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Employees Only’s Steve Schneider & The Signal Fire with Bacardi Heritage

ss_signal fire pour

ss_signal fire bottle

If you’ve never had the chance to sidle up to the curvy swervy, beyond sexy bar at Manhattan’s Employees Only, and witness the beautiful precision and dance that occurs on the other side of that gorgeous slab of wood, and experience everything it takes to create a single drink made purely for your enjoyment, you are truly missing out, my cocktail lovers. Part of me does envy those of you who have yet to experience this; because that first time is like no other. And you’ll never forget it. Or…you might, depending on how many drinks you pour down your gullet.

EO sign

Employees Only is considered to be one of the best bars in the world. It is a pretty special place. But if it’s your first time, make sure you go early in the week and earlier in the night. You’re more likely to have the chance to chat up one of the handsome blokes decked out in chefs jackets behind the bar, pore over the carefully curated menu, reflect on that perfectly balanced creation in front of you, and savor it for as long as possible. Most likely, however, that cocktail will disappear much faster than you expected. And that quiet reflection won’t last long. Because that place gets turnt! Even on a Tuesday night. It may start out as an elegant and sedate speakeasy. But that well-mannered atmosphere is guaranteed to turn on a dime. The mood and temperature gets elevated a few drinks in and a few people deep. Something hypnotic happens when that pressed-tin ceiling heats up, the psychic in the front starts doling out some real world wisdom and the 80s tunes are on blast. The inhabitants crammed inside that railroad style bar all start to feel like they’re on the ride of their lives. THIS is a night to remember. If you can. It’s no wonder people often get lucky after spending a night at Employees Only. This bar is made for “connecting” with your fellow neighbor…if you know what I mean.

A huge part of why a night at EO can be so damned enjoyable can be attributed to those dapper dans behind the bar. They may be having more fun than you are. This place is their stage and this is where they shine. One of their brightest stars right now is principal bartender, Steve Schneider. Check out this beautiful video in the Bacardi Untameable Series about how bartending at EO literally helped to save his life.

Steve’s story is an inspiring one. So much so that he ended up being one of two bartenders profiled in last year’s, Hey Bartender, a movie about the re-emergence of the craft cocktail, and the folks behind it. Beyond the inspiring story of a former marine who comes back from near death to become an international bar superstar, Steve is the real deal – a dynamite bartender, well respected in the community and sweet as pie. 

While I’ve frequented EO since their opening ten years ago and Steve and I both live in New York, I hadn’t formally met him until we both were on a private island in Puerto Rico last weekend. 



No, we weren’t taking part in some debaucherous reality show, although, the abundance of booze, beautiful people and cameras might tell you differently as the party footage slowly emerges; We were there for a little thing you might know something about from my giddy hashtag abuse on social media last week – a gigantic music and rum event set in the tropics called the Bacardi Triangle. The night we met was the last night of the event and he had just finished helping to set up all of the bars on Palomino Island that would service a crowd of 1,862 guests. It should also be noted that he capped off each night that week working the after party until 5am. Needless to say, this dude didn’t get many zzzs in those 5 days. But I have a feeling he’s a little used to this kind of schedule, crowds and hard work. This is someone who loves what he does. He actually seemed energized by the whole thing. 

steve sSteve and I had a chance to connect again three days later, this time, in his “home”, Employees Only. While he would only be there for a day or so before he was to jet off to his next international bartending adventure, he made it clear that this is where his heart was. This is the place where he was reborn after a life threatening injury put his military career on hold. This is the place where he served and charmed filmmaker Douglas Tirola, who then put him in a starring role in his documentary, Hey Bartender. And this is where he plans to stay until he eventually opens up his own place down the road.

steve s shakess bacardi

Since we had just come off of this fantastical rum-infused adventure in Puerto Rico, it was only appropriate that we continue the theme. Steve made me one of his signature, award-winning Bacardi cocktails, Signal Fire.  

signal fire bar

This is a fantastic cocktail with Bacardi Heritage Rum, pineapple-honey-pink peppercorn syrup, pineapple juice, lime and Hellfire Bitters. It’s got a kick and is surprisingly not too sweet. It can also be recreated at home pretty easily. Steve was kind enough to share the recipe!

signal fire recipe

Signal Fire
2 oz Bacardi Heritage
1 oz honey syrup (2:1)
3/4 oz pineapple juice
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
3 dashes Hellfire Bitters
3 pink peppercorns

Add all ingredients to an ice-filled shaker, shake until chilled, strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a dusting of pink peppercorns.


