What kind of bar do you get when you mix Pernod Ricard USA brand ambassador czar Simon Ford, cocktail consultant Willy Shine, tiki master Richard Boccato, Boston bartendress Misty Kalkofen, L.A. bar wizard Eric Alperin and Miami Beach mixologist John Lermayer?
We shall find out in mid-September when Forty Four, the bar revamp at the Royalton Hotel in midtown Manhattan, reopens. They are all part of the group the hotel has put together and called The Cocktail Collective. Heard of Ocean's Eleven? Call them Royalton's Six.
At Royalton's Bar, a Collective of Cocktail Talent
By Robert Simonson
Like a Danny Ocean of the cocktail world, Howard Wein, senior vice president of food and beverage of Morgans Hotel Group, has cherry-picked some of the most prominent and talented bar figures from across the United States to create the liquor program at Forty Four, the lobby bar and restaurant of Midtown Manhattan’s Royalton hotel, which closed this summer for a revamp and is set to reopen in mid-September.
The group has been christened the Cocktail Collective by Mr. Wein, and includes: Richard Boccato from Dutch Kills and Painkiller in New York City;John Lermayer from the Florida Room in Miami Beach, and Woodward in Boston; Simon Ford, a former London bartender, and now a global cocktail ambassador employed by Pernod Ricard USA; Willy Shine, one of the founders of Contemporary Cocktails, a prominent cocktail consultancy based in New York City; Misty Kalkofen, who tends bar at Drink in Boston; and Eric Alperin, head bartender at the Varnish in Los Angeles.
“At first I was thinking the group of people might be New York bartenders,” Mr. Wein said.
His mind changed when he attended the New Orleans-based liquor convention Tales of the Cocktail in July, and saw an event called Bar Room Brawl, in which the bar staff members of six cocktail destinations from around the nation competed with one another. Among the rival taverns were Dutch Kills, the Varnish, Drink and Florida Room. Mr. Wein was impressed and began to think nationally.
“I decided to see if we could get a bunch of the people who were represented at Bar Room Brawl, because they’re the best,” he said. “I picked people not just because they were in Bar Room Brawl. I consulted people I trust, and these are like-minded people. They approach what they do in a similar fashion.”
The six drink-slingers have been furiously e-mailing ideas to one another every since. They will meet in New York next week to firm up Forty Four’s spirit and cocktail program.
“I’m sure there’s going to be some competitiveness, but it’s for the better of the program,” Mr. Ford said. “Different perspectives is key to this. Eric is very classical in his approach to cocktails. Misty is a little more rebellious. For me, I can draw on some international experience.”
There will probably be classic cocktails on the menu, as well as exclusive liquid inventions. There will also be punch bowl menu, and a “custom boutique barrel program,” which will be spirit-based and may or may not involved barrel-aged cocktails.
Mr. Ford hinted at a few other possible highlights. “We want to pay homage to the hotel bars and the great hotel bartenders,” he said. As an example, he mentioned Eddie Woelke, an American bartender who mixed drinks in Havana hotels during Prohibition, and is credited with inventing the Mary Pickford cocktail (rum, pineapple juice, maraschino liqueur and grenadine).
Complementing the drinks will be a new food menu created by the Royalton’s executive chef, Scott Ekstrom, who has worked at Daniel and Oceana.
The focal point of the new Forty Four — formerly 44 — will be a U-shaped bar at the center of the lobby, positioned roughly where a webbed wall once separated the lobby from the restaurant.
“What I’m trying to do is make Forty Four at Royalton the great lobby experience in New York,” Mr. Wein said. “It’s not going to feel like restaurant vs. lobby. The energy will flow and the bar will be the main vehicle that will create that. You can sit wherever you want and get what you want.”
As far as the extent of the collective’s long-term involvement, Mr. Wein said: “Everyone’s involved for an extended period of time. They’re going to come together a couple times before they begin training the staff, and then for training and opening. Everyone’s going to be there once a month for the better part of a week. They will rotate. The idea is there is always someone there driving it. And there will be a series of events where they all come together.”