Creativity can often lead to confusion. I am, of course, talking about drinks. Both creativity and amazing drinks have reached a pinnacle that’s better than any other period in history. But they don’t always go hand in hand. Somewhere along the way, we seem to have lost our way and have collectively forgotten that it’s the simple pleasures that often give us the most joy. In the canon of mixed drinks, many of the icons we see in the earliest cocktail books were simple affairs, consisting of two to three ingredients.
Now, in an industry that has become increasingly competitive, it’s this simple approach to drinks that has been neglected, or at least shunned, in favor of those that are often convoluted, confusing and sometimes plain silly. Menus, and the bartenders that curate them, should indeed continue to push the boundaries, but their cocktail lists should still be balanced, thoughtful and always with the guest in mind.
I like to consider myself a fairly creative person and will be the first to admit that I’ve over-complicated many of my drinks in the past. But I like to keep things simpler these days, at least at face value. Maybe I just can’t be bothered with all the frippery. Or maybe I’ve realized there’s no shame in serving someone a perfectly made Gin and Tonic, a Moscow Mule topped with fresh ginger beer, a nicely balanced Manhattan, a Whiskey Highball on quality ice or a sublime Martini.
I had such an experience recently in Los Angeles at a lovely bar called The Normandie Club. I ordered the house Martini, which was one of the more captivating libations I’ve had in awhile. It was annoyingly simple in its execution: a mix of Aylesbury Duck vodka, dry fino sherry, a whisper of raw white honey and gray sea salt. Getting to this point clearly takes a creative mind (in this case, a collaboration between Alex Day and Devon Tarby), but the drink contains ingredients that are relatively easy to find and could, in theory, be easy to make by an experienced hand.
At Dante in New York City, we have a plethora of simple drinks that have truly resonated with people that perhaps appreciate ingredients in their cocktail that are a little less intimidating. Draught vermouth served over frozen grapes, a classic Champagne cocktail, something we call Vodka & Apples (Żubrówka and Golden Delicious apples pressed to order) and our signature Garibaldi, which is nothing more than Campari and what we call “fluffy” orange juice. Such drinks prove we don’t need a lot of bells and whistles to create some noise around our beverage program.
Our own philosophy is to offer simple drinks that can be expedited quickly, which certainly helps drive revenue, especially when the bar is at capacity. They’re reasonably priced, executed perfectly in terms of quality ingredients and fresh produce and then served in a unique and interesting way (perhaps in a strikingly beautiful glass?) that has our guests curious and hopefully excited about what it is that we do. And really, isn’t that the whole point?