In this episode of “Going Out With Jake Cornell,” host and former NYC hospitality pro Jake Cornell chats with TikTok creator Hannah Chamberlain. They discuss Chamberlain’s account (@SpiritedLA), where she shares classic cocktail recipes, drinks history, and her own riffs on popular recipes. The two nerd out about cocktails, discuss why garnishes are not always necessary, and assess the benefits of a good boozy brunch. Tune in to learn more.
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Jake Cornell: I’ve been following you for a very long time. It’s funny because I always describe myself as, at my core, a dive bartender. I was a bartender for 10 years and I worked at a lot of fancy cocktail bars, but my original jobs were in high-speed dive bar places. So every time I see the fancy cocktails, there’s an anxiety that builds inside of me. Now that I don’t work in the industry, I’m slowly undoing that and trying to build comfortability around it.
Hannah Chamberlain: I have the complete opposite anxiety. The only actual food experience I have is that I worked at Starbucks for three weeks when I was 19, and I could not handle the speed of that. I was just dried milk from head to toe, always behind everyone. I was a nightmare at speed. If I can’t slowly mince around and delicately do things at my own pace, it’s a disaster. So I have so much respect for that.
J: I have so much respect for you and what you do, I think because of that. My experience in working with cocktails and frankly, drinking cocktails and anything about it, is all centered on being a bartender. And being mostly a New York bartender. It’s about speed and efficiency. If I see a nice garnish, I’m like, “I don’t have time to make a hundred of those.” You can do it at home and you can do it in a way that’s so nice and really celebratory of the thing itself and not thinking about it in the context of a business or a machine or, like, a menu. I had forgotten you could think about cocktails in that way, and I think it’s so special what you do in that regard.
H: It’s definitely completely the opposite. I have friends who are bartenders who will look at glassware I’m using or something. They’re like, “No one can drink out of that. It would get stolen. It would get broken. This is the most impractical thing. Can you even pick this up to drink out of it?” And I’m like, “Well, you just have to slowly futz around and mix this.” It’s totally different. And when I’ve tried to bartend behind the bar with friends and bartenders, my mind is blown. Everything goes in in a particular way and the memory of how it works and the speed. It’s like a dance. It’s beautiful.
J: I’m curious, I want to hear a little bit about the story of you falling in love with cocktails. I’m assuming you love cocktails.
H: I absolutely do. Yes.
J: This show is all about going out. I’m assuming that that was a big part of your journey. I’m curious to hear more about it.
H: Yeah, absolutely. I fell in love with cocktails in L.A. and it started with my going to bars and watching bartenders create these beautiful things and tasting things I’d never had before. I love the fact that it’s a mix between science and history. Also, you get drunk and it tastes great, so that’s a huge added bonus. One of my friends who was a dive bar bartender whipped up something that would no longer be my favorite cocktail, but it was a pomegranate, vanilla, vodka, marshmallow-y thing in her kitchen. And for some reason, up to that point, I always thought of cocktail making as something that had to happen in this special space. It had to happen in a lab, almost. There’s no way you could whip up something that looked good at home. I think that was the moment for me when I went, “OK, so if I get the right bottles and I get the right equipment, I might not be as fast as a lot of bartenders, but I can create something quality at home.” There are some great bottle shops in L.A. with some very patient, nice bartenders who answered a ton of questions. There were a lot of very bad cocktails that were 2 ounces of St Germain and a dash of rum and insane bad experimentation in the beginning. It was very fun and took a little while. But yes, making them for friends and family and coworkers was a big one. It was very motivating. That all really cemented my love of it. How about you? I’d love to know what got you started.
J: I started bartending when I was 18 at a pub in England. I shouldn’t call it a dive bar; a dive bar paints a little bit of a different picture than what it was. I guess my start with cocktails was at that place. You can’t order a Cosmo at a pub. There are no jiggers, there are no liqueurs, even. There is definitely no citrus juice.
H: You could probably order it. But what you get back would be an adventure.
J: But like, no, but frankly, it would be considered out of place to order something like that in a space like that over there. We would just say, “No, sorry, we don’t have that.” There was this thing they started to do. On Thursday nights when I worked at this bar, they put together a cocktail team and we did cocktail night in this satellite bar in a different room of the bar. The whole premise of it was that it was a pub that was very popular among students. So obviously things being cheap was the selling point of everything. You can make two cocktails in one shaker, so we would do two-for-7-pounds cocktails. We would be four deep at the bar for like three-and-a-half hours. And I was 19, I was a kid. I was living my full fantasy. I was a busy cocktail bartender in England. That was so fun, it was like me and my friends doing it. It would be hard work, but it was so fun. It felt cool to be like, “I know how to make cocktails. I’m the one behind the whole thing.” That was the start of it for me with cocktails, specifically. Most of my career has been at places that were pretty wine-focused. That was the meat of my resume for a long time, but we always had cocktails. I worked at the Knickerbocker Hotel, which was where they claim to have invented the Martini. So that was a whole cocktail thing. And then the last bar I worked at before I stopped bartending had a really phenomenal cocktail program. But I’ve always been adversarial to the complicated programs because I want to drink and make cocktails the way you do, which is with this ceremony and appreciation. I get upset when I have to do it under gunpoint with so many tickets and stress. I just wish everyone could order whiskey neat and it could be done. I transitioned to doing comedy full-time maybe five or six months ago.
J: Yeah, thank you. But I’m falling in love with cocktails again in a different way because now I get to either make them for myself or go out and order them. So my journey with cocktails specifically has been kind of specific.
