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5 Occasional Cocktails

I was a craft bartender in Los Angeles and New York for a lot of years. These were the

swanky sort of watering holes that used words like “libation” and “elixir”. Back bars

were botanical gardens of bottles unrecognizable to the layperson. The “speakeasy”

cocktail bar has firmly anchored itself in the rituals of modern life. With few exceptions

they’re dimly lit and decorated like a period-movie film set. You can come to one of

these bars where a barman in a costume (that is actually his regular clothing) will

yammer on unsolicited about this bottle or that cocktail just to show off what he knows.

Staying abreast of the ever-changing craft spirits world is a job unto itself and under

ordinary circumstances any sensible person would volunteer how few of the bottles they

recognize at this sort of bar. However the irony of these basement-real-estate-Ponzi-

schemes is that they tend to muster the grade-school social situations that make a person

afraid to admit any inadequacy whatsoever. You don’t go for twenty-three-dollar

cocktails (served in a thimble) with your drinking buddy or your kid sister; you go on a

date, or with co-workers, or to entertain a client. It’s almost always someone with whom

you maintain a certain desire to impress. In such a state your voice is higher and your

actions are too eager. Betraying that all you see behind the bartender is a shelf stack of

hieroglyphs would be fatally uncultured. So when the busy bartender finally gets to you

in the crowd, you unknowingly commit a bartender’s least favorite faux pas: you look up

from the menu, you manufacture an expression that you hope says you understand this

thing that’s clearly written in Sanskrit, and you say, “What’s your favorite drink?” If this

is in Flatiron Manhattan at a particularly popular whiskey haven circa 2013, this

musketeer-looking character will say, “That’s like hiring someone to paint your house

and asking them for their favorite color.” You’re startled and not sure how to respond.

Your date is watching. When the bartender turns back after attending to several items that

his body language mimes are vastly more important than you, you try to fix it, “No, I

mean what’s your favorite drink, like, to make?” You’re cool, that’s your point. You’re a

great customer. In fact this was a charitable endeavor from the start, to make things easier

for the bartender. You don’t want him to do anything for you that he doesn’t want to do.

“Oh, a painter’s favorite color to paint. Much better” says this supercilious sack of waxed

mustache. But your indignation probably doesn’t set in until much later.

Yep, that was me. In the plumed hat, too busy or bothered to help a fella out. After so

many years, I’m not going to defend myself. I’ll just answer the question.

I drink up and down the spectrum. The occasion of, where, when, and with whom

prescribes the what. There’s no finite number or variety of occasions. Fine dining, one

must pair with wine. With my last girlfriend we usually drank brandy or sherry—now

even their smell can call to mind my nights with her much like songs can summons

memories. When I’m back at my home bar in Brooklyn, I drink whatever cocktail Devin,

the proprietor and my former roommate, is working on for the menu. With old hockey

teammates I drink beer. I have to be entertaining fanciful notions of earldom to call for an

expensive scotch, and I sometimes do. On Cinco I drink anything hecho en Mexico.

Home is bourbon. But also deep in mi corazon es mezcal (and tequila). A group of my

best friends take a ski trip every year on which we observe a masochistic tradition of

Fireball shots and Bud Light (historically, one or another of us cretins is in a state of

crisis at the time of the trip and instigates us through a whole handle of cinnamon

fungicide before the end of night one). And despite all that, what I probably sip as often

as anything are velvety and briny gins.

After a phase of fanaticism and self-righteousness, a “mixologist” generally

grows up and remembers a bartender with all the knowledge in the world is still a

bartender. And what that is really, is a people-tender—which calls for intuiting when a

guest is seeking ego-friendly assistance. Eventually, when faced with a bartender’s least

favorite question, I said something like this: “It depends on the occasion. What’s the

occasion today?” For a bespoken cocktail, my next question was usually, “How hungry

are you?”

Since we here at Nosotros Tequila traffic in shots and cocktails, below are five

different cocktails by an occasion that calls for them.

Chuggable. When you’re in the mood for slamming margaritas with your people on a

summer day but it’s March and you’re in quarantine.

