The Basics Drinking Out

A Look Behind the Most Original Themed Cocktail Menu of 2019. So Far.

The “wow” moment arrived with the Root, an Apple Brandy Old Fashioned, perched high on a metal tower-like construction topped with a black light. The light imbued the drink above with a violet glow, made all the more dramatic as bar director Pietro Collina poured a beet-hued liquid to float on top of the glass, illuminating a “hidden message” in invisible ink on a specially printed newspaper set below the structure.

To be fair, this was only one of several “wow” moments. After all, the “1984” Library Collection cocktail experience at The NoMad’s Library Bar may be the most elaborate drink-oriented spectacle in New York City right now. It’s certainly the most thought-provoking.

Root, the second cocktail of “Ministry of Truth” at The NoMad.

The theme, inspired by George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel, “1984,” might seem like unlikely inspiration for cocktail whimsy. “I chose the book because it has a lot of ties to what’s happening today in government, society and media,” says Collina. “I like the love story in the middle of it. It has an ending that seems very dark but also realistic; it’s not a happy ending.”

The “1984” menu, which launched in February, took a year and half of planning and budgeting. Guests select from one of four ministries mentioned in the book (“Ministry of Love,” “Ministry of Plenty,” “Ministry of Peace” and “Ministry of Truth”). Each guest receives a paperback copy of the novel. On most pages, Collina has painstakingly highlighted passages and scribbled notes and page references, creating a “choose your own adventure” that changes with each ministry.

Land, the second cocktail of “Ministry of Love”.

Each order comes with two drinks—and plenty of surprises. For example, “Ministry of Love” includes two cocktails inspired by the love story between characters Julia and Winston. A glass paperweight with a piece of coral in the center is mentioned repeatedly as a key symbol. Here, the storyline is interpreted as the Sea, a gin-based milk punch served in a glass globe lined with seashells, followed by the Land, a bottled cocktail infused with earthy sarsaparilla and saffron. When poured, it resembles a sleek Martini, served with a dish of olives on the side for a briny echo that ties together the Land and Sea into a cohesive structure.

From an operational standpoint, the “1984” experience works because it’s a tightly controlled setup. In general, the Library space is reserved for hotel guests. But four tables, one in each corner of the room, are set aside for “1984” reservations, booked via Resy.

Aggressive, the second cocktail of “Ministry of Peace”.

“A lot of the serves are elaborate,” says Collina. “So we don’t want to ruin anything for other guests enjoying the experience as well by adding too many tables and having them sit right next to each other. We don’t want to ruin the surprise.” With only four opportunities each evening, that also creates a certain amount of scarcity. “Right after we released it, within 12 hours, it was already booked a month ahead.”

Collina describes the planning process for “1984” as highly collaborative, incorporating skills from several NoMad staffers: He points out a plank made by the captain, who’s also a woodsmith; artwork done by the maitre’d; illustrations drawn by a server. That impressive black-lit tower? It’s crowned by a lacy, laser-cut piece created by one of the managers.

The one downside? “You can’t scale this up,” says Collina. “There has to be enough allocated time. It has to be comfortable.” And organization ahead of time is key. “It’s about setting up systems and making sure everyone does their side work.” After all, someone has to stuff those fresh rose petals sourced from NYC’s flower district into the bottom chamber of the Fferrone glass so they’ll gracefully shower the tabletop when a guest lifts their “Ministry of Peace” Whiskey Sour for a sip.

Bounty, the first cocktail of “Ministry of Plenty,” at NoMad’s Library Bar (right image: Benoit Linero).

Yet, the limited seating—a maximum of 16 guests per evening—enables more elaborate drinks and presentation. “We get to use techniques you can’t do with a regular bar because it’s so high-volume,” says Collina. That also extends to more expensive ingredients, like that saffron-infused Martini, and more expensive glassware.

This is just the opening shot for NoMad’s Library Collection. Looking ahead, Collina plans to change the menu each year to focus on a new book and eventually roll out the themed menus at other NoMad outlets around the world. Stop number two is likely to be London, where Collina is relocating this spring to helm the bar at Claridge’s, and eventually to be part of the opening team for a new NoMad Hotel there, followed by NoMad’s Las Vegas and Los Angeles outposts.