Thank you, Steve, for taking time out of your regular booze slinging, globe-trotting calendar to hang out and fix me a drink! And letting me get my hands on one of those signature ice hammers! Look out for a custom line of these suckers in the coming year. How else are you going to crush your ice and feel like a powerful Norse god?!

I look forward to returning soon for one of those epic Employees Only nights. Maybe I’ll bring someone who’s never been…

La Maison Cointreau

Many apologies for this belated post. I attended this lovely event right before my vacation and I’ve been dying to share it ever since. But, like a good vacationer (and bad blogger!) I’ve been pretty unplugged for the last few weeks. Here it is, finally!

On June 17th, beloved French spirit, Cointreau transformed two floors of Soho’s Broome Hotel into La Maison Cointreau, a whimsical, orange-filled Parisian fantasy!

Cointreau Event

This immersive, one night only event was to celebrate the brand’s partnership with Grey Area founder Kyle Dewoody, interior designer/chef Athena Calderone and artist Kate Schelter, our hosts for the evening.

Cointreau Kyle Dewoody, Athena Calderone, Kate Schelter


This painfully cute orange Fiat, parked outside the hotel, set the tone for a fanciful eve…


Oh, Bonjour!
Cointreau Door Man
And this belle homme, who greeted us upon our arrival, didn’t hurt the eyes either. Comment allez-VOUS!

A three story orange tree was constructed in the middle of the hotel’s courtyard.

Cointreau Orange Tree

Cointreau Orange Tree2

Cointreau Orange Tree Bar

Cointreau Orange Tree Bar2And surrounding this towering homage to citrus, was a customized bar, filled with handsome French-y bartenders serving Cointreau cocktails all night long. Can I move in, please?

There was a pop up café serving macarons, delicate tea sandwiches and more Cointreau cocktails.

Cointreau Macarons

Cointreau Espresso Bar

Cointreau Cafe

In another one of the rooms downstairs, Kyle Ford, Rémy Cointreau’s Cocktail and Spirits Expert and co-founder of Ford Mixology Lab, was instructing guests on how to make Cointreau Rickeys. (I put mint and strawberries in mine. Yum!)

Cointreau Bar with Kyle Ford2The interactive event didn’t stop there. Upstairs, one room was transformed into a custom library where guests were invited to learn about Cointreau’s impressive history as told through vintage cocktail books… 

Cointreau Library2

Cointreau Library3While another room was transformed into an art and food station, where guests were encouraged to create watercolor paintings, pin sepia-toned pictures to mood boards and indulge in crostini recipe tutorials…Did I mention that I wanted to move in?

Cointreau Watercolor Station2

Seriously, what do I need to do so my life looks more like this?? I clearly need to drink more Cointreau! Mission accomplished, Rémy Cointreau! Count this lady a super fan!

Truth be told, I’ve been a lover of Cointreau for most of my adult life. What’s not to love? This 160 year old French spirit is one of the original triple secs, a liqueur made from dried bitter and sweet orange peels from all over the world. And, while a beautiful addition in cocktails, can stand on its own, neat or on the rocks. And at 80 proof, this liqueur can also be used as a base spirit in many classic cocktails, as in their signature cocktail, the Cointreau Rickey. Also to be noted, their early advertising utilized some of the most beautiful and avant garde artwork in the spirits industry at the time. And in terms of marketing themselves now, they clearly have not lost their touch! La Maison Cointreau was an orange-tinged dream…

Read about the history of Cointreau here. And pick up one of their beautiful bottles, lime & soda to make up some of your very own Cointreau Rickeys! Maybe you’ll be inspired to watercolor as well…


Negroni Week & The Countess Negroni

Negroni Week is almost upon us! And I’ve been tasked to come up with my own spin on this near perfect and increasingly popular cocktail from the folks helping to sponsor this fun and charitable event, Imbibe Magazine. Pretty tall order, since the original recipe is basically flawless: 1 part gin, 1 part Campari and 1 part sweet vermouth. But, I love a Boulevardier, and I’ve had other variations on this classic recipe that I’ve been into, so I was more than willing to give it a shot!

