Elaborate cocktails with house-made shrubs, syrups, herbs and foams are all well and good, but oftentimes, something a bit simpler is in order. The drinking equivalent of comfort food, these tipples have the power to delight the palate, relieve stress and maybe make a bad day better, all with minimal effort.
And what’s the best way to find drinks like this? Ask a bartender what he or she drinks after a shift. Eight hours on your feet shaking and stirring would leave anybody exhausted (and thirsty). So I polled some top talents around the country about what they pour after last call. Try one of these the next time you’re in need of a liquid pick-me-up.
IVY MIX, NEW YORK
As the globetrotting founder of the Speed Rack cocktail competition and proprietress (with her mentor, mixological legend Julie Reiner) of the forthcoming Leyenda, Ivy Mix is one of the hardest-working people in drinks right now. After work, she says, “the bigger and bolder, the better.” That sometimes translates to a big glass of a powerful red wine, but her cocktail pick is a unique variation on the 50/50 Martini, normally made with equal parts gin and dry vermouth. In a nod to Leyenda’s pan-Latin cocktail program, Mix splits the base spirit between Plymouth Gin and Campo de Encanto Pisco, making a mix of 50 percent vermouth, 25 percent gin and 25 percent pisco, plus some orange bitters.
MICHAEL NEFF, NEW YORK & LOS ANGELES
Pale ale and a shot of amaro
Michael Neff made his name in New York, opening both Ward III and The Rum House, but he’s recently gone bicoastal, splitting his time between beloved Hollywood spot Three Clubs and newly revived East Village dive Holiday Cocktail Lounge. “At the end of a night of making cocktails, I’ve tasted so many that I want something with a more direct delivery of flavor,” he says. “Amari pack the punch on the palate of a cocktail without the preparation or mess.” Neff usually goes with a shot of Italian digestif Fernet-Branca, but lately he’s been gravitating toward Aromatique, a bitter liqueur from Germany. Either way, it pairs nicely with a refreshing pale ale. “Over time, it’s become a bit of a ritual: a beer and shot of Fernet means it’s time to go home,” he says.
SEAN KENYON, DENVER
Williams & Graham put Denver on the mixological map, and Sean Kenyon is the reason: The skilled barman was named American Bartender of the Year at last year’s Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards. After work, he turns to New Orleans with the Vieux Carré, an old-school Crescent City favorite that mixes cognac, rye, sweet vermouth, Bénédictine and bitters. “It’s the one drink that makes the world stop moving around me,” he says. Kenyon likes Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac and 6-year-old Sazerac Rye in his mix.
ALBA HUERTA, HOUSTON
Alba Huerta made her name behind the stick as general manager at Houston hotspot Anvil, but now she’s a bar entrepreneur in her own right, as owner of Southern-themed Julep and a partner in mezcal joint The Pastry War and local music venue The Nightingale Room. At the end of the night, she whips up the bartender-favorite Negroni with Tanqueray Gin. The boozy and bitter tipple is “all I need for everything to be right in the world after a long night at work,” she says.
JENNIFER COLLIAU, SAN FRANCISCO
She may have enabled the creation of countless complicated cocktails by starting Small Hand Foods, a line of high-end syrups and mixers, but after a shift at The Interval, Jennifer Colliau enjoys a Manhattan made with bourbon, which makes for a sweeter drink than the traditional rye whiskey. “There is something so warm and comforting about a rich, brown stirred drink after a night in the weeds,” she says. But Colliau never mixes the Manhattan herself: “I also want someone else to make it for me, whether it’s at another bar, or one of my bartenders while we’re breaking down.”
TREVOR EASTER, SAN DIEGO
Beer or sherry
San Diego is a beer town, home to a plethora of excellent breweries, and Trevor Easter’s fine cocktail joint Noble Experiment is tucked behind Neighborhood, one of the best beer bars around. So it only makes sense that he likes to relax with a cold brew after work, most often a hop-heavy IPA like Russian River Pliny the Elder. “Straw tasting so many drinks throughout the night tends to wash out my palate so something intense is always desired,” he says. But on some nights after last call, the staff blasts Disney musical soundtracks and swigs Alvear Fino Sherry straight from the bottle.
NEAL BODENHEIMER, NEW ORLEANS
Blanco tequila on the rocks
New Orleans probably has more great bars per capita than any other city in the world, and Neal Bodenheimer is responsible (with business partner Kirk Estopinal) for three of the best: Cure, Bellocq and Cane & Table. He’s a Crescent City native, but his after-work-drinks taste veers south of the border: “I was always (and still am) an agave man,” he says. Bodenheimer enjoys unaged blanco tequila over ice, maybe with a squeeze of lime if it’s especially hot out. His everyday brand is Tequila Cabeza, but for a special treat he breaks out the Fortaleza.