Vv Magazine’s managing editor Graham Slaughter sits down with the owners of Death&Co, one of NYC’s best cocktail bars, to get the scoop on summer cocktail trends.
Ambling through the East Village on a hazy summer night, countless thirsty New Yorkers walk past one of America’s most celebrated cocktail bars and don’t not even notice it. There are no windows. There is no marquee, no curb-side chalkboard punnily advertising the day’s specials. The only marker is a small sign etched in steel, tacked beside the heavy wooden door: Death&Co.
Stepping inside, it takes a moment for the eyes to adjust. Candlelight flickers off the white marble bar and crystal chandeliers, lighting up a vast array of rare liquors and hand-made syrups standing at attention behind the bar. It’s rare to find one of the 54 seats empty.
“There’s this great sense of enveloping you, it’s very warm. I like think of it as hugging you,” says owner David Kaplan, whose forearm is tattooed with pistol shooting a lemon twist, as he sits in the lobby of Toronto’s Thompson Hotel with co-owner Alex Day. “It sounds obnoxious, but it’s still one of my favourite bars to walk into.”
It’s hard to be obnoxious when the rest of New York agrees. GQ named Death&Co one of America’s top 25 cocktail bars, describing their drinks as “the most widely imitated in the country.” (It’s true: they’re the guys who brought the punch trend to North America after seeing it done at Hawksmoor, a London bar.) New York Magazine described their creative concoctions — the smoky Oaxaca old-fashioned, for example — as “killer.” This innovative take on cocktails has helped the founders launch two other bars in New York City and two in L.A.
In Toronto to judge the Grey Goose Pour Masters competition, Kaplan and Day took time to sit down with Vv Magazine to go over some must-have summer cocktail trends anyone can recreate at home. Plus, we got them to spill their legendary punch recipe.
PUTTING ON THE SPRITZ
The summertime favourite of moms everywhere, the spritz — cheap chardonnay, Sprite and some ice cubes — can be classed up for an outstanding refresher.
“I can’t think of summer anymore without thinking of the spritz,” Kaplan admits.
The Death&Co boys approach the spritzer from its regional roots: aperitivo hour in Northern Italy. “You’re having something slightly bitter, like Aperol or Campari with soda water or some sparkling wine. Every town has their own tradition,” Day explains. “It’s supposed to be refreshing, to open up your appetite, and have a little bit of alcohol to sluff off the day and ease into the evening.”
Serve in a chilled wine glass with a slice of fresh fruit, like strawberry or melon. Bellissimo.
Summer is not the time for fancy, 10-step cocktails. It’s about using fresh, simple ingredients that pack a punch. Using this philosophy, Kaplan and Day say there’s nothing wrong with a simple vodka soda.
“If you add a simple aromatic [cucumber, for example], it’s refreshing in a completely different way,” Kaplan explains.
CANDY IS DANDY, BUT RADLER IS QUICKER
This grapefruit-based German beverage translates to “cyclist,” likely because you should wear a helmet while consuming. Served ice cold, it’s the best company at a softball game or lazy day in Trinity Bellwoods. The Death&Co boys suggest adding a shot of your favourite liquor, like a crisp silver tequila or grapefruit campari, to elevate it to another level.
A classic punch is a simple crowd-pleaser that packs a big wow factor. Plus, it frees you up from playing bartender. “Punch is evergreen,” says Kaplan. “You prep it before your friends come over, you can make it with a spritz, like champagne. People can serve themselves while you’re barbecuing.”
For bonus points, hit up your local flea market for a kitschy (but classic) crystal punch bowl.
Recipe: Billingsley Punch
“I wanted to build a punch around Aperol, so I paired it with a bunch of refreshing flavours, which always works with this aperitif. The combination of gin, Aperol, and grapefruit is something we use a lot. It turned out to be quite a festive punch, so I named it after Sherman Billingsley, an ex-bootlegger who owned New York’s famously festive Stork Club.” — Alex Day
12 white sugar cubes
8 ounces club soda
6 ounces London Dry-style gin
2 ounces aperol
2 ounces grapefruit juice
2 ounces lemon juice
4 dashes house peychaud’s bitters
Garnish: 6 grapefruit crescents
In a pitcher, muddle the sugar cubes with 4 ounces of the club soda until the sugar is fully broken up. Add the remaining ingredients (except the remaining club soda) and fill the pitcher three-quarters full with ice cubes. Stir until cold, then strain into a punch bowl over 1 large block of ice. Top with the remaining 4 ounces of club soda. Garnish with the grapefruit crescents and serve with a ladle and punch glasses.
Which of these summer cocktail trends are you most excited for? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below, or tweet us @ViewtheVibe.