As I mentioned a few days ago, the Negroni is rumored to have been created in the 1920s when Count Camillo Negroni asked his favorite bartender at Cafe Casoni in Florence, Italy to stiffen up his Americano with gin, and to take out that silly bubbly water, because…more booze. Duh. You know that dude was just getting bit by a fleet of foxes on the regular. But what about Countess Negroni? Did she exist? Was she fabulous? (I suppose I could research this…but, that’s an internet wormhole I think I’ll stay away from now.) In any case, I like to imagine she had a bit of fun too. This cocktail was created with her in mind. Take that, Count! Your lady, who may or may not have existed, has a drink now too!

The Countess Negroni RecipeThe Countess Negroni
1 1/2 oz Owney’s Rum
1 oz grapefruit juice
1 oz Campari
3/4 oz Armadillo Cake Atsby Vermouth
grapefruit peel for garnish

All ingredients can be stirred with ice until well chilled. Strain into a short glass with a few rocks and garnish with grapefruit peel.

Even though most Negroni fans can agree that this drink can be sipped year round, since Negroni Week is from June 2nd to June 8th, I wanted to put more of a summery spin on my version.  Grapefruit and Campari is like a marriage made in citrus heaven. And white rum always makes me think of summer! Naturally, I wanted to use a BBaF favorite, Brooklyn-made, Owney’s Rum. This deliciously smooth rum works so well in this riff on a Negroni because it’s not overly sweet, has a little spice and works well with citrus and bitter flavors. It also happens to be made by my favorite lady booze maker, Bridget Firtle from The Noble Experiment. It seemed like the perfect fit for this viva la femme cocktail. Keeping it local, I was excited to use a different kind of vermouth, instead of the standard Italian sweet vermouth. And I opted for Atsby “Armadillo Cake” Vermouth. This modern, aromatic vermouth is less sweet and bitter than what most people are used to. It’s earthy and sexy and floral, with a hint of chamomile. I’ve also paired these two local spirits before and loved the result!

photo by luciebelle photography

photo by luciebelle photography

I hope you get out there next week for Negroni Week! Bars around the world will be mixing up this beloved cocktail and donating proceeds to their favorite charities. Check out the participating bars and drink your charitable ass off!



Memorial Day = Summer! = Spritz!!!

Americano Spritz
Happy Memorial Day, everyone! If you’re in New York, I hope you’ve been basking in the heaven-sent sunshine that decided to make a comeback just in time to usher us all into the summer season. While it’s not technically summer, this is the weekend that always kicks things off. And, it also marks the beginning of my months long obsession with the Aperol Spritz. Or “spreetz” as they are called in Venice, Italy. (You have to say that, when ordering, with a super heavy Italian accent, by they way, otherwise it won’t be as fun.) Normally, during this time of year, I’m sampling this traditional Italian aperitif cocktail all over town, and this year is no different, except my obsession is exacerbated by the fact that I’m heading to Italy in a couple of weeks…and I can’t get enough. Aperol Spritzers all day every day! I’m having a hard time NOT telling my bartender/server/person I’m with every time I order one of these that I’m just prepping for when I can get a “real” one in Venice in a couple of weeks. But…I try not to be an asshole when I’m in public, so I’ve been abstaining from commenting at all.

The Americano cocktail (Campari, Sweet Vermouth, Club Soda) is also a delightfully low alcohol, refreshing tipple during the warmer season. But I can never remember to order it. It’s the Aperol Spritz that always comes to mind when I’m craving orange-y, bitter Italian liqueur and bubbles. But, I thought for this Memorial Day post, I’d do a mash-up of an Aperol Spritz and an Americano cocktail. Fun fact: The Americano was the first cocktail ordered by James Bond in the very first book, Casino Royale, and is so named because of its popularity with American tourists during Prohibition. And…is rumored to have been the inspiration behind the Negroni cocktail. Supposedly, Count Camillo Negroni asked his bartender to strengthen his favorite cocktail by adding gin instead of soda water. Dude really wanted to get bit by a fox!

Americano Spritz
3-4 oz Brut Prosecco
2 oz Aperol
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
1 oz Club Soda

Pour the Aperol and dry vermouth into a large, high ball glass with some ice. Top with prosecco and club soda. Garnish with cherry, lemon wheel or little flag!

Make this drink today or any day this summer. Also, it’s your patriotic duty to watch Little Edie perform her flag dance. Enjoy!

Should You Send Back That Drink?

