Slideshow: Wielding Hot Pokers and Smoking Guns, Mixologists Raise the Bar

Photos: Noah Fecks. Cocktails, in order: Friend of the Devil (two photos), Gin and Juice (three photos), Manhattan, Lady of the Night (three photos), and J. Crusteau at Booker and Dax; I Hear Banjos (two photos) at The Wayland; Beetnick, Manhattan on Draught, Bowery Fix, and Yankee Mule at Saxon + Parole; Flor de Jalisco, 1890, Bitter Mule, and Pimm’s Tonic at The Wren; and G.P. Spritz and The Last Cocktail at Prima.

Jason Mendenhall, a partner in the new cocktail bar on Avenue C, The Wayland, knows the East Village has long been a drinks destination. “I’ve heard people refer to the neighborhood as the cocktail ghetto,” he recently told The Local. Lately, mixologists like Mr. Mendenhall have been raising the proverbial bar on tired old speakeasy drinks, with twists that have nothing to do with lemon rinds: we’re talking red-hot pokers, smoke capsules, and centrifuges.

Take Mr. Mendenhall’s most popular creation, I Hear Banjos. The mixologist roasts apples to make bitters for the corn-whiskey and applejack drink (he’s also working on umami bitters, made from various mushrooms). But that isn’t the impressive part. For campfire effect, the drink is capped with an upside-down snifter full of applewood smoke. Mr. Mendenhall is planning an entire line of smoked drinks (and a line of drinks incorporating vegetables like kale and beets, as well), and he also hopes to create smoked ice.

At Booker and Dax, the recently opened bar at Momofuku Ssam, partner Dave Arnold is going one step further than using a smoking gun – he’s wielding a red-hot poker. “It has an internal temperature of 1,500 degrees Farenheit,” he said. “We shove it into the drink to create burnt-caramel flavors that you can’t get by making a hot drink on the stove.”

Mr. Arnold also has a way with liquid nitrogen (maybe you’ve seen the occasional canister outside of the bar?) He uses it to chill flutes such as the one in which his Gin and Juice is served. Not only does it free up freezer space, he said, but “it looks awesome.” To make that drink, Mr. Arnold clarifies grapefruit juice in a centrifuge, combines it with water and sugar, carbonates the mixture, and then chills it in the fridge. As if all that weren’t enough, he’s currently working on a way to carbonate each drink to order.

At Saxon + Parole (another relative newcomer to the East Village cocktail scene) mixologist Naren Young is planning to smoke ice for drinks like a negroni (don’t tell Mr. Mendenhall). He has already found a way to serve his Manhattans at the perfect temperature – by keeping them in kegs.

“People look at it and go, ‘What is that? That’s not beer coming out of your tap – that’s a cocktail,’” he said. After the mix of bourbon and vermouth comes out of the spout, it gets a dash of homemade bitters made from cherries, almonds, bark, and – no kidding – strips of leather.

Watch The Local’s slideshow to see these drinks in all of their smoke-swirled glory. For good measure, we’ve also included some cocktails from Prima as well as from The Wren’s newly opened downstairs lounge. They’re not quite as experimental, but that doesn’t make them any less delicious.