Starting out your craft cocktail career in the nightclubs of Las Vegas might be an unexpected trajectory for a bartender, but Brandon Davey picked up an important tool: speed. “It’s always a challenge to keep that high standard of quality cocktails on a busy night,” he says. But walk into the Brooklyn bar Ramona, where he can be found mixing drinks on most nights, and you get the sense that Davey has the formula of speed plus craft down to an art. (He also cut his chops at Elsa and Hotel Delmano.)
The Ramona drinks menu, developed by Davey with a few additions from fellow bartenders, is one that makes you sit back and start plotting out your cocktail ordering like a multi-course meal. This fall, Davey is opening a smaller watering hole called Topaz in nearby East Williamsburg, featuring “simple but unexpected and slightly scientific cocktails.” (A vacuum chamber will make an appearance.) In the meantime, Davey shared his favorite tipples for a refreshing summer night.
The most widely accepted origin story for this drink is as follows: Ernest Hemingway was leaving the El Floridita Bar near the Hotel Ambos Mundos in Havana, Cuba (where he lived from 1932-1939), when he spotted the bartender preparing a round of traditional daquiris (rum, lime, sugar). “Not bad, but I’ll take mine with no sugar and twice the rum,” he said. The bartender obliged and named it Papa Doble. Hemingway boasted being able to put 12 of these away in one sitting. This inelegantly large cocktail has morphed over the years into a perfect balance of bittersweet fruit and spice. Grapefruit juice and Maraschino liqueur also made their way into the mix sometime during its voyage to the United States.
¾ oz lime juice
¾ oz grapefruit juice
½ oz Maraschino Liqueur
2 oz light rum
Combine ingredients in a shaker, and shake vigorously. Double strain into a chill cocktail glass. Garnish with the zest from the grapefruit.
In the summer in Spain, you can find this traditional drink anywhere, from fine dining restaurants to dive bars to at-home family meals. It’s offered pre-mixed, but most people make it themselves because it’s an easy way to repurpose red table wine. Also called Tinto de Verano (translating as “summer wine” or “red wine of summer”), the drink lightens the mouthfeel of red wine and the fresh lemon juice adds a subtle bite – for nights when you want something else than a rosé. There’s a wide range of ratios and preparation methods, so here’s my favorite.
1 oz lemon juice
½ oz simple sugar
muddled mint (optional)
dash of club soda
dash of red wine
In a collins glass, combine sugar and lemon, fill with cracked ice and carefully top with red wine to give a nice color gradient. Garnish with a mint sprig or lemon slice.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, this drink is not Russian. It arrived on the drinks scene in New York in 1941. The alleged origin story goes like this: Jack Morgan of the Cock ‘n’ Bull restaurant in Los Angeles, J. G. Martin and Rudolph Kunett of Smirnoff were all huddled around the bar at the Chatham Hotel in New York thinking of ways to lighten the bite of vodka. Their initial recipe was simple – lemon, ginger beer and vodka over ice – and named “Little Moscow.” By the start of the vodka craze in the 1950s, the drink was already both a bar and household staple, popular at home and at parties because of its easy preparation and drinkability. The Moscow Mule fell out of popularity in the 1980s and ’90s (a period I call the “Dark Age” of cocktails) but again resurfaced after the vilification of vodka was over (around 2005) and returned to New York as one of the most popular summer drinks. Traditionally made in a copper mug over crushed ice, the Moscow Mule also has shaken and frozen versions.
½ oz lemon juice (or lime)
dash of honey
2 oz vodka
top with ginger beer
Build in a julep tin or copper mug. Combine ginger, honey, lemon and vodka. Fill to the top with crushed ice. Top with ginger beer. Garnish with a lemon zest or a fan of ginger slices.
All photos by Matt Kashtan. Leading image from left to right: the Hemingway Daiquiri, Vino Verano and Moscow Mule.