With the culmination of last week’s Rochester Cocktail Revival it’s difficult to ignore the growth and change happening in our beloved city. Over the last few years the food, drink, and arts communities have been going through a renaissance, taking a once sleepy town and pumping the life back into it. It wasn’t that long ago when finding a decent place to get a drink was a difficult task, but now the options are limitless. From the classics to the new and innovative, Rochester’s community of mixologists have been cultivating a cocktail culture comparable to those of New York and London and it doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.
After a long and difficult winter signs of life have begun to reemerge, signaling that spring is finally here and that means spring cocktails! Over the last few weeks I’ve had the pleasure of going to some of Rochester’s best craft cocktail establishment, new and old, and compiled a list of the drinks that most embodied the flavors of spring. Tapas 177, one of Rochester’s first true cocktail bars, has many incredible drinks on their menu, however their reputation for making the best Mojitos in town made my decision easy. Demetrio Cavatassi, co-owner of Tapas, graciously takes on the task of making me my drink. Fresh mint and lime are muddled together with sugar to form the base of this traditional Cuban drink, with a shot of castilla silver rum and a splash of club soda to finish it off. At first sip I was in love! Between the Latin music playing over the speakers and my cocktail, my memories of winter began to fade and I was whisked away to my own private paradise. Although I went the traditional route, Tapas makes a variety of fresh fruit purees that can be added to their mojitos.
Recently celebrating its fifth birthday Good Luck, a place known for its great food, drink, and merriment, delivers exactly that. The contemporary fine dining establishment owned by Chuck Cerankosky, has an incredible bar program, offering everything for classic cocktails to a vast array of craft beers. Walking in on a Thursday evening the dining room and bar were both packed, a typical occurrence. I was fortunate enough to have their lead bartender, Matt Eduardo, walk me through their eclectic menu. I asked Matt what set Good Luck apart from other cocktail venues, and his response was simple. The drinks speak for themselves. No frills needed when you’re using the highest quality of ingredients. And that couldn’t be truer. After much debate, Matt decided on something they like to call Aviation. A drink made up of Plymouth Gin, Luxardo, Tempest Fuget Crème de Violet, and fresh lemon juice. Served in a saucer, the cocktail shimmered a bright pink color, adorned with thyme and lemon peel. The gin was strong and very much present, but was lightened from the freshness of the lemon. The crème de violet added an elegant floral flavor to the whole cocktail without being overpowering. In the end I can’t imagine a more fitting cocktail for spring than the Aviation.
Baby sister to Good Luck is its smaller and more understated restaurant Cure. Located at the Public Market this secluded spot is not to be overlooked. This restaurant that masks itself as a coffee bar by day, transforms itself into an elegant restaurant and lounge by night. Offering up some of Rochester’s most inspirational spirits thanks to bar manager, Caitlin Graham. Her attention to detail and love for her craft have resulted in a menu where each drink looks better than the last. In fact it was my inability to choose between all of them that left me asking Caitlin to make me her favorite. The master got to work and a few minutes later I was sipping on the Sonny Corinthos, fondly named after the General Hospital character. Made up of Carlsons Potato Vodka, Giffard Pamplemousse, fresh lime, cucumber, white wine, peppercorn reduction, and egg white, all the ingredients coming together in unison to form an epic love ballad, and Graham their composer.
Located on University Avenue, you can find Rochester’s newest fine dining restaurant, The Revelry. The Revelry first opened its doors back in June, by husband and wife duo Josh and Jenna Miles. From the moment you walk through the pineapple clad doors you get the sense that you’ve wandered into another era, a time when things were a little more luxurious and little rowdier. From the swanky décor to the dressed to the nines bartenders, the atmosphere is buzzing with the promise of a good time. Jon Karel, the master behind Revelry’s bar program, bases his drinks on the finest liquors and seasonal ingredients. The decision for which drink to choose from was easy since the Muay Thai Mule, a play on the traditional Moscow Mule, has been the bars most popular drink since releasing their new spring menu last month. Consisting of Polish Vodka, house made Thai basil and strawberry shrub, and Gosling’s Ginger Beer, all served in a copper mug for an added bit of dazzle. Every delicious boozy sip I took repeated the restaurants mantra, The Revelry is truly a place to revel and celebrate life and good spirits.
Restaurant 2 Vine, one of the cities long standing bistros, has been crafting cocktails for over a decade. Owner Jerry Serafine, warmly greeted me as I arrived on a Sunday morning, the day of their brunch debut. The restaurant was packed with customers clearly enjoying their meals, however I was there to sample their new cocktail menu. I sat at the bar as one of the bartenders made me a parade of drinks, from martinis to bourbon. Finally he presented me with the Pepino Caliente. The Pepino is the restaurants spin on the classic Margarita, consisting of muddled lime, cucumber, and jalapeno, with a bit of simple syrup to sweeten it up and of course Tequila Espanol. I don’t believe there is a more quintessential warm weather drink than the Margarita and this version was everything you could ask for from the freshness of the cucumber to the subtle heat courtesy of the jalapeno. The Pepino Caliente is truly worthy of its name.
However it isn’t just the fine dining restaurants contributing to the revolution, but the more casual eateries as well. The Owl House, known for their vegetarian friendly menu, has had a diverse drink menu since opening back in 2010 by owner Jeff Ching. With a wide selection of rotating tap beers and carefully selected bottles it’s no wonder Owl has won the hearts of Rochester’s beer connoisseurs. None the less it was the new cocktail menu that left me impressed. With an ever changing menu based on fresh and available ingredients, the drinks are sophisticated yet straight forward. I settled on a traditional Mai Tai, made from Smith and Cross Jamaican Rum, Martinique Rhum Clement, Cointreau, lime juice, and a house made orgeat. Slightly sweet from the orgeat, this drink screams of rum, which is fine by me!
As the cocktail tour comes to an end and I reflect on the last few weeks, I am left in a bit of a daze. It may be from my excessive consumption of alcohol, but I have a feeling it is something else entirely. I am in awe of a city that has been reborn and as it awakens, I am left tipsy and thirsty for more.