In the world of craft cocktails, there was before Sasha Petraske and after Sasha Petraske. When the famed bartender died at the tender age of 42 last year, he left the world altered for his impact upon it. He is the father of the modern speakeasy, the first to wear suspenders and secretly guard the entrance to his first bar, Milk & Honey (you needed the phone number to make a reservation; the number was unlisted). The cocktails he served at Milk & Honey were rigorously crafted and constructed, but for Petraske, it wasn’t just about style. “When it comes down to it, the Milk & Honey way is not an intellectual way of drinking, talking about cocktails,” he told The New York Times in an interview. “That’s just silly. It has its place. It can be thrilling to catch bits of inside baseball. But it’s nothing that needs to be talked about. Cocktails are to be experienced.” That experience needed to be cultivated and protected, and to that end, Petraske hung a list of rules in the bar so patrons would understand the culture that came with craft cocktails.
“Regarding Cocktails“ is a little book featuring recipes for 85 cocktails invented or perfected by Petraske and his colleagues, interspersed with stories from the bartenders Petraske trained. After his sudden, untimely death, Petraske’s widow, Georgette Moger-Petraske, pulled it together, and it’s now on sale from Phaidon. Below is an excerpt, written by Moger-Petraske, which exemplifies the rules and culture of Milk & Honey. We also included a cocktail recipe for one of Petraske’s classics.
Regarding Milk & Honey House Rules (or, The Sasha Petraske Finishing School for Patrons) By Georgette Moger-Petraske
- No name-dropping, no star f*cking.
- No hooting, hollering, shouting, or other loud behavior.
- No fighting, no play fighting, no talking about fighting.
- Gentlemen will remove their hats. Hooks are provided.
- Gentlemen will not introduce themselves to ladies. Ladies, feel free to start a conversation or ask the bartender to introduce you. If a man you don’t know speaks to you, please lift your chin slightly and ignore him.
- Do not linger outside the front door.
- Do not bring anyone unless you would leave that person alone in your home. You are responsible for the behavior of your guests.
- Exit the bar briskly and silently. People are trying to sleep across the street. Please make all your travel plans and say all farewells before leaving the bar.
The legendary house rules of Milk & Honey were more than an etiquette guide for bar decorum. They could be read as a compass for consideration of others and self-governing, drawing comparison to the Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation, the set of sixteenth century precepts that guided a young George Washington as a schoolboy. Though Sasha’s beliefs were not from another age—graciousness, modesty, and decorum ought to be common conventions of society no matter the time. The modern cocktail bar had to be in an atrocious state when derricks were hooting, hollering, play fighting, name-dropping, and entertaining company who ran any risk of swinging from the rafters after two drinks. We can castigate, ad nauseam, the cloying cocktails and the manner in which they were served in the crepuscular days before Milk & Honey. So many of us sailing three sheets to the wind on rudderless ships navigated by misguided captains. Stormy weather, indeed.
The house rules were cast in bronze plaques on the bathroom doors of each of my husband’s bars— a gentle decree from a patient chief whose sole intention was to be a good neighbor, both to those living in the building at 134 and elsewhere on Eldridge Street. The plaques were frequently stolen, as compelling a novelty as any to a thief—a coveted conversation piece for the home bar. But why? Was there any irony in a request that all business be concluded before exiting? Was it at all out of line for the host to ask that conversations not focus on the famous or infamous who might be within the room? Was the precept that gentlemen conduct themselves as such really a demand so great?
The fifty-sixth maxim contained within the Rules of Civility states “For ‘tis better to be alone than in bad company.” Circa 2000, ladies knew that a few quiet drinks spared from the company of cads and clumsy introductions were a rare commodity at any cocktail bar. In point of fact, when I read the house rule encouraging ladies to shun unwelcome advances with a slight lift of chin and volumes of silence, I made frequent dates with thick books to Milk & Honey, so frequent that Richie Boccato created a signature drink for me, the Water Lily. The reverence and hum of the Eldridge Street bar was a sanctuary of seated patrons who were required to telephone before dropping in. It was a dim den where hats were hung reverently from hooks provided. And then there were the cocktails that were served on candlelit silver trays or respectfully slid toward patrons by bartenders bound by another code of rules.
Gin & It
This is right up there with The Business (page 85); I can’t think of a cocktail that is more expressly my husband. We both loved this drink so much that we batched it into Mason jars and gave them out as our wedding favors with Milk & Honey coupes. Originally this cocktail was sipped at room temperature. Adding ice to chill and increase water content is a contemporary evolution, and this method has now fallen into favor.
“It” is short for Italian vermouth, and the original recipe from the 1905 Ho man House Bartender’s Guide: How to Open a Saloon and Make it Pay (R.K. Fox, January 1905) calls for 2 1⁄2 ounces gin and 1⁄2 ounce sweet Italian vermouth, but Sasha and I only ever drank it with a 2:1 gin-to-vermouth ratio.
- 2 oz (60 ml) gin
- 1 oz (30 ml) sweet vermouth A lemon twist, for garnish
Stir the gin and vermouth in an ice-filled mixing glass until sufficiently chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe. Twist the lemon peel over the glass to extract the oils, then garnish the drink with the twist.