We’ve been on the road a lot lately, drinking at speakeasys, cocktail bars and restaurants in a number of cities (including most recently Las Vegas and Boulder) and one thing we’ve noticed is that the cocktail menu is in a state of active evolution. When we interviewed Tony Abou-Ganim in Las Vegas, he said that he bartended for ten years in Las Vegas before they ever had a physical cocktail menu (which finally appeared in the mid-nineties).
Now cocktail menus range from small pieces of paper with a handful of drinks to absolute tomes which take several minutes just to make your way through. Of the menus we’ve seen and ordered from, four recent menus have really stuck out as interesting and innovative. Each brings a unique style and approach, and we feel that each have the ability to impact cocktail menus around the country.
Oak at Fourteenth – Boulder, Colorado
The first of these menus is actually the most subtle of them. Oak at Fourteenth in Boulder, Colorado has moved the cocktail menu front and center and made it a part of the regular menu. Bryan Dayton, one of the owners, remarked, “Generally there’s only one cocktail menu on a table. By putting it on the main menu, it means everyone has a copy.” Bryan Dayton’s progressive approach to bring cocktails alongside the dinner selections opens the discussion up to the relationship between cocktails and food, and gives the diner a chance to consider both what they’d like to eat and what they’d like to drink at the same time.
Downtown Cocktail Room – Las Vegas, Nevada
Not everyone’s palate is the same, and while some drinkers want something easy and sweet, others crave something “brown, bitter and stirred”. Jeremy Merritt addresses this exceptionally well with a rating system and legend which helps his customers navigate toward the style and level of complexity of drink that they would enjoy the most. Many cocktail menus don’t accommodate for the fact that people often get overwhelmed when looking through a cocktail menu, and Downtown Cocktail Room does a great job of simplifying that task.
Salt Bistro – Boulder, Colorado
Salt Bistro’s cocktail menu is a bold attempt at rethinking how people actually order cocktails. Emulating the modern coffee/espresso ordering model, Salt Bistro gives diners the opportunity to pick all the elements that go into the glass as well as the style of the drink. When we were at Salt Bistro, we found that almost everyone in our party ordered something different from what they usually drink – an unbelievable feat for a cocktail menu. One of the most revolutionary aspects of the menu is actually the choice of a full or half-sized cocktail. Giving people the option to have a smaller cocktail is fantastic, as they may be more willing to try something new when it’s priced at $5 rather than $8-$14.
Herbs & Rye – Las Vegas, Nevada
Herbs & Rye is an old school style, dark and sexy cocktail bar. While they focus on classic cocktails, their menu is more a history lesson about spirits, drinks and their place in the history of drinking. Spirits have such a richly textured history and the Herbs & Rye menu is great about explaining the what, when and where for each of their cocktails. No matter what you end up drinking at Herbs & Rye, you’ll definitely learn something about cocktails from the menu.
Have you been to a bar or restaurant lately that was doing something interesting or unique with their cocktail menu? Let us know!