H: Are you the cocktail go-to with your friends? Do they always make you mix cocktails in your family and everything?
J: Yeah, and that I love. I just love being at home and being like, “Oh, you want this? Yeah, I can do that.” Or someone being like, “I have these four weird bottles,” and I can figure out what to make with that. That’s always so fun.
H: That was very fun for me at the beginning of quarantine, visiting my family, who did not have any kind of a bar. And all they’d have is Old Spice Dram that I left there from three years ago and some weird vodka or something. All right, so I’ve got Tupperware and some Old Spice Dram. But it was fun.
J: I do enjoy all of that, and I think that’s what’s so great about watching your videos and how you kind of talk about cocktails and stuff. What I like about it is it’s very fancy and very elegant and very regal, but I wouldn’t ever describe it as pretentious. You don’t really gatekeep any information. The thing about cocktails is, it’s like cooking in a way where if you learn certain concepts and certain balances, you can do whatever you want. I’m also very anti-pretentious cocktail bartending, like, “If it doesn’t have this, it’s not this.” I don’t f*cking care like it. If it tastes good, that’s what’s more important.
H: That’s one of the things that’s been so awesome about TikTok these last two years. Instagram went a little that way for me. It was really about constantly leveling up and constantly more nuanced and niche to the point where I’d make it for Instagram, but it wasn’t something I’d want to drink or make for my friends or family. It was for these little teeny groups of people, whereas with TikTok, I think the most-watched videos I have are, “What are Martini terms and how to make a Paloma in a solo cup?” But they’re great drinks. They’re delicious and anyone can make them.
J: I was thinking about your videos and your content and just everything earlier today getting ready for this. Bartenders, and especially the fancy cocktail bartenders, I feel like a lot of them probably react to your videos and stuff being like, “Oh no, she’s giving her secrets away.” No, it makes my job easier as a bartender if more people know how Martinis work. By giving that information out there, it’s the same with wine. The more we can disseminate this information, the more that people are able to ask for what they want and explain what they want in a restaurant and in a bar. And I think that’s so great. I was like, “Wow, how did we get to 2020 before someone was like, ‘Let me explain to the masses how a Martini works.'”
H: That’s the funny thing about that video in particular. I’m one of those people who have one week of going out all year long and it was the most exciting time of my life. But one of those times I was taking full advantage of it. I was ordering Martinis everywhere. If I could order one at Denny’s, I would do it. I ordered one at an airport and I asked for a dry Martini and the bartender put about an ounce of dry vermouth in and I was like, “Oh, cool.” And she was like, “Oh, this is dry vermouth.” And I was like, “OK, I get how confusing this is.” This is a weird term, and of course, people are probably doing this every single day and that’s sort of what made me want to make the video. And it is confusing and most of this terminology does come from God knows where. Why would we know any of this? Then you’re getting drinks and for some reason, I liked that last Martini and I don’t like this one, and I have no idea why. Anyway, I agree and it’s nice to have that transparency there. Thank you for watching, by the way.
J: Oh my God, of course. I think it’s so true. None of it is set up to be easily understood and easily accessible, I think, by design. As I said, a lot of my experience is in wine. I don’t know that anyone has ever maybe explicitly said this, but I do think there is an idea that part of our power is withholding this information and being the gatekeepers to it. The sommelier has the power to be the gatekeeper to the wine list. No, this should be collaborative. There’s enough expertise and enough information to go down that everyone having a baseline knowledge is actually serviceable to the entire group.
H: The more I learn, the more I want to keep going to bars and learn from bartenders and get exposed to all of what they know. That’s the other great thing about wine and spirits. There’s always going to be something you don’t know and something new to learn and something exciting that way.
J: You came to it, not by way of bartending. You had a different career and this was a hobby that evolved into a job, essentially.
J: I’m curious, then, because that’s so opposite to my journey. I was bartending before I was drinking alcohol regularly. What were the things that blew your mind or you had no idea about? What were the things that you were learning about and said, ” Wow, I had no idea about this?”
H: One, it was my friend who made that cocktail at home that was very exciting to me. Another thing was a random cocktail I had at the Corner Door in L.A. made by a bartender named Beau du Bois, and it was a room-temperature cocktail. He had made it for camping, which I will never do. But the idea of what goes into a room-temperature cocktail made me think that I didn’t know as much about dilution. That I didn’t know what made me like cocktails, like the ingredients of temperature, dilution, and all of these things coming together. For some reason, that particular cocktail just made me realize that it’s more than flavor. It’s more than a pretty cocktail and a pretty garnish. There are so many layers to this, and I think that that was one of the things that made me realize there was more meat to it that I’d like to keep going for. And books. Charles H. Baker’s “Gentleman’s Companion” makes drinking sound so fun and cocktails sound so fun. I completely fell in love with it there. That was huge for me in the beginning.
J: When you started to fall in love with cocktails, was this when you first started going out? Or had you been someone who had been socializing in a different way beforehand? When you started drinking, did it start with cocktails, or was there a period of time before that?
H: There was definitely a period of time before that and it kind of went back and forth. I’m originally from Wisconsin, and I would say that there is an early drive. I was listening to your first podcast and you are from Vermont. Imagine the cold of Vermont, but with a little less romance with skiing and the beautiful New England setting. There’s a lot of early experimentation. And they were not quality beverages. I definitely got that start there. But then I spent many years dry in L.A. I was very focused on school and really not in the scene at all. Then when I started getting into it, it was a bit of wine and then immediately cocktails and then all cocktails after that.
J: That’s so fun.
H: How about you? You went to England when you were 18 or 19, so you’re able to get right in there.
