Typically, the changing of a cocktail menu is dictated by a shift in the weather — chock full of ice in the heat of summer, using the bounty of spring’s greens and florals; and, warm, hearty spices infused in cold months. Sometimes, though, bartenders fashion a drinkable narrative from fictional onscreen worlds, allowing the drinker to embark on a different kind of sensory journey.
In Jim Meehan’s new book on succeeding in the bar business, “Meehan’s Bartender Manual,” he explains that the “menu serves as the guest’s playbill for the drama that is about to unfold.” A menu sets the stage. “The style of drinks you serve, epitomized by their titles, cue your audience on how they’re expected to behave.”
He suggests a variety of base spirits and varying flavor profiles, for balance. And, it’s possible to have a solid menu of cocktails where a delicious balance travels from tongue to brain, using storytelling by way of clever drink titles.
Sitting down at Local Three, I quickly realized a theme in the drink menu: FX’s animated retro espionage series, "Archer.” Next to me, a woman ordered the Five Ingredients, basically a margarita with tequila, Cointreau, lime and salt. I began quoting “Archer” with bartender Jack Wishon, who created the menu. “That’s how you get ants,” I quipped, as I ate an absinthe-soaked gummy bear coated in sugar from his modified sazerac, Six Gummy Bears & Some Scotch.
As he stirred house-made blood orange syrup for his At 7 a.m. You Care for Bourbon ... Deeply, he told me, “We’ve been doing themed cocktail menus for about two years now. The 'Archer' theme was only a matter of time, as chef (Chris Hall) and myself are big fans of the show. The names were really easy to come up with for this one. Chef rattled off several tentative titles, and I would work drinks around them.”
There are eight cocktails on the menu featuring a quote from an “Archer” episode, like: “By ‘water’ I mean whiskey and by ‘doctor’ I mean me,” for The Doctor Told Me to Drink More Water, made with Maker’s Mark bourbon, house-made ginger ale and lime.
There will be lots of bourbon showcased this season on “Archer,” and a handful of cocktails, I’m assured. Dominic Maschler, an animator on the series, also writes a blog referencing every cocktail/drink. He posts weekly, a few days before each episode, “so that people can gather ingredients and drink along.”
Avalon’s Barleygarden Kitchen & Craft Bar is the casual sister of Hop City Craft Beer & Wine with, of course, numerous beer selections to go along with hand-held foods and salads. The cocktail menu consists of a core group of eight drinks with various spirits. Fans of the 1975 slapstick film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” will smile with nostalgia at monikers like The Shrubbery, made with gin, Pimm’s liqueur, cherry Heering, ginger beer and a thyme garnish. It’s a Pimm’s cup that could take down the mightiest tree in the forest, especially with the addition of cherry Heering. (In the movie, the Knights Who Say Ni ask King Arthur to cut down a tree with a herring.)
Barleygarden bar manager Jonathan Waite, who changes the menu three or four times a year, said, “Our current list may (feature) the most absurdly funny movie of all time.”
He usually has a general idea of the cocktails before coming up with names. “I think of a relevant quote that reflects something about the ingredients in the drink. For instance, The Shrubbery uses a particularly herbal gin as a base ingredient, and is garnished with thyme.”
Waite’s personal favorite is The Black Knight, the restaurant’s top seller. He stirs it with ASW’s Fiddler bourbon, blackberry-sage simple syrup, bitters and muddled orange. “It’s simple and elegant, with ingredients that don’t overpower the liquor.”
For fans of the movie, there is also an accompanying margarita called A Flesh Wound.
Will elderberry season add a new concoction to the mix? Waite’s favorite scene in the film is the guard yelling from a French castle: “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!” He says, “I laugh out loud every time I hear an elderberry reference.”
I think we've found your conversation starter if you saddle up to the bar.
This past week’s May the 4th Be With You celebration of “Star Wars” was the inspiration for beverage manager Jeff Banks’ temporary cocktail menu at C. Ellet’s in The Battery at SunTrust Park , but the drinks are so good — and, frankly, stunning — that he will keep them for a few weeks. His Qui-Gonn Gin Fizz is clever in name, and is as maverick as its namesake, with its aquamarine hue. You can sip Love in Alderaan Places, or a SkyyWalker, intentionally misspelled for the inclusion of Skyy vodka.
Cleverest of the bunch is his Help Us, Obi-Wan Ki No Bi, which incorporates the Japanese gin Ki No Bi. It’s based on another otherworldly cocktail, the Saturn, which has a tropical backbone of falernum, orgeat and passion fruit syrup. It’s a rarity in the classic tiki cocktail compendium, in that it is gin-based. Bonus: It’s mostly juices and syrups, and therefore lower in alcohol content.
What sort of theme would you wish for on a bar menu?
Local Three, 3290 Northside Parkway, Atlanta. 404-968-2700, localthree.com.
Barleygarden Kitchen & Craft Bar, 900 Avalon Blvd., Alpharetta. 678-266-6218, barleygardenkitchen.com.
C. Ellet’s, 2605 Circle 75 Parkway, Atlanta. 678-996-5344, c-ellets.com.