I drink garbage
Sure, we’ve all been there. You’re super psyched to be out with a group of friends or on a hot date at some swanky, new cocktail-bar-of-the-moment where you hear that they hand carve their ice cubes into diamonds, rinse their cocktail glasses with angel’s sighs and rim with genuine 14K gold dust. (Ok, as far as I know, no one is doing the above ridiculousness, but you’d think this were the case at some of these places given the, often-times, bonkers prices we are faced with in order to get top-notch cocktails down our gullets. Those steep prices are usually justified by the expense of fresh juice and quality ingredients, not to mention the labor and attention to detail you may get at a place that really cares about their cocktail program.) But, what happens if, after all the pomp and circumstance and zesting and flaming of orange rinds, your cocktail arrives and you can barely drink it. But you don’t want to spoil the night, insult the bartender or bother the cocktail server, and you decide to, unhappily, suck it up. Literally.

I, for one, am willing to pay a premium to do away with the crap and get the good stuff. But if a cocktail is not working out for me for some reason, I rarely hesitate to speak up. No one wants to be that asshole – the persnickety, high maintenance guest who is ruining everyone’s evening, causing a stir over the dryness of their martini (see what I did there?). And I’m not suggesting we treat the cocktail menu like our own personal box of chocolates sampler, taking a swig from each one in order to decide which one we like. But, I’m of the mind that if you are paying main course prices for a few ounces of liquid, you should thoroughly enjoy what you’re drinking. The bar and drink slingers should want the same thing. It is only good business to make you happy so that you order more, have great things to say about the place and come back again. But I know that expressing your dissatisfaction with a cocktail to your bartender or server can be very difficult for a lot of people. I’ve seen it with almost all of my friends. What is the proper etiquette?

I may feel more comfortable saying something to my server or bartender because I am usually able to identify what might make the drink more palatable for me and how it could be tweaked without having to order an entirely different one. A smidge more simple syrup or citrus or a splash of soda can do wonders to a drink that just tastes a little off-balance to you. These requests are rarely met with anything other than a willingness to make it right. If you’re not able to articulate what you don’t like about a drink, and you want to send it back to get a new one, however, that is often not very helpful and particularly annoying. But, sometimes that lack of articulation can prevent people from piping up in the first place. And they choose to just drink something that they don’t like! So, my advice? Drink more! That is, try different things and be more mindful when you DO drink. Pay attention to what you like or dislike about certain flavors and spirits, and hone your palate. Also, be informed before you order. Get to know what those fancy ingredients are. That doesn’t mean you need to become a bona-fide cocktail nerd like me (I love researching weird booze!), it just means that when you are reading a cocktail menu and you come across something you’re not familiar with, ask your bartender or server what it is. I guarantee that they will be so jazzed to talk about it. Or, if you are painfully shy or don’t like interacting with humans, you can always pull out your smart phone and Google that shit.

There may be times, however, when you order something that you can tell is a well made cocktail but just isn’t your style. In this case you probably should just suck it up. But you can look at it as an experience to help you better identify what IS your style. Once you get to know your own palate better, you can figure out pretty quickly whether or not that fancy pants drink you ordered is your new cocktail crush, something that may need some adjusting, or is just an unusual tipple that is helping to expand your cocktail horizons. But at the end of the glass, everyone deserves to be happy.


A Valentine to Shirley Temple

Today, I woke up to the news that our beloved Shirley Temple Black has taken her final bow on this here third rock from the sun. But she’s left us with a very sparkly legacy.

My mother is a lifelong fan and when I was little, she passed on her love and appreciation for Shirley Temple and all of her gobsmacking talent as a singer, actress and dancer. She was my absolute favorite and made an incredible impact on me as a child. Subsequent years of me singing, acting and dancing followed this childhood fascination with Curly Top, and I blame a lot of my interest in all of that on those early experiences watching her movies over and over. I would have given anything to have my impossibly straight hair curled into fat sausages on top of my head. And I remember, at 6, being so envious when Sue Soto, my neighbor and best friend who was from a huge Mexican Catholic family, got an outfit for her First Communion that I thought was EXACTLY like something Shirley Temple would’ve worn – white patent leather baby doll shoes, lacy ankle socks and a multi-tiered, frothy, crinoline party dress resembling a puffed pastry. I was CRUSHED that my hippy mom didn’t go in for that kind look for me. I was stuck in earth tones and beaded vests.

