Last winter I found myself drinking at the swank NoMad Bar with Fred Noe, the famed master distiller at Jim Beam. The drinks were arranged by a PR, and conversation was inevitably stilted. That is until I nudged Noe and pointed to a small collection of gorgeous, gigantic, and empty cut-glass antique serving vessels off to one side of the bar.
“You see those, Fred?”
“Yeah, what are they?”
“Those are for something called the Cocktail Explosion.”
A large format (five gallons!) cocktail made to order—and recommended for eight drinkers—let’s just say, after one Cocktail Explosion our conversation was no longer stilted.
Even just five years ago, you were lucky to get your cocktail served in “appropriate” glassware. Most drinks, whether Manhattans or Old-Fashioneds or, god forbid, Martinis came in ice-filled highball glasses…or even worse.
But nowadays, just about every bar in every decent city uses sophisticated, high-end glassware. Coupes for Manhattans and rocks glasses for Old-Fashioneds and perhaps even snazzy Nick & Nora glasses for a Crusta or a Sour or something even more arcane.
One of San Francisco’s highest-rated cocktail bars, Smuggler’s Cove, offers their cocktail-for-four Volcano in a massive, cigar ashtray-like vessel that is then lit on fire. Their Smuggler’s Rum Barrel comes in an actual barrel customers can take home for an additional ten bucks. Meanwhile, Brooklyn’s new Pan-Latin bar Leyenda will reportedly begin serving tropical shots in cute-as-a-button, miniature tiki mugs.
“Having a proper serving vessel is very important to me,” Xavier Herit, the head bartender at Wallflower in Manhattan told me. “It is like getting the proper silver according to the dish!” Herit should know. Though his avant-garde bar does use more standard glassware for his more “normal” drinks, he has a few serving oddities in his collection worth noting.
For a creamy drink called Happy Days—Cruzan Black Strap Rum, coffee bean-infused Cynar, cream, cacao nibs-infused maple syrup, egg white, Left Hand Milk Stout—he uses a tiny glass milk bottle, the same kind that might have been dropped off on your doorstep every morning back in…well, more “Happy Days.”
Likewise, for Copacabana, Herit’s take on a Piña colada, he chooses to serve the drink in a pineapple-shaped tiki mug. His main reason for using these is a tad more matter-of-fact than a lot of other bartenders and beverage directors: “It’s a nice way to replace some fruit garnishes that could take up too much space in a drink.”
He’s not the only bartender getting pleasure in serving his drinks in a faux-pineapple. Santa Monica’s Terrazza Lounge inside Hotel Casa del Mar serves their tropical cocktails inside stunning pineapple-shaped copper mugs.
Upon its arrival in front of you, you remove the head of the pineapple and then actually use it as a base to hold up one of two possible 32-ounce drinks, the Copper Pineapple or Copperface, both of which are made with Absolut Elyx Vodka, which commissioned the special glassware.
Things are getting even crazier than pretend pineapples. SoBou in New Orleans has recently begun eschewing communal punch bowls at their weekly “Sobou-zy Brunch.”
Instead, large parties are now encouraged to order the whiskey-based Big Hooch Punch, which comes in a gigantic, 700 mL flask.
Just like Sobou, another New Orleans-inspired bar, Sassafras in Hollywood, wanted a way to make the presentation of their “elevated” Hurricane a little more interesting. Thus, they put the bar’s signature drink in a hollowed-out Santería candle votive which recalls the voodoo culture of the city.
“It’s a break from monotony. Many bars use the same glassware, so when you’re handed something different, it becomes something special or a conversation starter,” notes Karen Gill, the general manager at Sassafras.
She’s ultimately right. Just last week I found myself drinking at BDK in San Francisco, which has an adventurous drink program created by star bartender Kevin Diedrich.
I’d enjoyed three or four rounds of his avant garde drinks—all served in fairly regular glassware—but I couldn’t help but notice some ceramic pineapple serving vessels displayed behind the bar. With each new drink I ordered, I prayed that this would be the one to come served in that awesome pineapple.
Finally, after ordering yet another delicious drink that only came in a glass, I was completely vexed. I asked the bartender what drink on the menu actually came in the pineapple.
He looked at me and smiled mischievously.
I think he was joking.