J: It’s funny because I feel like the theme of this is that you and I have opposite stories so far. By chance, my high school had very little drinking in my social circles. I got drunk with my cousins once on the Fourth of July when I was 14 and then not again for years. I did my freshman year of college in Burlington at UVM. We were definitely partying, but it was college partying. This is also not the first time it’s been brought up on this podcast, but my freshman year of college was really the renaissance of Four Loko. Or not even the renaissance, the emergence of Four Loko.
H: You were there to see it.
J: I was really on the front lines of Four Loko. And also Pinnacle whipped cream vodka. It was a lot of Pinnacle whipped cream vodka in Dr. Pepper, which just tastes like a float. It was delicious at the time, but it was definitely drinking to get drunk and partying in basements with red Solo cups. It was very that.
H: Better than the glue-flavored vodka that I’m pretty sure we were drinking warm out of the bottle. You are a true gourmet.
J: Then my sophomore year is in England and that was, again, a lot of mixed drinks. I was by no means fancy. There was this cocktail bar in Burlington, and it’s one of the things where living in Burlington, I would have told you this was the fanciest place on the planet. This place is luxury. This place is everything. Now I’m, like, realizing it was so tacky. It was just not what I thought it was at all. But that was the first place I had a Negroni.
H: Life changing.
J: Oh, it honestly kind of was, which is so pretentious. It’s hard for me to take myself seriously enough to say that. But it is true. I remember having a Negroni for the first time and being like, “Holy f*ck.” Everything else I had had up until that point was a mixed drink, like a vodka soda or Whiskey Ginger. I bartended at a Margarita bar, so there were a lot of Margaritas. And all of those flavors made sense to me because it’s the component you’ve had before. I had done shots of tequila. I had lime. It was sweet and that all made sense.
H: So much is intuitively pleasant about it.
J: I remember having the first sip of a Negroni and it was gin, which I had probably had before. But I also thought I hated gin until the Negroni. Until recently, I really was against tonic water and was an idiot child who didn’t understand that what I was saying was the tonic and not the gin.
H: My husband is like that. He is so not into it, so I get it.
J: I’ve recently started to get into the Fever-Tree line of tonics. I don’t know if you’ve had any of them.
H: Yes, absolutely.
J: They are stunning. Before that, I hated tonics. I just don’t do it. But the Mediterranean tonic and the cucumber tonic they have are so good.
H: The cucumber one is so good.
J: Oh, the cucumber one is insane.
H: I was drinking that all summer.
J: I couldn’t believe it. I had it for the first time maybe three nights ago, and I was like, “Holy sh*t.” I just remember, when I had that sip of the Negroni, it was Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth. I’d probably never in my life ingested sweet vermouth or Campari at that point. I just remember being like, “Whoa, this is confusing and complex and complicated.” It felt like a first kiss or something, it was so much all at once. And I loved it, and that was kind of the start of me really loving cocktails. The after bar for my bar was a Martini bar and so that’s what we were drinking, And my early Martini days was just a lot of olive juice, like dirty Dirty Martinis, which is not really the vibe anymore, but that’s what it was for a while.
H: Yeah, Martinis are so interesting to me right now. Maybe this isn’t true in New York, but I feel like up until two or three years ago — maybe it’s the quarantine — people still have this idea that Martinis were a big glass of gin. You just want to order a big glass of vodka or gin. Suddenly everyone’s like, “Wait, what have we been saying? This is the most magical, wonderful beverage in the world.” Have you seen this?
J: I have seen this. I totally agree. I think that it’s a mixture of things. I think gin was really put down for a long time. Five years ago, outside of a Gin & Tonic, I would be like, “I’m not getting that it, has gin in it.” Gin was very pooh-poohed and things like that might be part of it. I don’t know how old you are, but for me, part of it is that five years ago I was 24. A Martini just is going to be $17, so no one can order it because that’s out of budget. Now we’re all a little bit older. We’re making a little bit more money. Yeah, I want a f*cking Martini. It’s a different kind of drinking. I think that might be part of it. So it’s hard to tell what was the scene, and what was just like my kind of little bubble?
J: I moved to New York almost eight years ago, and I feel like back then we were at the peak of the really intense fancy cocktail boom of really pretentious, really exclusive, very male-dominated speakeasy-fancy cocktail things. I just had a chill-out. It was that you could get that or cocktail bars where they were saying they have no idea what they’re doing. Or there were bars where a Martini is going to get shaken. As much as I resented those places, I do think their popularity seeped down so that now a lot more places meet in the middle. If you’re at a solid restaurant in New York, they’re going to know how to make a Martini right. The general knowledge standard has maybe gone up in a way that they are going to be more delicious. A bad Martini is bad, you know?
H: One of the things about moving to Portland that was so nice is I feel like here it’s one of those cities a little like New York, where if you go to a normal restaurant here, they’re going to make you a great cocktail. No matter where you go, you can be guaranteed really good food and drinks here, which has been really nice.
J: When I worked at The Knickerbocker, they hired very fancy cocktail consultants to come in and do all the things. Their company’s big selling point and their revolutionary thing was bringing back the practice of refrigerating vermouth.
H: Oh, my God.
J: Yeah, you have to keep it in the refrigerator. No one knows that it goes bad. It’s just so funny how I do feel like the general knowledge level was a little bit lower back then.
H: Totally. You kind of want to go back in time and be like, “I am this brilliant genius. Put the vermouth in the fridge.” Were there any books that you got into originally or were you more learning as you go?