cherry hearts.jpg
As a tribute to Shirley Temple Black, and with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I thought I’d provide a recipe for the popular, pink-hued, booze-less “cocktail” named in her honor. The origins of this fruity beverage are a little fuzzy, as many have claimed its invention. According to Hollywood lore, however, a bartender from Chasen’s, a historic Beverly Hills restaurant, created the drink especially for the child star in the 30s. This place was filled with these kinds of stories. Too bad it closed in the 90s!

shirley-temple drink
I recently had a horrible version of one of these at the American Girl Store when I had a date with one of my favorite 7 year olds. And, believe it or not, I’ve been wanting to post a recipe with quality ingredients on here ever since! The problem with most Shirley Temples is the grenadine. The store-bought stuff is usually filled with such garbage and more often than not, people are too heavy-handed with it. You only need a dash of the sweet stuff! Especially when you are mixing with an already sweet soda. My version uses ginger syrup and seltzer in place of ginger-ale, so it’s even easier to pull back on the sweetness. And instead of providing my own grenadine recipe, I’m supplying you with the best one I’ve found out there from bartender and cocktalian whiz Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s blog here. It is easy and delicious. Can’t beat that!

All Natural Shirley Temple Recipe from Bit By a Fox Blog
(Makes 4 Glasses)
2 oz Homemade Grenadine
1.5 oz Ginger Syrup
1 oz Lemon Juice
32 oz Club Soda
4 Natural Maraschino Cherries

In a pitcher, mix the syrups, juice and soda over ice. Pour into 4 glasses. Enjoy!

If you DO want to booze this up, you can easily add a few ounces of your favorite spirit. White rum is especially good with this flavor combo. You can also go a little easier on the grenadine and throw in some Maraschino liqueur for a sweet kick!

Rest in peace, sweet Shirley. I’m sure you’re already hoofing up a storm alongside Bill “Bojangles” Robinson on that stairway to heaven!

Caledonia Spirits “Barr Hill” Gin

Attention gin (and honey bee) lovers!
Meet your new, favorite martini ingredient:

Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill GinThe first time I tried Barr Hill Gin, I wasn’t able to fully appreciate this unique, Vermont made spirit. While I thoroughly enjoyed the delicious cocktail painstakingly created by one of the very capable bartenders at the Bearded Lady in Brooklyn, I didn’t realize, at the time, that the lovely, delicate flavor profile was slightly lost on me. My introduction to this gin should have been on its own. And so should yours. The reason? It’s not only incredibly enjoyable by itself, but this is really the best way to pick up on its star ingredient: raw, northern honey.

Locally sourced honey is added during a second distillation, right before bottling, and it lends so much to this London dry-style gin. The aroma is bright and floral and, not surprisingly, reminiscent of honey, fresh out of the hive. The texture is silky and round. The flavors are similar to the aromas found on the nose – floral, herbaceous and bright, with a slight sweetness. Another unusual aspect of this gin is that they only use one botanical during distillation. And it wouldn’t be gin without it – fresh juniper! You wouldn’t think it would be this complex with so few ingredients, but the honey really does impart so much. And it contrasts so beautifully with the sharp, clear juniper.

How did this bee stung gin come to be? Distiller and owner Todd Hardie has been tending bees for most of his life, starting with his first hive at his family’s farm at 12 years old. It was at that time that this magic bond with bees and honey began. And his 30 years as a commercial bee keeper forged his bond with the land, the cycles of the seasons and the rich community of farmers in the northeast. It was five years ago that the idea of creating a honey wine – mead – came to fruition. And another two before they would begin to distill gin, vodka and elderberry cordial on the banks of the Lamoille River in the Northeast Kingdom as Caledonia Spirits. And the rest is history!

I’ll be making an original cocktail just for this unique spirit tomorrow night at Atlantic Cellars from 6-9pm. We’ll also be tasting it on its own, of course. Which I highly recommend! Stop by and taste what all the buzz is about!

12 Days of Cocktails: Day 11 – The Christmas Daisy

Christmas Daisy Cocktail - BBAFThe Daisy is what you call an ‘old school cocktail’. It’s been around since before even Jerry Thomas had a chance to include his version of one in the legendary The Bartender’s Guide published in 1862. “Professor” Jerry Thomas is often referred to as the “father of American mixology”. And since the resurgence of classic cocktails and interest in American drinks history has grown, his stories and the classic cocktails he featured in his seminal book have been getting more recognition in recent years. Much of this is due to the amazingly researched and meticulously documented cocktail bible, Imbibe, by drinks historian, David Wondrich. If you have any interest in cocktails and American drinks history this is required reading. Put it on your Christmas list, stat!

