Several years ago a friend turned me on to the speakeasy scene in New York. I found this idea of hidden throwback bars, disguised as other types of businesses charming,
if a bit gimmicky. We visited one that was hidden in a Five Guys. You have to travel through the restaurant, past the cooks, and through an unmarked door that I would have
guessed led to a basement. Instead, the stairs led up to a spiffy, old-timey cocktail lounge.
Several weeks later I got the silly idea to make a portable bar "disguised" as a lemonade stand. I would put it under an "E-Z Up" shelter and it would be my "SpeakE-Z Up", the pop-up speakeasy. There was a party coming up in two weeks, so I hastily through together a 6 drink, spaced themed menu to compliment the host's "Big Dipper" (dip contest) party theme. Having no bartending experience and limited cocktail knowledge, coupled with the fact that I only had two weeks to prepare, the drinks were just OK, at best. But the experience opened the door to a creative endeaver that I quite enjoy.
My goal is to provide a truly unique and interesting cocktail experience, using ingredients and techniques the average imbiber may not have encountered. Because this is a hobby and not a business, I don't have to focus on cost effective or quick methods. Nearly all of my ingredients are homemade. My fruits & vegetables are freshly juiced, my nuts freshly milked, and my herbs picked right from the plant when I make your drink. Because the menus are planned a year in advance, I am able to explore the long game. That includes things like barrel aged cocktails, clarified milk punch, home made bitters, and growing exotic herbs not readily available at the local nursery. I love to seek out odd or historic liquors that are foreign to many of us. I lean toward high quality booze, and steer clear of flavored vodkas/whiskeys. If I want cucumber flavor, I add fresh cucumber. None of that assures a great cocktail, but it sure doesn't hurt.
In a world with a seemingly bottemless supply of different liquors, liqueurs, bitters, and non-alcoholic ingredients, I find having a themed menu helps give me direction. I've overheard people say "He makes up drink names that go along with a theme." While that statement isn't untrue, it oversimplifies what is actually going on. I allow the theme to guide the cocktails by choosing names that are relevant to the theme, but also provide direction, be it the style, flavor, ingredient, or a particular brand of liquor. For example, on the Grateful Dead menu we have the song pairing "Cucumberland Blues -> Friend of the Devil." Each song dictates an attribute. The wordplay on the song Cumberland Blues dictates that a prominent flavor will be cucumber. The second song, Friend of the Devil, gives me a brand-based direction on the base spirit: Devil's Bathtub Gin. Gin + Cucumber? My wife is going to love me for this one! That nomenclature holds true for all my drinks, and the task of coming up with these direction providing names is a fun part of the process. This approach often offers unique challenges and flavor pairings, and helps push me into unexplored territory.
That is a very good question. This thing that I’m doing is rather costly and offers no decernable reward. I end up working the two best parties of the season, and most people will never know how much work I put into the back end, or pay close enough attention to the menu to discover the nuances. Yet I still care about it enough to spend the time & money, give up those parties, and hell… create a f’n website about it. I don’t have a reasonable answer for why. I do almost all of the menu designs, drink creation, costumes, and prop work during the winter months. So, I suppose this is just a creative outlet for when my other hobbies are unavailable to me.
Wine & Cheese Place