J: Because it was my job, I was not doing homework. I’m on the clock, I’m not putting hours in. It was always a confusing thing for me because as much as I loved bartending and as much as I was into it, and I was working at great spots and I was hustling, I am an actor and a comedian. That was what I was always trying to do. It was constantly mitigating and negotiating how much energy this was taking.
H: Has there been a good intersection there at all? Has bartending helped you in any way there? I’m sure comedy’s probably helped you as a bartender.
J: Oh, 100 percent. Were you asking me how being a comedian has helped me bartending or the other way around?
H: Is there a relationship between the two of them? Is there any carryover?
J: Quite practically, you have to be mindful of mixing your business and your pleasure both when you’re bartending and when you’re doing comedy. You’re at bars and you’re at clubs and drinking can become part of the job. Or partying and can become part of the job with both. I definitely had that moment when I moved to New York and I was working at a really hard restaurant and we were working ’til 1 a.m. and going out ’til 4 a..m., sleeping to 2 p.m. and going back to work at 4 p.m. That cycle makes you feel like you have been put through a meat grinder after a month. So I learned early and young, “Oh, I can’t do that.” I need to set up boundaries of not going out super late every night and not letting this thing consume me. That applies to comedy as well. I think they both kind of connected in that way. I’m thankful I learned that when I was younger. When you’re doing either, your energy and your personality is part of the product. So you need to kind of conserve it and you need to take care of yourself and show up as you can. There have been times right at the end when I was bartending and doing comedy, but my comedy career was growing, so it was taking up more and more time. I was starting to be really fried and really spread too thin, and I had a conversation with my boss at the restaurant. I kind of hit a wall where I was like, “Oh, I’m becoming a bad bartender and a bad team player.” The energy just isn’t there and I need to leave because of that. I don’t want to be the person who’s in a f*cking bad mood and stressed and can’t handle it when someone is like, “Oh, sorry, I ordered this dry and you put a full ounce of vermouth in it.” I can’t be in a headspace where I want to kill them. It’s time for me to go. That was learned from both.
H: You knew what you wanted to do.
J: Which was a gift, yeah.
H: Yeah, that’s wonderful. Another thing I’m really curious about is going out in New York. I have a sick family member, so I’ve been super, super quarantined. And I see people on Instagram still going out and I’m so jealous and I am just miserable all the time, watching them have fun without me. I feel like everyone in New York in particular is out having the time of their lives. Do you think it’s true there or is it just something new we’re seeing online?
J: Online breeds FOMO for sure. I do think it probably looks a little bit more intense than it is online. But I will say, once the vaccines hit and everyone was vaxxed and they were requiring them, you could know for sure that everyone there was vaccinated. For me and my friends, that was like, “All right, no holds bar. Let’s go.” We just had the spike a few weeks ago, and I feel like there was two weeks where it’s the holidays and everyone’s getting it. But I also was in a friend group where everyone got it, we all had it. Now we’re kind of in this place where it’s like, “Well, we already had it, so now we can go out again.”
H: You got it out of the way.
J: In a way, yeah. It does feel a little differently now than it did a month ago. People were going out. Especially this summer, it was no joke.
H: I feel like that was like this beautiful time when everyone’s vaccines were working pretty well. We went out to the East Coast and we went to Connecticut and all over New England, and then we went down to Atlanta. After that, it was like the wall came up.
J: When you are able to go out, how do you like to go out?
H: Oh, my goodness. Have you ever gone out with a dad who doesn’t get to go out very often?
H: They’re so excited and they’re out of control. This is all I can think of. I feel like I would be doing shots and dancing on the bar when I can go back out again. But generally speaking, we are very cocktail-focused. Especially in a new city, I will look at bars that I’m excited about and see where my friends have been drinking there. Atlanta was really fun that way. It felt like a very cocktail-based vacation. We go, we look there, we get excited about the drinks. Usually wherever the first spot is, if it’s something that I like, I will ask people there where they like to go, and then we’ll go from place to place that way. How about you? I mean, New York is such a different animal.
J: I’ve never done the pre-planned trip, looking for where the cocktail spots are. I’m a little bit more of a creature of habit with my spots. Now that I host a podcast about going out in NYC, I was talking to a friend and was like, “I need to start hitting up other spots.” On the nights where I go out, I want to go to Bernie’s and have their Martini. There are places I want to go where I love their stuff. There are certain rooms I really love and there are certain cocktails that I really love and certain dishes I really love. I’m a little bit of a glutton in that way.
H: If you know you like something you want that all the time.
J: There’s a restaurant a 10-minute walk from me called Hart’s that has this clam toast that’s like one of the best things I’ve eaten recently. So now I have to budget three times in the next few months where I’m going to go get the clam toast, which takes over from other times I could go try places.
H: Life is so hard, right? You have to go out and you drink these other new things.
J: I know, my job is awful. No, I’m very lucky. I’m trying to get better about going out and trying new things, I have a list of places; I’m just bad at going to them. But I’m getting better. I’m definitely getting better. I love a dinner into a bar, that’s my favorite night out. I think it’s because I’m starved for it because it’s so cold in New York right now. My favorite thing to do is to maybe make plans with a few friends or another couple or whatever, meet up for a brunch and have that be the only plan. But with the acknowledgment that we’ve all booked the day out, and we’re going to see where it goes. Brunch maybe leads to a drink here, which leads to a snack here, which leads to dinner here, and then you’re home by 11:30 p.m., nothing crazy. I mean, who knows? Maybe it goes all night. But usually it’s home by 11 p.m.. But damn, we had a f*cking day.
H: Those are the best days.
J: Those are the best days for me. That’s what I really crave.
