Top Bartender Ezra Star’s Current Obsession: Escargot Tongs
The general manager of Boston’s award-winning bar Drink is repurposing this old-school tool for handling jumbo ice cubes.
When Ezra Star, general manager of Boston’s Drink, traveled to Stockholm last March for a guest shift at Bar Hommage, she was surprised and delighted to find an unusual tool in the Swedish bar’s arsenal: escargot tongs. But instead of using the contraption for handling buttery mollusks, the bartenders were using them to delicately place ice cubes in cocktail glasses.
“It was something I’d never seen before and it was really bizarre,” says Star. But during her Scandinavian trip—and a subsequent visit to New York—she was shocked to notice several bars were actually using the traditional tool.
About seven-inches long with a wire-like handle, she found the tongs a highly effective way to grip ice that’s otherwise a bit slippery. The benefit of these tongs is that each side is concave with a hole in the middle, which is perfect for the jumbo ice cubes favored by craft cocktail bars.
Since seeing them, “I’ve been a little obsessed,” admits Star. “Sometimes ice tongs don’t grip onto the ice very well and I like how the snail holders are curved so it kind of supports the ice cube a little easier. The square pieces of ice slide into the holes.”
Not long ago, Star finally—and drunkenly—ordered her very own pair (this one) to try out at Drink’s sister fine-dining restaurant Menton. Though she typically uses her hands when adding ice to a glass, Star likes to use tongs for simpler cocktails like a Collins or a Highball to add an element of drama to the process.
“When you use certain tools, you’re drawing attention to or taking attention away from something else—it’s part of the game of making the drink,” says Star. “If you take extra time with a Vodka Soda and can capture someone’s attention for long enough, that guest is going to be more excited by it because they feel like their simple order is more important.”
Star has been collecting unusual and vintage tools for her home bar for years, including jiggers (“which is funny, since we don’t use them at Drink”), a bamboo sherry venenciador, and block ice tongs for very large chunks of ice.
“For work, I constantly buy bar tools and play with them to try to see if I can become more efficient in some way,” she says.
So far, she’s also collected about nine pairs of traditional ice tongs and an original julep strainer that she dates back to around 1820, about the time when it still would have been used in the kitchen to sift sugar.
“It’s fun to see something like the snail tongs even now go from being a food element to a bar element,” says Star. “I have a theory that bartenders are naturally innovative because they’re just trying to outdo each other.”
Though she’s spent a lot of time in Parisian bars and restaurants and was familiar with escargot tongs being used for food, Star says that seeing a restaurant-based item used to handle ice did catch her off guard.
“I kind of want to talk to my friends in Paris about it because I think they’d laugh,” she says. “It’s like super old-school stuff—nobody eats snails in Paris anymore unless you’re going to an old-school bistro.”