FOOD IN COCKTAIL BARS
We chat with Bartenders, Managers and Owners to get their take on whether offering food in a cocktail bar is worth the effort. From Rome to Amsterdam to New York City the menus and philosophy may be different, but the answer is the same. Yes, Yes and Yes.
First to the Netherlands, for a perspective from a hotel bar liked no other. When consumers consider hitting the bar in a hotel, some may have in mind the generic bars of the past that offer just the standards with no real personality, creativeness or flare. That is certainly not the case with Bluespoon at The Andaz in Amsterdam. The current fairytale-themed fall cocktail menu takes you on a whimsical and delicious ride through a Wonderland that only Alice could host. Well, Alice and Martin Eisma. Martin and his team so carefully and thoughtfully curate the cocktails and storybook menu here that the food offered must be just as inventive to follow suit. Regarding the working relationship with Chef Sander, Eisma says “We don’t necessarily coordinate menu’s, but we both respect seasonality and combining local flavors with
unusual or forgotten ingredients. So even though we don’t always sit down about this together, there is a very definite connection between the kitchen and the bar in Bluespoon. The “Alice in Amsterdam” theme really comes through.” As the only bar in the hotel, Martin shares that many hotel guests are surprised at the level in which the bar operates and after they try it once during their stay, they’re generally back every day after. Having a hotel bar that attracts a local clientele can be tricky and elusive, so the fact that friends and neighbors make up roughly 80% of business on weekends says a lot. And what’s the fan favorite dish to have with cocktails these days? “Absolutely the Frikandel Sausage”.
Patrick Pistolesi, co-owner and bartender of 3-month old Drink Kong in Rome says that roughly 50% of his guest’s order food. “Once they realize the quality of the food we’re offering and that the small portions won’t ruin their dinner, they give it a try” says Patrick. The classic Italian way is to visit a few favorite spots in one evening, and the globally inspired menu at Drink Kong offers great options for both Aperitivo Hour and Late-Night snacking. Says Pistolesi, “We are after all a cocktail bar 100%, but in my experience, and because I’m Italian, I feel food is always a good idea. It may be more work to offer food in a bar, but if you do it in a light-hearted way like me, you can offer high quality without adding stress.” The first year of a new bar or restaurant is generally the most crucial period that sets the tone for longevity and costs are always on an owner’s mind. Knowing how expensive if is to own and operate a business in Italy, I wondered if expense also played a role in the initial decision to offer food. “I have worked in restaurants and I know what kind of stress a kitchen can add. If you offer food in Rome the competition is super high, and the costs are too. What we offer are small bites from all around the world, to appeal to a wide audience. (The Japanese Pop Culture incorporated into the décor might offer a hint at this as) We feel we have something for every taste or food religion. We are a mindful bar with no spoilage and we try to use all fresh ingredients, which keeps costs down.” From my experience, the Bao and Dumplings are not to be missed, then check out the tacos, pastrami and absolutely the Moroccan zighini.
Space is always at a premium in New York City and the decision to add a full working kitchen to a cocktail bar floorplan can be a dicey one.Will enough food be sold to warrant taking away bar seats to add refrigeration, stovetops and ovens? For Mace, an alphabet city favorite, owner Nico de Soto and the team work with a very small kitchen and offer just a handful of options. “I’d like to offer more food, but space just doesn’t allow for it.
Clearly the focus here is the creative and thoughtful list of 12 cocktails, as Nico shares “about 10% of our guests order food and the menu is changed twice a year”. Even though the menu only consists of four items, the variety of snacks is perfectly curated for a pre-dinner drink with friends (crostini topped with olive tapenade and sun-dried tomato) or salty and savory late-night cravings, think Pork Rillette on a Baguette. When asked about the style that seems to work best for bar food de Soto says, “finger food is key”.