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Shaken and Stirred
Through the Martini Glass and Other Drinking Adventures
There are nights when you think
you'll never drink again
Dushan Zaric has, to my mind, a unique and concise view of life.
"You like it sweet? You like sour?" he asked me last week. "You like bitter? You like dirty? Straight?"
I thought about all that, maybe a little too deeply.
Mr. Zaric is a bartender, and we were talking about cocktails. He is also, with Jason Kosmas, a fellow bartender, a partner in Cocktail Conceptions, a consulting service in Astoria, Queens, in the apartment the two men share and where they develop cocktails for restaurants, bars and liquor companies. They have been friends for four years and have a combined bartending experience of thirteen years.
"You have to be behind the bar," Mr. Zaric said. "If you're not behind the bar, you're going to lose touch with your basics."
Cocktail Conceptions, which is actually Mr. Zaric and Mr. Kosmas's dining room table, set up with liquors, barware and glassware, jars of sugars and vanilla beans, homemade infusions and bowls of fruits currently in the markets in Astoria, has worked for Courvoisier, Beefeater, Mumm and Perrier Jouët Champagne, and the new Stoli Premier.
One of Cocktail Conceptions' latest assignments was the cocktail menu at Schiller's Liquor Bar. It is Keith McNally's newest venture, at the corner of Rivington and Norfolk Streets. The white neon sign makes it look, cleverly, like an all-night pharmacy in a bad neighborhood.
There was a point in time when it might have been brilliant to put Mr. McNally on the City Planning Commission. He invaded and occupied frontier territories like TriBeCa with the restaurant Odeon in 1980 and eastern SoHo with Pravda in 1996 and Balthazar in 1997. Mr. McNally's recent posts are more like cleanup missions in well-publicized locales: Pastis in the meatpacking district in 1999 and Schiller's, opened last month, on the Lower East Side.
Mr. McNally asked Mr. Zaric, who also works at the bar, for frozen margaritas and then cut him loose to invent the house drinks.
"I didn't want us to appear too fancy, but to bring it down a little -- not just cocktails," Mr. McNally said. "And I like them. But, I've got quite bad taste."
In Astoria, the request sent a freezing chill down the spines of Mr. Zaric and Mr. Kosmas, like the time Mr. Kosmas saw a maraschino cherry in a cosmopolitan.
"I threw away a lot of it," Mr. Zaric said of their research, conducted at the dining table beneath a portrait of Tito, the president of the former Yugoslavia. (Mr. Zaric is from Belgrade.)
"It's a sentimental, not an ideological thing," Mr. Zaric said, referring to Tito. "The guy was a great scamster. We have respect for that."
How do they start, in inventing a cocktail?
"Shopping," Mr. Zaric said.
"Shopping," Mr. Kosmas agreed. "On 30th Avenue here, there's a whole bunch of produce markets -- everything you can imagine." On the dining table were white peaches, green apples, crabapples and pomegranates.
"I juiced ten cases of those once," Mr. Kosmas said, gesturing toward the pomegranates. "I had a white apron on. I looked like a butcher."
At Schiller's on Wednesday, it was business as usual -- Mr. McNally's standard bistro background and, in the crowd, Europeans in track suits, artists with children and couples who probably weren't of age when Mr. McNally opened his last restaurant. There were also older men in short-sleeved polyester shirts -- the aging aristocracy of the East Village and the Lower East Side.
If Schiller's frozen margaritas are an honorable escape, the Sparkling Mango is a triumph. There are nights when you think you'll never drink again, and then you come upon a drink like it, a piece of exoticism whose simplicity is its surprise.
"You get this sweet-and-sour kind of thing, but then, you get the bubbles," Mr. Zaric said proudly.
Consider it the newest of life's choices.
Adapted from schiller's liquor bar
3/4 ounce 80 proof vodka
3/4 ounce Hiram Walker Fruja Mango
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
Chilled Champagne or sparkling water
Thin slice fresh mango
Pour all the liquid ingredients except the Champagne into a mixing glass. Add ice. Shake well for several seconds. Strain into a chilled 5-ounce martini glass and top to the brim with Champagne. Garnish with a mango slice.
Yield: 1 servingShaken and Stirred
Through the Martini Glass and Other Drinking Adventures. Copyright © by William Hamilton. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.