The formula for the Daisy, according to Jerry Thomas, was a Sour – with a base spirit of whiskey, gin, brandy, or rum, sweetened with an orange cordial, and with the addition of some fizzy water. The orange cordial element was the only thing that differentiated it from a Fizz. Grenadine replaced the orange cordial in later renditions and, according to Wondrich, this fruity, pink-ish drink called the Daisy, eventually evolved into a dudes drink! The presentation might have been one of the reasons the gents gravitated toward this tipple, however. It was often served in a crushed ice filled goblet, mug or julep cup. Manly, right?! While I’ve seen Daisies served up or in a Collins type glass, this is how I prefer it! So, if you have a julep cup or something similar, this is the way to go.

Christmas Daisy
2 oz Gin
1 oz Fresh Meyer Lemon Juice
1/2 oz Limoncello
1/4 oz Cointreau Liqueur
2 Sage Leaves
Club Soda

Muddle one of the sage leaves with the Cointreau and Limoncello at the bottom of a shaker. Pour in the lemon juice and gin, add ice and shake until the outside of the shaker is cold and frosty. Strain into a julep cup filled with crushed ice. Add soda. Garnish with sage leaf.

Cocktail Love, Firsts and Favorites

Foxy Friend, Lee Houck takes over Bit By a Fox this week in what may be the beginning of a series of guest blogging posts about important cocktail experiences, favorite tipples and thoughts on drinking. 

Lee in the bathroom

At some point during my mother’s visit to New York City back in April, she remarked, apropos of our evening: “You sure do drink a lot.”  She was here for her birthday, so we’d been to the matinee of Chicago at the Ambassador Theater, and then we all (her, me, my dad and my boyfriend) had a happy hour drink at the Pegu Club — I had the Bayleaf Martini.  Then with dinner at Saxon + Parole, I drank a Chartreuse Swizzle, which is maybe the gayest drink in the history of history.  (About who ordered it, my dad joked, pointing to me when the server arrived, “Eenie meenie miney, MO.”)  I had a second.  With dessert, I ordered a Grasshopper, because, well, it was on the dessert menu and so why wouldn’t you?

Was I drinking a lot?  It didn’t seem like a lot.  “Well, every time you sit down to dinner, you have a drink,” she added.  It’s true.  Every time I sit down to dinner — at a restaurant, that is — I have a drink.  Also sometimes happy hours here and there.  Or a shaken something (let’s be honest, mostly terrible) at home when I’m cooking dinner.

When I moved to New York sixteen years ago from Tennessee, the only drinking I had done was:

1) Tiny sips of whatever the adults were having at parties thrown by my parents.  They like Leibfraumilch in the tall cobalt bottle, and my dad likes good Bourbon.

2) Giant horrible burning gulps of Alizé while hiking mountain trails.  (What?)

3) Half a glass of fruity red while watching the Tony Awards at the home of my theater teacher during high school.  (Yeah, I know.)

4) Three bottles of Zima at sixteen while enjoying the dance floor (read: being groped by older men) at New Orleans’ own “The Parade” after my friend Andrea decided I would look 21 as long as I was wearing dark eyeliner.  (Yeah…I know.)

Once I got to New York, I spent a short time drinking beer, because I had a completely platonic man crush on a straight guy who was really into Belgian wheat beers, and he talked to me about why I should like them.  “Orange peel and coriander,” he always said, and I later used that line to get laid at dive bars in the 90s, or so I like to think.  Then I had a boyfriend for a couple years who was deeply into good wine and he taught me a lot about how to order a bottle for the table, and what I should be looking for in various bottles.

Then — I’m not sure if it was just me, or the general resurgence of the mixologist culture of the last several years — I fell in love with cocktails.  I fell sweepingly, deeply in love with how the right drink for the right occasion with the right mix of friends can feel like the edges of everything are shiny and meaningful.  I don’t think it’s just the alcohol talking.

Lee's cocktails

I love a Negroni on a back porch.  I love a Salty Dog on the beach when it’s starting to get cool.  I love a Sazerac when the jukebox is too loud.  I love a dry martini at the Algonquin.  I love the French 75 at the Read House in Chattanooga.

