Is your cocktail ready for its closeup? For Cody Goldstein, the NYC founder of consulting firm Muddling Memories, creating Instagram-ready drinks is part of the job. In addition to mixing eye-catching cocktails for bars and restaurants, including The Fat Monk, The Flying Cock and LOCL Bar at the NYLO hotel, he and his team of six “create experiences through the bar” for corporate clients such as Google and John Varvatos.
In the age of social media, highly visual cocktails are a must-have, says Goldstein. “People want to take a photo; it’s a way to say, Look at what I’m doing now.” And as a bartender, “to give people the opportunity to go out and have these experiences is a powerful thing,” he says.
Prior to becoming a bartender and consultant, Goldstein spent several years in other fields, first as a DJ in New York City and Los Angeles (“I’ve always needed some creative outlet,” he says), followed by stints in real estate and finance.
The latter provided some surprisingly relevant skills for tending bar. “I was in customer service,” he says. “It helped me understand that person-to-person relationship and how to read their body language. That’s important for a bartender.”
In 2011, he quit the corporate track and entered the hospitality field, taking on jobs tending bar, managing restaurants and as a private chef. “I was the guy on the train; everyone else was reading TheWall Street Journal , and I was reading Bon Appetit. I knew in my heart something was wrong.”
Today, the drinks for which Goldstein is best known are those that deftly weave in pop culture references. “I create things that I want to see,” he says. “I’m an ’80s baby—I was born in 1980—and to me, there’s nothing greater than nostalgia.”
Inspirations range from childhood brand names like Rainbow Brite and Lisa Frank (the Lisa Frank Sticker) to iconic artists like Andy Warhol (the Muse) and Salvador Dali (the Persistence of Memory) to modern-day movie stars like Emma Stone (the Emma Stone’s a Ginger).
“Anything that has to do with cartoons, TV, pop culture and toys like G.I. Joe makes me happy,” he says. “I really do play off of the fact that nostalgia brings us back to a happy place.”
Goldstein explains how he creates memorable Instagram-ready drinks.
1. Concept First
“It always starts with a concept,” he says. “Then I look back and say, How do I create this? I come up with a vessel, a name. How do I tie this all together, flavor-wise, color-wise? Then I start playing around with spirits, juices, etc.”
2. Aim for a Balanced Drink
Goldstein stresses the importance of balanced drinks that aren’t too sweet or too strong, but he also likes an element of surprise. For example, he points to the My Lisa Frank Notebook at The Fat Monk: “It has the dust that we add for a vibrant pink color. People expect it to be too sweet. But we play around and add spice and balance it out.”
3. To Make Unusual Drinks, Look in Unusual Places
“I shop at weird places,” says Goldstein. “You never know what you’re going to run across.” He has found drink vessels (flower pots) at The Home Depot and garnishes (clothespins) at an art supply store. Even a garden supply store can provide inspiration. “I once created a bar made of living ingredients—a wonderland bar full of flowers and stuff,” he says.
4. If You Can’t Find It, Make It Yourself
Goldstein points to a particularly popular drink he created for a Shakespeare-themed holiday pop-up bar at the NYLO hotel. It was crystal clear and served in a snow globe. “People were coming from near and far just to photograph the cocktails,” he says. “People went crazy for the snow globes, to the point where they were stealing them.”
So where do you find a snow-globe-style glass? You make them. “My father is a very handy do-it-all,” says Goldstein. “We spent a couple of nights in the garage drilling holes into the globes, gluing it down to make it functional.” Considering his affinity for sourcing and creating unusual vessels, it seems a natural fit that Goldstein is in the process of building his own line of barware.
5. Don’t Forget the Garnish
A self-described “garnish geek,” Goldstein observes that “the devil is in the details for me.” That might mean playful cocktail picks, such as the unicorn skewer on the Lisa Frank drink, or a freshly cut lime garnish. He readily admits his pet peeve: brown limes. “It shows you don’t care.”