Just over a year ago, on a trip to NYC from my hometown of London, I could be found sat at the white-tile-clad bar of Dante, ordering yet another of its fluffy orange Garibaldis, basking in the bar’s post-World’s 50 Best Bars win glow.
Fast-forward 14 months, and we all know what happened. While it has become increasingly easy to get cocktails from our favorite local bars delivered to our houses, there is a welcome movement from bartenders that is also making it possible for consumers to drink cocktails from bars around the world.
Bars — and more specifically, bartenders — are working together to deliver their customers drinks from other countries straight to their own front doors. Pre-pandemic, guests may have been able to sample cocktails from overseas bartenders via the concept of “guest shifts” (in which bartenders travel to various bars and run shifts serving their own cocktail recipes), but travel bans and the closures of many bars and restaurants have put paid to those luxuries. Instead, bartenders are going virtual — sliding into each others’ DMs and selling their peers’ creations.
It’s an initiative that not only brings lucky consumers signature drinks from bars across the world, but it also acts as a closed-loop safety net for the bars and bartenders who continue to fight for survival during Covid-19 — offering greater reach both physically and digitally (when the inevitable social media photos start circulating). These traveling cocktail recipes also provide bartenders across the globe with the hope that, when we can travel again, consumers will visit the bars they have had a taste of.
“The main reasoning behind it is that there are a lot of people who are f***** and the industry is being absolutely decimated,” says Alastair (Ali) Burgess, owner of famed London bars Happiness Forgets, Original Sin, and the recently opened Ever After. “We reached out to our peers and friends we’ve worked with before … and I remember thinking that we should do guest cocktails rather than guest shifts.” Now, his bar Happiness Forgets is on No. 16 of its international collaborations, which have included the likes of Singapore’s Jigger and Pony, Paris’s Little Red Door, and New York’s The Dead Rabbit and Clover Club.
For Chelsie Bailey, Happiness Forgets’ general manager, being able to serve drinks from overseas bartenders is about not just financially supporting peers, but keeping conversations between bartenders alive: “It’s showing love to bars, showing support, … reconnecting with friends, and making sure they’re OK.”
When collaborating with overseas establishments, Bailey asks the bars for two recipes, checks that the ingredients are available in the U.K., and has a few back and forths before batching and bottling the drinks. For its collaboration with Clover Club, Happiness Forgets made the Brooklyn bar’s Scarlet Lady Punch (Cabernet Sauvignon, reposado tequila, orange juice, cinnamon bar syrup, St.-Germain, and Angostura bitters) and Gin Blossom (Plymouth Gin, Martini Bianco vermouth, Blume apricot eau de vie, and orange bitters).
Clover Club bartender and co-owner Julie Reiner says Happiness Forgets was the first bar to have gotten in touch with such a request, but with Burgess being one of her favorite bartenders, it was a no-brainer to take him up on the offer. “It’s a great way to showcase people from other areas, and I think the bartending community is a very supportive arena and we all want to be able to help each other and maybe showcase something different from what we [usually] produce,” she says.
It’s not just drinks that travel between oceans — packaging and delivery concepts are also a tangible way of expanding ideas across countries. Toronto-based bartender Kelsey Ramage of Dolly Trolley Drinks and The Trash Collective became the Canadian arm of Send a Negroni, a cocktail posting service founded during lockdown by U.K.-based drinks entrepreneur and bartender, Alex Lawrence, that allows consumers to mail a cocktail to their friends.
“The Negroni recipe was pretty simple, and obviously I trust Alex’s palate and balance, so I didn’t have to do anything in that regard, which is key to collaboration,” explains Ramage of the process. Lawrence had already taken care of the branding, so all he had to do was send the labels, sort the packaging logistics, and Ramage simply “pressed play” — batching and packing the orders in portable pouches. While most of these drinks only travel one way, cocktail exchanges are also happening. When Ryan Chetiyawardana, co-founder of creative studio Mr Lyan Studio and owner of Washington D.C.’s Silver Lyan, London’s Lyaness, and Amsterdam’s Super Lyan, found himself in conversations with Tokyo’s TRUNK (HOTEL), the concept of a trans-Atlantic recipe exchange was one he found intriguing.
“The exchange is really interesting,” he explains. “It’s a way of both learning and having camaraderie, … giving props to each other. It’s great to align with a kindred spirit.” They swapped recipes and created six drinks: sansho pepper in a Champagne cocktail, umeboshi in a light aperitivo (dried plum), mirin in a tropical rum cocktail (Japanese cooking condiment) from ingredients in Japan; stinging nettle tea in a Martini variation, rosehips in a sour gin cocktail, and apple cider vinegar in a mezcal sherry Highball from the U.K.
While we all hope that getting on a plane and experiencing these drinks in their natural settings will be a reality in the not-too-distant future, there certainly seems to be a thirst from these bartenders to keep exploring this way of swapping ideas and collaborating with drinks pros around the world.
At its crux, the concept of traveling recipes is a way of keeping bartenders and bars learning and surviving. For Send a Negroni’s Lawrence, the idea is becoming so successful, he might even need to hire someone full- time to keep up with demand. Creating new bartender jobs in a pandemic? “That, to me, is mission accomplished,” he says.