11.14.18 / New York / New York

First Glass: Start Me Up at the Grand Bar

“After the first glass you see things as you wish they were…”

“People ask do you like to be called a bartender or a mixologist,” Soho Grand’s Adam Robbins considers. “I don’t really care. Taking someone’s nebulous idea of what they feel like and creating a drink maybe you’ve never made before, and then they try it and they’re like ‘oh my god, this is perfect.’ That to me is what mixology ought to be.” For Robbins, this has become second nature, and it isn’t uncommon to see him come up with a unique cocktail on the spot. It’s the result of over a decade behind the bar, starting as a barback at the Tribeca Grand (now named The Roxy Hotel) when he first moved to New York from his native Miami. Throughout the years he had intermittent stints at places like Bobo, The Monarch Room, and Tijuana Picnic, but it was the Soho Grand where he really fine-tuned his bartending skills while developing a deep understanding of guests.

Here Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘10,000-hour rule’ applies. “I’ve definitely hit that, and then some,” Robbins says, and still, after all that time, a happy customer is as important to him as ever before. “It has to pass the test of their palette, their nose, and has to look cool; they’re smelling it, they’re putting it in their mouth, and then it makes their brain react. It’s such a personal thing. Everyone is so different with what they expect, and what they like, how they’re feeling on a given day. When you nail that and they’re really pleased with it, that’s definitely one of the best moments of making drinks.”

[Adam Robbins]

“The Grand Bar is a whiskey bar,” Robbins says, standing in front of shelves of assorted amber bottles. “We’ve got at least 50 whiskeys at this point, almost all American. The Start Me Up is primarily a whiskey drink, but it’s also got some interesting things in there. Passion fruit liqueur, Jamaican rum—I really like the mixing of spirits.” The cocktail looks deceptively simple, but an unexpected flavor hits upon the first sip. The rum and whiskey blend seamlessly, and none of the ingredients overwhelm the others. Though it looks like a classic cocktail, the taste is distinctive. “Old Fashioned, Manhattans, Sazeracs…whiskey is at such a peak. This is in that family, but for someone who is so used to drinking those classics this is a little detour.” The flavors of passion fruit, cinnamon, and rum work surprisingly well as an autumnal drink, and help create a smooth and aromatic finish. “Every time you sip it you’ve got this evolving cluster of sensations that are being triggered. You look at it and you think this is a whiskey on the rocks, and once you actually lift it up to your nose, it’s like wait a minute, this is going to be different.”

Start Me Up

1 1/2oz Old Forester Signature Bourbon
1/4oz Smith and Cross Rum
1/4oz Ancho Reyes
1 bar spoon each:
-Giffard Passion fruit
-Demerara Syrup
-Cinnamon Syrup
1 dash Angostura Bitters

Stir, string into a tumbler over ice; garnish with an orange twist

[Photos: Yumi Matsuo for A Hotel Life]

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