H: Gosh, you’re making me miss this so much.
J: Sorry, I’m really dangling the carrot.
H: It’s also hard because we moved to Portland during a pandemic. So my only friends are my parents. Our big going-out night is Martinis, and they’re trying to teach us bridge again.
J: I’m not going to lie, that sounds f*cking fun.
H: It is so fun. But all my friends from San Francisco and from L.A. have all done the same thing. Even if you go back, someone’s in Chicago and someone’s in Arizona and someone’s in New Hampshire.
J: On your channel and on your page, you make a ton of different kinds of cocktails from different families of cocktails and also time periods or trends of cocktail. But what do you prefer? What are you actually drawn to?
H: It’s really changed over time. The moment you had your Negroni, I had that moment with my first bourbon. I was living in Kentucky for a brief period of time. In high school, we drank cheap vodka and it was miserable. I’m older, and I’m so glad there weren’t people filming all the time back then because someone handed me a bottle of bourbon and I just kept drinking. I was like, “What is this?” Why has it been kept for me my whole life? Why have we been drinking this other horrible thing? That definitely was huge for me, and I loved whiskey cocktails for a very long time. I still love whiskey cocktails, but I really like Martinis and savory cocktails. I’m kind of all over. I love Martinis. I still do love some whiskey cocktails. I’ve been really into Caipirinhas lately. It really is very mood-dependent and whatever is fresh, I’m really into going and picking fresh fruit. I really love drinking seasonally, so no cocktail is more exciting than the one where you were out in the field picking lavender or something and you brought it home. That’s been great from Oregon, because there are so many opportunities to do that.
J: Oh, I’m sure. You mentioned that you have a love of history that you kind of tie into that,
H: I will drink pond water if it has a good story behind it. The Hemingway cocktail book, “To Have and Have Another,” is great. He was diabetic, so many of his cocktails will be 2 ounces of gin, half an ounce of coconut water, and an ounce of lime. It was wildly unsweet. Not very balanced that way, but I’m drinking them because the way he described it in the book sounds so beautiful. I have to enjoy this. I love the history aspect of it as well.
J: Yeah, I think that’s something really special. There’s the history of the place. When I go to New Orleans, I’m going to order a Sazerac, because that obviously has this beautiful, rich history there. But I also love building your own personal history with different things. Negronis will always remind me of that cocktail bar back in Burlington. I have a very crazy story with Caipirinhas in Portugal. The second you said Caipirinhas it warmed my heart. For that reason, I think cocktails also have this really magical quality in that, where you can kind of tie your own memories to them with specific ones. Martinis may be too ubiquitous to tie one to, but some of the more esoteric ones can.
H: Yeah, totally. Like a Gibson. One of my friends was one of the people I know who always ordered a Gibson and watching him always wanting the Gibson, he’d always eat the onions in a particular way. This is so cool. So every time I have a Gibson, I always think of him, and it’s part of the fun there. So I agree.
J: That’s so fun. OK. I have two questions. Do you have any stalwart cocktail opinions that you’re like, “Everyone can do what you want, but I really won’t budge on this.” Answer that first.
H: I’m trying to think, I don’t feel like I have a ton. I mean, I have some for myself. I hate egg cocktails. I hate them so much.
J: I think people do, and I’m pissed because I used to love them. My friend was like, “I hate the way they smell,” and I was like, “What are you talking about?”
H: They smell like dog breath.
J: It was so funny. That night I went out to Misi, which is this great pasta restaurant in Brooklyn. My friend was the manager at the time and they sent us egg cocktails. And I was drinking and I smelled it and I was like, “God f*cking dammit, Charlotte. You ruined this.” Now I can’t unsmell it, and I had never once clocked the smell of egg white cocktails.
H: People like bitters on it and stuff, and it never worked for me. Somebody said at the Normandy Club in L.A. that if you keep lavender in with your eggs, it can permeate the eggshell and get rid of the smell. I have no idea, I haven’t tried it. But it is worth trying. Even eggnog, I don’t like eggs in general, so that really bums me out. But most of the time, I like my Martini stirred, but people want things their own way. I never send anything back. If someone likes it this way or they think it’s that way, it’s not like this is the last drink I’m ever going to have. I can shut up and drink it, or I can shut up and just not drink it.
J: Maybe this is controversial, but I also think that that should be a conversation that is happening more among people about drinking culture and teaching people about bars. I’ve taught a lot of my friends, and I know I taught my boyfriend this, but you got to read the room. Literally the room you’re in, in terms of what you order. I have one friend who — I hope they don’t know it’s them that I’m talking about when I say this — but they can get very specific because they are a bartender about things. And I’ll be like, “You shouldn’t have f*cking ordered a Manhattan here.” It’s not any shade to even the people working because it’s a Margarita bar. They have no business knowing how to really properly make a Manhattan. And that’s OK. Why did you order that? I have that all the time. If there’s a Martini on the menu, that’s different. But I just see that they have gin, I’m not going to order a Martini if I don’t think it’s going to be done well, because I don’t want to send it back. I never would, but I also don’t want to drink something I’m not going to like. Read where you are.
H: I sometimes will do it knowing full well what I am getting myself into. I’m not a bartender. You don’t need to do this. You know how people drink, how people order. You have a very good sense of this. I don’t always, as someone who just makes drinks at home or goes out themselves. Sometimes it’ll be fun for me to order a Martini and then there’s sweet vermouth in it. And I’m like, “Ok!” It’s the unexpected part. Maybe this is this person’s favorite drink. They don’t really know it’s not the same thing, but I could learn something new.
