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Gearing Up For New York’s Springtime Of To-Go Cocktails

All Zagat Stories are written by our editorial team. This story is presented by our partner Bacardi USA, producers of BACARDÍ Rum, GREY GOOSE Vodka, BOMBAY SAPPHIRE Gin, PATRÓN and CAZADORES Tequilas, and DEWAR’S Scotch Whisky among many others. In April, The Infatuation will create a “Ghost Bar” exclusively for delivery on DoorDash called “Bar Infatuation.” The menu will consist of six cocktails curated by four different New York City bars using the Bacardi portfolio of spirits via an exclusive recipe. You can order these drinks around the Manhattan, Dumbo, and Williamsburg/Greenpoint areas by searching for “Bar Infatuation” via the DoorDash app, from April 28 to May 5.

One of the biggest pandemic-inspired changes to the New York dining scene was the city allowing restaurants to include alcohol in to-go and delivery orders. This created a booming new business for restaurants and bars that customers love, and it seems likely to stick around even as pandemic restrictions ease up. We spoke to cocktail and beverage pros around town about how they shifted their operations to serve this new demand, and what they’re planning as the weather gets warm.

Brendan Bartley
Beverage Director, Bathtub Gin

After lockdown, we went straight into development to cut the amount of bodies that could be in a building. We didn’t want to cross-contaminate or infect or have anyone come in who didn’t want to be here. That led to making decisions about how to stabilize cocktails as a whole, and what we could and could not do without. That probably took, in total development from top to bottom, through May.

I spent a lot of time in the basement, in our kitchen, working and configuring how to make a cocktail without having many hands on it. That led me to stabilize acids and solutions. From there, it was a development of how to incorporate flavor outside of just having a mouthfeel. A lot of our drinks use citric acid, which has a mouthfeel and gives you a sensation, but has no flavor contrast.

When we try and figure out where people’s palates are in person, generally we’ll make a sour, which is a ratio-based cocktail, and go up or down on sugar levels and those things. You ask them if they find things sour or sweet, and where’s the Goldilocks zone for that? This was the same kind of development, where I started constructing flavor profiles based on a different bunch of ingredients that would stabilize, that wouldn’t shift or ferment in a bottle, and getting that ratio and balance right for what you’d expect if you’re drinking a margarita.

To begin with, it was very easy finding bottles for to-go cocktails. It was no more than a Google search, then calling suppliers and distributors. But by the end of last summer, takeaway cocktails became a very big trend. Three months after ordering 500 bottles by the pallet, people started running out of bottles or couldn’t get them to us because everyone was doing the exact same thing.

Our Bar Infatuation cocktail is the Passion of the Negroni, a summer variation of a negroni—BOMBAY SAPPHIRE Gin, MARTINI & ROSSI Fiero, sweet vermouth, passionfruit, and ST~GERMAIN. It was one of the easier drinks I came up with. The ST~GERMAIN and passionfruit make it one of those more palatable, easy-drinking cocktails. We still didn’t want to be fruit-forward or too heavy on the sweet. The BOMBAY SAPPHIRE gives you a bit more floral background to lean into.

As long as we can sell to-go cocktails, we will, especially with the process which we use. Once we batch it and bottle it, it can sit in the fridge—as far as we know, as far as the test that I’ve done—for up to a year. It’s a good position to be in.

Photo: Emily Schindler.

Samuel Willy
General Manager, Westlight

I think we got very lucky at Westlight because we have a lot of outdoor space. Once we reopened on June 30th, we were able to seat a decent amount of people. We were not doing delivery in any way, shape, or form before. But we still had reduced capacity, even with a lot of space, so we decided to put our cocktails on delivery as well as the food. We wanted people to be able to appreciate what we do, even if they didn’t feel comfortable coming out.

We didn’t necessarily have cocktails that were shelf-stabilized for sale. We were able to adjust—I removed everything that had fizz in it, like soda, sparkling Champagne, or whatever. All the others that were spirit-forward or sours, we do them à la minute, and we bottle them ourselves during service. That was really easy to adapt. We got some bottles for to-go, and we make them as the orders come through.

