No one knows a bar better than the people behind it. For “My Bar in 3 Drinks,” the people running the best bars around make and discuss three of their bar’s most representative cocktails.
The NoMad, boutique hotels with locations in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and now London, is arguably best known for its award-winning bars. Its currently shuttered New York location was ranked No. 4 on the World’s 50 Best Bars list in 2018, making it the highest-ranked bar in North America; it also received a James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program, and the group’s bar programs as a whole have served as breeding grounds for some of the best bartenders in America. At the recently opened London location, the group’s first outside of the U.S, it has debuted Side Hustle, an entirely new concept for the brand.
“Side Hustle is the kind of bar where you think you’re going to pop in for a couple drinks and then go somewhere else, but you actually end up staying at Side Hustle the entire night,” says Pietro Collina, the bar director at the NoMad London hotel.
A marble-topped bar with a stately art deco back bar acts as the focus of the space, with the rest filled with publike leather-upholstered booths—fitting, given that the bar was intended to be NoMad’s Mexican-inflected take on an upscale British pub. Meanwhile, the name Side Hustle, according to Collina, refers to the fact that it’s the passion project of NoMad London’s head chef, Ashley Abodeely, who became fascinated with Mexican cuisine while working at NoMad’s Los Angeles location. Abodeely’s dishes, mainly Mexican classics including aguachile, tostadas, and an array of tacos, influenced the beverage program at Side Hustle rather than playing a supporting role.
The cocktail list includes NoMad originals and Mexican classics, as well as the large-format cocktails for which the NoMad in NYC became famed. “There are drinks [on the menu] that might have a backstory to them, or that draw inspiration from the history of the building or neighborhood,” says Collina, “but ultimately the drink needs to be delicious and balanced. [We have] drinks that use ingredients like tahini and black sesame, eucalyptus and pear, pine and radish, but also drinks that use passionfruit and vanilla. We are confident enough that not every drink is there to create a statement, but that when guests taste them, they are blown away on how much flavor and complexity there can be in a ubiquitous ingredient combination.”
These are the three cocktails Collina feels best represent Side Hustle.
1. Tequila Mai Tai
Olmeca Altos Plata tequila, Quiquiriqui mezcal, lime, orgeat, velvet falernum, red pepper, passion fruit
“The Tequila Mai Tai is a great representation of what we do at NoMad, because its foundation is built on a classic, but we spin it by highlighting agave spirits instead of rum,” says Collina. “By using agave, everything about the Mai Tai’s structure and mouthfeel changes, which allows you to highlight other flavors instead of the orgeat and orange [liqueur] you typically find in traditional Mai Tais.”
The unorthodox Mai Tai employs several uncommon flavors. “We use red pepper and velvet falernum to bring out the vegetal qualities of the tequila, while adding a teaspoon of passion fruit to keep it playful and approachable,” says Collina. The mezcal adds an undertone of earthiness that drives home the vegetal characteristics of the drink, but the Mai Tai’s fruity DNA still remains intact.
The drink’s flamboyant presentation ensures an Instagram presence. “It’s presented in a skull mug [and garnished with the crown of] a giant pineapple coming out of the top,” says Collina. “The best part of the drink is presenting it to people who don’t know how it is served; 99% of them look at it, then look up at you for some sort of acknowledgment that it's OK for them to enjoy this moment. You smile with no judgment, and their eyes glitter with excitement and they dive right in.”
It’s a perfect example of Side Hustle’s trademark combination of playfulness with refinement. “In my opinion, the best cocktails are not there to intimidate or educate, but to evoke one’s desire for fun, adventure, and nostalgia,” says Collina.
2. Walter Gibson
Boatyard gin, Absolut Elyx vodka, Vouvray, pear eau-de-vie, beeswax, pickled vegetables
“The Walter Gibson is a Martini variation I originally created in New York City to celebrate the birth of our wine director’s first child, Walter Gibson,” says Collina. “One of the wine director’s favorite wine varietals is chenin blanc, so I decided to create a Gibson variation using the flavor profiles of one of the most iconic chenin blanc wines: Vouvray.”
The wines that come out of the Loire Valley region have distinctive flavor notes. “When you dissect Vouvray, you typically get orchard fruit, minerality, and a touch of tropical notes, and it finishes with this wet-wool and beeswax quality,” says Collina. The Martini variation inspired by those flavors employs gin and vodka, dry and blanc vermouths, Moulin Touchais sweet wine pear eau-de-vie, and pineapple gomme syrup. These ingredients are all combined, diluted, and then aged in a beeswax-lined bottle. “[This adds] not only an earthy aroma, but also gives the Martini texture,” says Collina. The cocktail is accompanied by pickled onions, celery, carrots, and red currants, “which provide a brightness that complements the richness of the Martini,” he says.
3. Yellow Submarine
Two Tribes x Side Hustle Mexican sour beer, Aperol, lemon, cucumber
“The yellow submarine actually can’t be found on the menu at Side Hustle,” says Collina. “It’s a boilermaker that we give to guests who just want something fun and to kick things up a gear.” Off-menu drinks aren’t new to the NoMad brand. “It's a very quintessential NoMad thing to always have something up our sleeves for special guests who are investing in creating the vibe, whether it be by talking to the bartenders or other guests,” he says.
When Collina was doing research for Side Hustle, he stumbled across the Mexican tradition of dropping a shot of tequila into beer, a Boilermaker rendition called a Submarine. Given the bar’s heavy Mexican influence and focused craft-beer program, he thought a similar drink would make a perfect gesture of hospitality for guests. "I decided to create a small shot of Aperol, lemon, and cucumber, which is then inverted into a rocks glass,” says Collina. The glass is then filled with the Two Tribes Mexican sour made specifically for Side Hustle. The bright-orange inverted shot glass in a short glass of beer makes for an eye-catching conversation-starter among guests.