I love bartenders.  I love Richard Brooks shaking a fruity Southeast Asia-inspired tall icy thing at the Mandarin Oriental on Columbus Circle.  I love Jeff Bell’s diligent, careful mixing at PDT.  I love Kristi Andre at the new Wheated on Church Avenue in Ditmas Park and their insane Cuba Libre.  I love the sugar-plus-Tropicana-plus-red wine Sangria served by bent, ancient men at The Spain Restaurant on 13th Street.  I even love the not-to-be-named woman at another local joint who didn’t know what an Aperol Soda was — she gave it a taste, proclaimed it like “cough medicine for robots” and then charged me $12.  I love a Manhattan with or without a cheeseburger, basically anywhere.

More than all that, however, I love that in the last year — and maybe mostly because I was drinking “a lot” back in April — I’ve transferred that love into a kind of cocktail menu empowerment.  I was having dinner with my mom in Chattanooga at the now-closed Niko’s Southside, and I was able to convince her that the St. Germain Spritz was totally her drink.

“Will I like that?” she said.

“You’ll love it,” I told her.  “Bright flavors, aromatic, perfectly light and drinkable.”

Okay, I don’t remember what I said about it at the time, but that sounds like a description I might have offered, right?  The point is, that’s what happens when you love something like I love a good cocktail.  It feels easy.  You seek out the nuances.  You long for the complex relationships — brief or extended — that a drink can provide.

I’m proud that my mom orders that drink now wherever she can.  Even if she’s in some far-flung Tennessee road house and has to explain what’s in it.

And now, so you never have to wonder what’s in it, here’s the perfect St. Germain Spritz, courtesy of Bit By a Fox:

St-Germain Spritzer

Lee Houck is a Brooklyn-based writer whose work includes essays, stories and poems appearing in numerous anthologies in the U.S., France and Australia, and in his almost-monthly old school printed zine “Crying Frodo.”  His debut novel, “Yield,” was published by Kensington Books. Website:

The Gin Fizz

gin fizz“…An early-morning drink with a definite purpose – a panacea for hang-overs,”
– legendary bartender, Trader Vic

Classic cocktails are like Mexican food. (I realize Mexican cuisine is a complex mix of ingredients native to Mexico and those brought over by the Spanish conquistadors, but stay with me here…) Tacos, enchiladas, burritos, quesadillas – the proportions are slightly different, the preparations and presentations vary but the ingredients are pretty much interchangeable for each dish – rice, beans, cheese, maybe meat, guac, sour cream, tortilla…For classic cocktails, the same is true. The basic ingredients for creating a balanced cocktail have made it so there are so many similar types of cocktails. Sometimes it’s just the glassware that is different! There is a reason why even skilled bartenders have a recipe book handy.

The Gin Fizz, for instance: Gin, lemon, sugar and seltzer has the same ingredients as the Tom Collins. Both cocktails date back to the late 1800s, became incredibly popular in America between 1900 and the 1940s, and are essentially Gin-flavored, fizzy lemonades. I’ll take two!

The main difference between these two cocktails is the addition of ice and the size of the glass. A 12 oz. Collins glass, of course, is used to accommodate the ice for the Tom Collins. And the Gin Fizz is traditionally served up, without ice and in an 8 oz. glass. There has also been speculation about the type of Gin used in both cocktails. Old Tom Gin – a slightly sweetened type of gin, a precursor to London Dry Gin, that is difficult to find on the market nowadays, was probably most commonly used for both. Some claim the type of Gin was never specified in earlier recipes of the Gin Fizz and that Hollands Gin, or as we know it, Genever Gin was to be used specifically in the Tom Collins. In any case, the lighter, dry English styles tend to work best with both of these drinks.

Variations on the Gin Fizz:
Silver Fizz – with egg white added
Golden Fizz – with egg yolk added
Royal Fizz – with whole egg added
Diamond Fizz – Sparkling Wine instead of Club Soda. Also known as the French 75!
Ramos Gin Fizz – the addition of lime juice, egg white, cream, orange flower water

Bit By a Fox Gin Fizz
2 oz. Gin
1/2 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
Large Spoonful of Superfine Sugar
Club Soda

Shake Gin and lemon juice over ice.
Strain into 8 oz glass.
Top with Club Soda.
Stir with the large spoonful of sugar to make this drink FIZZ!

The sugar stirring at the end is an old bartender’s trick to make this drink extra fizzy! And who wouldn’t want that? You can also put the sugar in the shaker, but that’s just not as fun.


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