I make the cocktails à la minute because I assume the guests will drink them within the next three days. You rarely order a cocktail to drink five days from now. We considered doing something shelf-stabilized—either just the spirit-forward ones, or something with acids instead of sours, and can them as well. Cans had been popping up a lot. But because we were still in operation quite actively, it didn’t necessarily make sense to us to do it that way.

We went with bottles that we got from a packaging company. We did do a label with a design representing Westlight. We did most of it in-house because the idea was the more you spend on the packaging, the less you make off your cocktail.

Our two Bar Infatuation cocktails are the Lavender Lake and El Tiempo. Lavender Lake is CAZADORES Reposado, lime juice, lemon juice, pineapple juice, and lavender syrup. I came up with it during the pandemic, and it ended up being so popular because of its extremely fresh flavor. It sits very well as a cocktail to-go. El Tiempo is more spirit-forward—it’s BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho, tawny port, BÉNÉDICTINE, honey syrup, and mole bitters.

Because we can make great revenue out of very limited cost, there is no reason to not keep doing to-go cocktails. People love it because we’re lucky to be by McCarren Park. Places that are around parks have a bigger draw for to-go because people can come and grab a drink, and then go enjoy it in the park during those sunny days.

Kevol Graham, Co-Owner
Rael Petit, Beverage Manager

RAEL PETIT: Last summer we were doing frozen drinks. That was one of the big things for us. We were doing take-out cocktails, and we were doing canned cocktails as well. We also had a picnic program. That worked out really well. We’d sell the food items and all that for people to enjoy in the park, and then afterward they’d have a cocktail in a can.

KEVOL GRAHAM: The picnic program was pretty cool because it came with a blanket, a bag, our specialty food items, and then the cocktail in a can. We had a lot of people coming into the restaurant that couldn’t get seating, so it was a way to exercise social distancing—you could still enjoy the food and go sit in the park, because we’re right by the water. It was a cool vibe.

RAEL: For the cans, l already had the machinery to do it. You either had pre-orders, so you would be making it on the fly. Or I would batch it out for two to three days.

KEVOL: We had three different packages for the picnic program. We also had a build-your-own picnic where you could purchase a blanket in a bag and then get a food item, like the jerk chicken or the Caribbean flatbread. It was an actual meal. A lot of places were doing french fries or tacos, but we wanted to follow the law as close as possible. We knew it had to be an actual meal. We were a brand new Caribbean restaurant, new to the neighborhood, so people were very enticed.

RAEL: For this summer, we’re thinking about using fresh watermelon juice. We’re utilizing proper fresh ingredients in the cocktails. Last year, since it was our first year, we were doing cocktails that were liquor-forward that would hold on the shelves a little longer. For this year, we’ve learned how to utilize the fresher ingredients. We’re definitely going to keep doing to-go cocktails.

KEVOL: The Bar Infatuation cocktail is We Limin’. It’s my favorite drink.

RAEL: The We Limin’ is based on GREY GOOSE Vodka, and ST~GERMAIN, simple syrup, some guava juice we made ourselves, lime juice, salt. We top it off with some fresh pepper. A little bit of flavor, a little bit of tropical.

KEVOL: It’s not a spicy drink. It’s really refreshing. Anybody who tries that drink will love it.

Alyssa Sartor
Co-Owner, August Laura

When we first found out that we were allowed to do tot-go cocktails, I was by myself. I just opened my door, threw up some signs on the window. It was like the Wild West in terms of picking out what you wanted to serve—taking stock of what was in the house creating a menu based on that.

Pre-COVID, my whole drinks program was built on batching what I could with sustainable ingredients at a high volume. So we were already catering to that kind of thing.

For Bar Infatuation, I’m doing the Bastante en Rosa, which is PATRÓN Silver Tequila, rosé apéritif, watermelon juice, lime juice, simple syrup, and Prosecco. It’s a really light, refreshing, summery drink. It has watermelon. It’s pink. So it’s cute! Then I’m doing the Battle Peach—DEWAR’S White Label, maple syrup, and peach bitters. That’s a version of an old fashioned that I’ve played around with a lot. I really just like the flavor combinations.