J: I like that you also celebrate not having that, “It has to have this or it has to be done this way.” As a bartender, you encounter someone being like, “Oh no, you made my drink wrong because of this.” Actually, maybe the bar you get this at a lot does it that way. But we don’t do it that way. I’ve had people be like, “Oh, you made my Cosmo wrong because it has to be Rose’s lime juice,” or something like that. Maybe some people do that. But we do use fresh lime juice, and that’s just how it goes. Knowing and improvising with that mentality of, this is how this one tastes and it’s different, and enjoying that kind of experience is very nice.
H: Yeah, I totally agree. That’s one of the No. 1 things I’ve also missed during quarantine, the unexpected. I know exactly how you’re going to taste. I’m making them. And it’s been a very long time since — I was listening to your first one — and you mentioned a chicken fat Martini that you make. I can’t really make that at home the same way, especially because my cooking skills are not great. I can’t make that. I can’t have that. I want to have that. These little bits of inspiration you get from going out and meeting new people and just kind of stumbling into a bar and finding this magical new thing. I miss it so much.
J: Oh, it was my crowning achievement. I think about it all the time, and I miss it every day.
H: I have a very crappy Martini that is similar that I find very enjoyable that I call Junk Food Martini. I infuse sea salt and vinegar potato chips into the gin, fat wash them if it’s too oily, and then I just have the most stuffed olives with fresh garlic, blue cheese, bacon. And it’s absolutely a guilty pleasure. But I love the sea salt vinegar potato chips.
J: Do you use sweet vermouth with that?
H: I used dry vermouth.
J: Oh, that sounds fantastic.
H: It’s not an everyday drink, but every now and then if I’m craving something very, very salty, it’s a fun one to pull out.
J: Yeah, it almost sounds like a clarified Bloody Mary.
H: Yeah, and I love the vinegar. I love salt, salt, salt.
J: Do you have any opinions about cocktails that are controversial? Like, most people do it this way, but I prefer it this way.
H: I don’t know if I do. I like my Espresso Martinis a certain way, and I think some people feel very strict with that. I don’t like creamy ones. I like it in a very kind of simple fashion.
J: You don’t like it shaken to frothy?
H: When people put a dairy or a cream liqueur in there. Yeah, we don’t need that. And so that’s one where I’m very into one version and not the other. But generally speaking, I’m big on drink what I get. Experiment, try new things. Egg white, too. Egg is where I draw the line. How about you? Do you have anything where you’re like, “I know it’s controversial, but I only want citrus from the little plastic bottles and you can’t tell me otherwise?”
J: What’s funny is I asked you this question, but I did not for one second think if I had any. I don’t know. Here’s one: I don’t love a garnish. It needs to do something for me.
H: Functional garnishes only.
J: I really prefer a functional garnish. If you want me to smell mint when I’m sipping this or you put a big bunch of mint in the top and it adds to the drink, great. But sometimes I look at garnishes, and I think this comes from being a cocktail bartender, but I’m like, “That’s a lot of work for nothing.” I want to feel like the garnish is a little integrated. Or something really f*cking stupid and silly, like having your straws with umbrellas on them. I love something that’s silly, but doing a ton of garnish that’s not like integrated into the drink sometimes annoys me because I’m feeling for the bartender. It doesn’t actually affect me as the patron, really, but I do think I feel for the bartender in those situations.
H: That makes perfect sense. I’m totally the opposite. Functional garnishes are great. But I am like, “Oh, it’s accessorized.”
J: Oh, of course. But the thing is, again, your P.O.V. is making cocktails at home a lot of the time.
H: It’ll cost more, it’s inconvenient. It can also be harmful sometimes. These random garnishes that are pretty can be poisonous or weird or just not helpful.
J: Yeah, totally.
H: One of my friends on Instagram garnished a little mini cactus on the drink. That’s not going to be very hard to drink.
J: I can’t be putting cacti on a drink that’s just not going to happen at all for me. That’s maybe the only thing I can think of that I don’t love. I got in a fight with another bartender once. It’s my friend Stacey, who is so wildly more qualified than me as a bartender. She’s a beverage director of a restaurant group in New York. She’s f*cking killing it. Her cocktails are incredible. But I once mentioned that I order Martinis with an In and Out. That’s my preferred method of a Martini. And she was disgusted by me for that. She was like, “An In and Out is fake. It doesn’t leave any, it doesn’t leave any vermouth behind. It is purely performative. You might as well order them bone dry. And at that point, you’re just drinking cold gin.” I was like, “I don’t agree. I think that there is something added. I think there is a little left behind.” And for me, I want to see the most subtle kiss of vermouth and I want to experience the gin more than I want to experience the vermouth. It’s erring on the side of caution. I probably would appreciate a little more vermouth in an in and out. But if I order an In and Out at a bar, I know I’m not going to get a wetter Martini than I want.
H: There’s one side where, if you erred too far on one side, it’s going to be much more upsetting for you than the other.
J: Exactly. She was like, “No bartender should ever be doing that.” OK, maybe that’s my controversial opinion that I do think you can order a Martini with an In and Out.
H: Yeah, I think that there’s tremendous historical precedent for it as well. I’m with you.
J: Thank you very, very, very much.
H: That’s part of what’s so fun about Martinis. I have my way where I definitely want it a certain way.
J: What’s yours? I’m curious.
H: I mean, I tend to like it very dry. I’m very big on cold. Who isn’t? I switch out my gin a lot. My ideal is the Old Raj Blue, very dry with Gibson onions. Ideally with house-pickled onions that are really special. It makes my day. How about you?
