Classic cocktails may have been glamorized by James Bond and the Rat Pack, but it’s about time we ladies capitalize on the time-tested, tried-and-true recipes of old and-if only briefly-abandon our Sex and the City Cosmos for somethign with a little more lasting power than any of Carrie’s love interests. Save Big, ofcourse, but we would guess he’s a fan of these too…
To get the low down on classic cocktails 101 from a man’s perspective, we headed to the bar inside Osteria la Buca on Melrose, a small restaurant full of great booze and home-made unique drink specials concocted daily by bar manager and bartender Travis Archer (right). Aside from his boyish charm and quick wit, Travis is famous for his unusual uses of libations, mixing them with flavors and foods you never knew you craved, and tonight is another dazzler: my party and I start of our interview over a thick slice of watermelon on a wood cutting board, soaked with fine tequila and garnished with sea salt. We ate it with a fork and knife, and washed it down with more of Travis’s favorite mixtures.
Travis starts the interview off by staging the bar with all his tools. ”I thought I lost my wine key…Losing your wine key is scary stuff. A bartender without a wine key is like waking up neutered.”
I warned you about his charm.
A self-proclaimed ‘simple southern man’, Travis is also famous for his bar experience; his conversations are geniune, he hand-makes his own syrups, he personally designs his nightly specials (where you’ll indulge in ripe, seasonal ingredients) and he delights in the opportunity to explore your preferences with you, creating the perfect drink with your name all over it. Tonight, however, is toward a different end.
Our goal in this experiment is to find some summer-friendly drinks that are easy to make, globally respected and infamous for their male fanbase’s adoration. Our hunger for intoxicated history has more to it than just our wanting to kill jokes from bartenders about lemon drops, or the desire to impress our dates…
Travis says it much better than we can: “America created the cocktail; we are famous for jazz, movies, and cocktails-three of the most important cultural things in history…People drink them all the time because they work. Generally the recipes by design have an appreciation for fresh ingredients and good liquor, as opposed to modern drinks that don’t have that care, aren’t as refined. Cocktails started in the 1800’s… So it’s important to know classic cocktails to know where we come from.”
“I’m a firm believer in drinking any moment of the day, but I think [The Negroni] is good before dinner, or after a meal. maybe it’s a good getting-started drink.”
1 Ounce Carpano Antica
1 Ounce Compari
1/2 ounce Gin
Stir and garnish with orange zest
With a dark orange color, rich citrus smells, syrupy sweetness of Compari cut by dark taste of smooth Carpano which “adds sweetness and viscosity, gin adds the bite” says Travis, the Negroni is a perfect summer cocktail. If you like a sweeter drink with a robust finish, this is the drink for you. Plus, with oranges in season and it being an extremely easy drink to start with, the Negroni really is the perfect ‘getting-started’ drink for your education.
As we enjoyed the simple complexities of our first drink, Travis shared more of his tending bar tangents. We asked him some of the secrets of his drink-making arsenal. His essentials for any proper home bar:
“A servicable bourbon; something versatile enough for sipping and mixing.” He recommends Old Grand Dad.
“Vodka -I don’t care about vodka personally, but I think you should always have a decent vodka for Bloody Marys of whatever you like.” He recommends Charbay Hanger 24.
“Scotch. You must have a single malt scotch for celebrating a hard-day’s work.” He recommends La Phroig 10-year or Glenlivit.
And already it was time for our next cocktail.Next up: Sazerac
“It’s the New Orleanian take on the Old Fashioned. You have the sugar, the bitters, the citrus peel and the whiskey. And it has the absinthe wash for an interesting flavor that differ from the traditional.”
(Rinse the glass with Absinthe Pernod and ice)
Bitters (preferrably Peychauds, also from New Orleans)
Muddle sugar, bitters and lemon zest
Add 2 ounces Rye
If the glass is chilled, you won’t need ice in this hot-weather cooler
The Sazerac has an appealing pink-orange color, and an old-world feel to it. Travis explains the Sazerac is often forgotten because people order an old fashioned so religiously. Tragically, it’s their loss; it hits on less sweet mellow notes and more herbal, floral flavors. If you like a flavor-filled cocktail with a bit more bit and more body to it than standard summer drinks, give the Sazerac a shot.
Before our next drink, Travis teaches us the fundamentals.
“Showcase the spirit. For example in the Sazerac, you can take the bourbon. It’s always essential that you can taste what you put into it. If you vary the spirit too much you might as well be drinking juice. There are a lot of really good flavors in alcohol and you want to be working with that…
“If you’re making something that’s all liquor, you need to make sure you have a really nice balance of flavors so it’s really smooth or sophisticated. If you’re making something with juice or you need to shake it, its all about the balance of the sweet and the sour in the spirit, aromatic.”
The best way to drink any spirit is one ice cube. If you can get those big cubes so that it doesn’t dilute for a while, it’s perfect. It opens it up, like when you aerate wine or put it in a decanter, it really helps it breathe, so with whiskey or any good spirit it brings out all the other flavors.”
Finally we come to our last cocktail of the night, which may not be classic in recipe, but full of well-reputed ingredients and a flavor sure to make you famous at your next hosting.
“You can drink it any time. Its great on it’s own, its great with food. It’s really balanced, refined, palate-pleasing concoction,” boasts Travis.
1 ounce London Rye, preferably Bombay or Plymouth Beefeater gin
1/2 ounce Strega liqueur
3/4 ounce Lillet Blanc apertif fortified wine (you might have heard of this from the Vespar Martini that James Bond used to drink)
served up with a lemon twist in a martini glass Crisp, fresh flavor while still being dirty as a Martini would make you feel. This drink is cool, cold, clear and incredible. Smoothly and cleanly, the strega-saurus “goes after your palate” aromatically, as Travis puts it. But let’s put it this way: if the Strega-Saurus were a dress, it would be a skin-tight white summer dress, worn with killer heels and a mysterious look.
For an extra tip (and awe-factor), rub the lemon zest around the rim of the glass.And so our time with Travis comes to an end, just as our buzz starts to set in. But your time with this infamous tender should only just be beginning. Summer soltice specials at the Osteria la Buca bar are more than mouthwatering. Every sunday, get half-priced wine on any bottle, enjoy free corkage on Tuesdays, and Tuesday through Friday at the bar only Studio Happy Hour from 6-7:30; so if you work at Raleigh or Paramount, come get treated to $5 wine, beer and well drinks.
And of course, there is more. Travis has graciously extended his personal email to TGIFGuide readers needing more advice, recipes or information about these and more summer cocktails at email@example.com
We would like to personally thank Travis Archer and everyone at Osteria La Buca for their hard work and hospitality.