2020 Do-Over

2oz tequila

1.5oz green apple shrub

.75oz orange liqueur

.75oz lemon

Shaken, served up in a coupe

Pinch of cinnamon and a green apple slice

Green apple shrub

1 cup green apples cubed

1 cup sugar

2/3 cup apple cider vinegar

combine ingredients. Muddle apples and stir in sugar. Let sit 24 hours before straining out solids

You’re hungry but the kitchen’s closed? But you’re also not done drinking? Check out

the beer menu or this beer cocktail for a little more caloric heft in your drink.

Rasta Mañana

1oz blanco

.75oz lime

.75oz molasses syrup (1:1 water:molasses)

1oz pineapple

add ingredients to tin and shake

add 3-4oz of amber all to tin, then strain into a Collins glass over ice, garnish with a

pineapple frond

An aperitif, like an amuse-bouche, teases the appetite for a meal to come. Intrigue your

dinner guests by making them a cocktail like they’ve never had to accompany their

chips and guacamole.

Mexican Street Corn or Must Love Corn

1.75oz corn macerated blanco tequila

.25oz mezcal

1.5oz corn juice

.5oz lime

.5oz honey

Egg white

Tajin and minced cilantro sprinkle

It’s the end of the night. It’s cigar hour. It’s time for something with cajones.

Far East Fashioned

2oz peanut washed reposado (soak 2 cups of peanuts in one 750ml bottle for 48 hours)

.5oz honey

4-5 dash Hellfire or Firewater bitters

A cocktail this adventurous is the occasion. Only invite your cool friends.

Me Gusta Cinco

1.75oz peanut washed reposado (soak 2 cups of peanuts in one 750ml bottle for 48 hours)

.75oz lime

.75oz blood orange juice

.5oz Worcestershire strawberry shrub

Worcestershire strawberry shrub

1 pound of strawberries, hulled and cubed

½ cup of distilled white vinegar

½ cup of Lea & Perrin’s Original Worcestershire

½ cup of sugar


Tell this is in second person narrative…

So here are some cocktails by occasion

All Veronica knows about the client is that he’s a “scratch golfer”, he loves a drink called

a vesper, and he’s is in New York for twenty-four hours which gives her firm about six to

secure his business. To say her firm is stretching it. She is a twenty-three year old

graduate who is studying furiously for her second attempt at the LSAT and who lucked

into a job as assistant to a partner at a prestigious law firm. This is her fourth month on

the job and she’s come a long way since her first weeks of spilled coffees and ignorantly

underdressing. In the last month she has verged on what can be called a human

relationship with her boss—a battle-axe of a thirty-something-year-old woman who just

yesterday told Veronica that her clerkship, “…showed promise.” However objectively

trivial, her boss tasking her with selecting and arranging the reservations for drinks after

dinner is a real graduation, a great and terrible responsibility. She has spent several hours

for several consecutive nights (often until 2am) educating herself on the cocktail bars of

the city (to which she’s new) and has chosen one based on location, aesthetic, uniformly

glowing reviews, and most importantly—after calling many times before finally getting a

human on the phone—for the fact that, “Yes, ma’am, our bartenders ‘know how to make

a drink called a vesper”. I can tell you with serene confidence that each of our bartenders

and probably every bartender in all of lower Manhattan knows how to make a vesper.”

Veronica got off the phone and took comfort by telling herself that should this be the

person that received them at the speakeasy they would have no way of knowing that she

was the rube who had called to ask such a hillbilly question. A theory that combusted

when face-to-face with that selfsame voice the following night, he asked her if it was she

who made the reservation, and she realized in her embarrassment she had forgotten to ask

for the reservation. It was going to be forty minutes until the cocktail bar could

accommodate a walk-in party of four. In a ____ of sheer panic, Veronica begged the

maître d’ to allow them to stand and order from an unclaimed three-foot section of bar

she could see from where she stood. That was the service well and ___... “Would you

hire someone to paint your house and ask him what his favorite color is?”

In front of her boss, the client and ___, he decimated her with, “That’s like asking a

painter for his favorite color.”

I know this because a week later, Veronica came back, got drunk, and told me what an

asshole I’d been. I was the bartender….

My answer was typical of a bartender who knew just enough to take himself too seriously

and not enough to understand a bartender is actually a people-tender.

And so she committed the most innocuous tort of asking an unsympathetic and ___

bartender , “What’s your favorite drink?”

Two weeks later, Veronica will come back in and confess all this to me (I was the

bartender) and I will feel for her and from that day make a concerted effort to improve

my ways.

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