J: Gin, usually. Except every once in a while, I’ll switch it up and do vodka, but usually gin. Unless, one of my favorite things ever is Zubrowka. It’s a Polish bison grass vodka. Have you ever had it?
J: I feel like you don’t see it that often. And so that’s always a little treat for me. If I see that on the back bar, I’m definitely getting a Dry Martini. I feel like I find it once a year. It’s a very exciting thing. But usually, gin, dry, and a lemon twist. Always.
H: I’m a twist always.
J: I really enjoy the lemony oils.
H: Orange bitters or no?
J: That’s fun like, “Tonight we’ll do orange bitters,” and sometimes, no. But that’s a fun little twist. I’m happy to go either way on that.
J: That’s kind of my approach.
H: So what has been your worst-night-out story of New York?
J: A worst night out ever in New York?
H: Yeah. Are you going to share it? Is it too scary? Is it not allowed?
J: No, it’s definitely allowed. There are different kinds of worst nights, right? There’s a night where, maybe a date didn’t go the way you want. But then there are also the nights where you definitely drank way too much.
H: Sometimes those nights are both the best and the worst at the same time.
J: One of my worst was when I went with my sister to see Adele at Madison Square Garden. It’s a long story but essentially, my sister’s friend’s mother works for an insurance company. I had never met her before. My sister’s friend’s mother works for this insurance company that has a box at Madison Square Garden. And my sister really, really, really wanted to go see Adele. I had already seen Adele in a very small venue before she had become the megastar she is. So I was like, “Maddie, I’m not really trying to pay a bunch of money to see Adele in a stadium when I’ve already seen her up close.” My sister was like, “Well, my friend can get us these seats in the box and we can. It’ll be pretty cheap, and maybe I’ll get you your ticket for your birthday.” And I was like, “OK, fine.” So I ended up going with my sister. She bought these tickets for us to go see Adele together. The morning of the show, she texted me and she was like, “Oh, by the way, dinner’s at 5 p.m.” And I was like, “What dinner?” And she was like, “Oh, we’re getting dinner with my friend and her whole family before this.” No one told me that, and I don’t want to do that. I went to this dinner and it was at one of those huge restaurants that their business is built around pre-Madison Square Garden and pre-Broadway theater crowds. I get there and I’m like, “Hi, I think the tables under this name,” and they’re like, “Oh, sure.” And they brought me to the table and it was a nine-top table with no one else on it. They hadn’t arrived yet. Now I’m sitting alone at this table and everything about this is a disaster. My sister then texted me after I got seated and she was like, “We’re stuck in traffic. It says we’re not going to get there for an hour.” And now I’m taking up this eight-top table at prime dinner time.
H: And suddenly you find yourself desperate to meet this family.
J: More so, I’m desperate to not have the waiter hate me because even though the waiter should hate everyone who’s not there, I’m the face of this party of people I’ve never met before. I just remember him being like, “Well, can I get you something?” I was like, “I’m really sorry, but I think everyone else in this party is going be very late.” I could tell he was annoyed. Rightly so, because it’s a lot of money in his pocket. He was like, “Can I get you something to drink?” And I looked over his shoulder and there was a Piña Colada special. And I was like, “You know what? F*ck it, I’m having a Piña Colada.”
H: I love this vision of you at a nine-top table drinking Piña Coladas on your own.
J: I’m at the center just drinking a Piña Colada. Because he was like, “I’m going to get as much money off the table as I can.” Every 10 minutes he asked if I wanted another one. And I was like, “F*ck it, sure.” I’m going to close out this tab, before they get here, so they don’t know I was drinking Piña Coladas while waiting for them. And then I’ll just drink water with dinner and everything’s going to be fine. Long story short, they showed up and I was like, “I must have water with dinner. I had a drink when I was waiting.” They were like, “No, no, no, you got to get a beer.” And I was like, “Fine.” Now I’m drinking beers with dinner because they wouldn’t let me not drink. The check comes. I’m so drunk at that point that I forgot that we had to go to a show after. Someone asked, “Who had four Piña Coladas?” And I was like, “Me.” It was just humiliating. We went to Adele. It was a disaster. I fell down and I was like, “I need to go.” And then I just remember trying to get a taxi because the trains were messed up outside Madison Square Garden immediately after an Adele concert. I think it took me an hour and a half to find a car, and I was crying to myself and I was tired and I didn’t feel good and I was like, “This is awful.” I wouldn’t say it’s one of my worst nights out just because my sister and I really love this story of the night together. But I would say it’s one of my poorest showings.
H: Sometimes those nights are, at the time, the most miserable experience of your life. But looking back, you’re like, “Thank God, we somehow did Midori shots at brunch that led to us sitting on the curb.”
J: It was when I was a little bit younger and I think now I can see all the ways I went wrong. When I saw that there was a nine top and they were like, “Hey, you’re not coming,” I should have been like, “Hey, just move me to the bar. You need to get this table back and this family’s late.” I should have done that. I should have switched to water, even though the waiter clearly didn’t want me to. There are a lot of things I should have done, and I learned. I think I was 23 at the time, so I definitely learned and grew from that experience. Do you have one?
H: There are so many to choose from. They usually start with the exact scenario you were talking about with the boozy brunch. I feel like that just leads to more bad decisions down the way. I would have to say one of them was one of my friend’s birthdays. We started there. We got him some horrible shots; we were far too old; we were, like, 29. We went. He wanted to go to this college bar. We were doing shots in the morning. Somehow, we ended up at a dive bar. It was like 2 p.m. and then in some sort of karaoke place I’d never been to in an area we’d never been to. Shoes were lost somehow. It was 6:30 p.m. and we were in some diner. Somehow you get to a point and it was probably 6:30 at night where we all kind of came to at the same time and we’re like, “Were we abducted? how did we get here? What is this? Who ordered this food? Where are we?” So, bad and good. The other one, I would say, I had no idea that going to the spa for drinks is very dangerous.
