrup, served tall over crushed ice with freshly grated nutmeg. For those really, really cold days, though, there is a drinking chocolate spiked and spiced with Centerbe and cinnamon.
BMG: Chicago has one of the country’s most dynamic bar scenes, so your customers are certainly savvy. What are they gravitating to most on your menu?
JM: In the shaken category the Halley’s Comet with Tanqueray gin, lemon juice, kaffir lime leaf, passion fruit, clove and Cava has been quite popular. Among the stirred cocktails, the Grey Wolf, made in the style of an Old Fashioned, with Yamazaki 12 Year Old, Bénédictine, Japanese plum vinegar and Angostura bitters, has been receiving rave reviews.
BMG: Given that GreenRiver flaunts the Danny Meyer touch—and he literally wrote the book on hospitality—service obviously takes center stage. What is your personal approach?
JM: Sometimes I like to sit on the “other side” of the bar when it is closed. I feel the chair, the foot rest and take in the view so that I have a better understanding of how the guest may be feeling and what they are seeing.
There are so many factors to an evening out. Mise-en-place is crucial, because once everything behind the bar is as it should be we focus on providing curated experiences. Our aim is for the guest to have an effortless experience, and for each person this requires a different touch from us. Some guests want to interact; others want to be left alone. Read the guest. It is so satisfying when they don’t realize how their expectations were exceeded, but walk away feeling better than when they walked in.