J: Actually medically dangerous, guys. You need to drink a lot of water.
H: Medically, yes. I had gone to a spa and gotten a massage, going to take a bath, then in the steam room. And it was my birthday. This is my birthday gift. All my friends were together buying me drinks. Not my finest hour. Absolute disaster. I have never been more embarrassed but survived.
J: One last question, because this went by so fast. This was so fantastic. I’ve had a lot of chefs and comedians on, but you’re my first like cocktail nerd. And this was really fun for the nerdy meat of it. My last question is, is there something that you would encourage that you feel like doesn’t get the shine it deserves? That you would be like, everyone should be trying this? Here’s a thing that just doesn’t get the shine it deserves.
H: This is one where I think bartenders would see this as something that is just a given, but that I think home bartenders, it’s a practically free thing you can do. It’s so easy. But I’ve noticed this with most of my friend’s kitchens, when I go there, this happens every single time. It’s hard to use too much ice, but it is very easy to use too little ice, and nothing will make a bigger difference to your drink so frequently. I’ll go over and I’ll say, “Do you guys have ice?” Yeah, yeah, we’ve got tons. And there are six little cubes and they’re expecting to have Martinis all night. Just have lots of ice. You can’t have too much.
J: I would expand that. If I’m going to a party and as the bartender, if I know I’m going to be making the drinks, I’ll go get two bags of ice on the way.
H: Oh my gosh, I always show up with extra ice. It’s like keeping your vermouth in the fridge.
J: If you buy bags, especially for something like that, it’s not going to have the flavors of the fish that was in the freezer with it. And also it’s a little cleaner.
H: Yes, so I would say that. And then in terms of ingredients or anything like that, gosh, playing around and finding what you like is so important. I think new bartenders go for bitters really hard. For some reason, we all think bitters are this thing that changed the drink. So we get 10 million bitters. I might be more inclined to buy different types of spirits than buy 500 bottles of bitters.
J: I feel like some people will be apprehensive to buy something like a Cappelletti or a Suze or Aperol. They’re kind of like, “Oh, well, that’s a lot of money to spend on a bottle that’s just for this one thing.” No, when you buy something like that, it enables you to play. I have a bunch of random bottles of stuff in the apartment. If my boyfriend is like, “I’m in the mood for a cocktail tonight,” I can go look over and be like, “OK.” I can kind of ramshackle fashion some sort of Margarita-adjacent thing because there are limes in the kitchen. And oftentimes it ends up being f*cking delicious and unique and something I’ve never had before by way of what we’ve had from buying stuff.
H: Yeah, there are very few bottles I’ve regretted buying. You can always find something fun to do with it, and it kind of unlocks different parts of your kitchen like you’re saying. How about you? So you’re thinking, just kind of go for it with the bottles.
J: I would say people forget that there are pint-sized bottles of a lot of things. If you’re curious about something, buy a smaller bottle of it. Sometimes they’re behind the counter. If you’re curious about experimenting with stuff, Bols Genever is weird, see if there’s a smaller bottle of it.
H: That’s a great idea. I should do that more.
J: I think that’s a really great move. And I would say the ice thing is really pro. There is one that I’m forgetting. Oh, if you’re making Martinis at home, glass cools quickly. Just throw your glasses in the freezer.
J: It’s going to help, even for two minutes.
H: That’s a great one. And I would also say mixing glasses are nice. It feels like a luxury, but it’s way easier than a shaker. When I went to visit Connecticut, I went to three different stores and no one had them. It was crazy, but they are so cheap on Amazon. Just grab one. It’s nice.
J: This is my last one, it’s really easy to make a simple syrup with something fun in it. If you have sugar and water, throw something else in there and make a fun flavor. If one of your friends annoyingly asks you to make a cocktail for this party, I’m going to make a very simple cocktail. But I’m going to throw in simple syrup. Like with a black pepper simple syrup. Now it suddenly feels esoteric here.
H: One of my favorites is an Earl Grey syrup, because it’s the easiest syrup to make. As soon as you do it, it’s like, “This isn’t an Old Fashioned. This is an Earl Grey Old Fashioned.” And then people are like, “Oh, I love it.” You can even make a lot of them in your microwave. That’s like an extra “College Cocktail” hack.
J: Oh my God, yeah. Well, this has been truly such a delight. Thank you so much for doing the show.
H: Thank you so much for having me. This has been so much fun.
J: Yes. And I hope one day soon you’re able to get out and maybe I’ll see you at a bar somewhere.
H: Me too. We have East Coast plans, and I will be hoping to drink absolutely all over New York.
J: OK, gorgeous. VinePair will meet up with you, and we’ll have a great night.
Thank you so much for listening to “Going Out With Jake Cornell.” If you could please go and rate and review us on whatever you’re listening to this on, that would be really gorgeous for me in a huge way, so thank you.
And now, for some credits. “Going Out With Jake Cornell” is recorded in New York City and is produced by Keith Beavers and Katie Brown. The music you’re hearing is by Darbi Cicci. The cover art you’re probably looking at was photographed by M. Cooper and designed by Danielle Grinberg. And a special shout-out to VinePair co-founders Adam Teeter and Josh Malin for making all of this possible.