Where We’ve Been Drinking: barmini
Having been impressed by the creativity, flair, and good taste of the cocktails at a couple of Jose Andres’ restaurants (Zaytinya and, just yesterday, Jaleo), we thought it’s high time we visit the source, Andres’ cocktail lab barmini. So when our friend Dan was in town, the three of us headed over for what we would call the cocktail version of a fireworks display: explosions of color and flavor; lots of ‘ooh’s and ‘wow’s; an almost impossible build of expectations; exclamations of, ‘how do they even do that?’; a grand finale; and a few little surprises at the end. We left barmini very giddy and a little dazed. We tasted a lot of great cocktails, and had a lot of fun doing it; even we didn’t know that cocktails could be this fun.
Barmini is a very small space, with only 6 or 8 seating areas, each sitting two to maybe five people. Each of these small seating arrangements is unique and, while completely visible from the others, set apart spatially; so it’s like you have your own little lounge or private tasting area.
In strong contrast to the prevailing trend in cocktail lounges, with their dark woods and lights so low you can’t read the menu, barmini’s furniture is white and their lights are bright. We love a cozy, dark little corner on occasion; but you can have too much of a good thing. Barmini’s strong move in the other direction is a welcome change of pace. The bright white serves to highlight just how colorful their drinks are, as well as to give the whole experience a very wide awake feel. The room was full, but full is only around 30 people; so although it felt lively, it was also quiet enough for us to talk at a normal conversational volume. We enjoyed the just-right feel of being quiet enough to talk, but without being drowsily dark.
The decoration is modern with a surreal or absurdist edge: a white mannequin hand jutting out from the wall, holding a pineapple; an entire bathroom filled with toilet paper holders; a ‘Restrooms this way’ sign that’s an architectural model of a bathroom, in a glass case, hanging on a door–so subtle that it took a while to get it. It reminded me of high fashion clothing: either ridiculous or, if you pull it off, amazing. They pulled it off.
The bartenders at barmini are multi-talented in a way that we didn’t know was possible, necessary, or desirable in a bartender.
Firstly, they are warm, cordial, and attentive hosts. When we arrived, they sat the three of us at a four-stool section of the bar, and we were greeted by the bartender there with a smile and miniature, amuse-bouche cocktails, each in a unique vintage cup. It turns out that this was just a temporary resting spot. The place is so small and in such high demand that they can’t afford to let a stool go unused, but the three-stool spot they intended for us wasn’t quite ready yet when we arrived. Not wanting us to stand around, they provided this little aperitif moment for us while our section was readied. When the host came over to shift us over, our aperitif bartender said goodbye, wished us an enjoyable evening, and passed us off into the hands of our bartender for the rest of the night.
The second talent of the barmini bartenders is showmanship. They make their drinks with flair. There are the usual little flourishes, like a flick of the wrist, a long pour, and the other mannerisms that give mixing drinks something of the feel of a magician’s act; our bartender did these, well and in a natural way for something so artificial. He went far beyond this too. One of our drinks was garnished with a spherical ice cube, which he carefully notched, to make a spot for a bed of gold flakes, on which he rested one, gigantic lavender bud. It was almost absurd, but entirely beautiful and awe-inspiring. Other drinks came with their own, carefully chosen, colored and scented dry ice, whisked in at just the right moment by one of the bar backs. Another drink came in an elaborate, two-part brass pineapple. This wasn’t just drinks; it was entertainment.
All of the theatrics may sound silly, and they could have been except for that they were entirely backed up by mixological skill. The barmini bartenders know what they’re doing. There are about 100 cocktails on their menu, many standards and even more original creations. We asked our bartender how he remembered all of these recipes, and he told us that he each of the original drinks is based on a classic; so as long as he knows his classics well, it’s not too hard to keep track of the innovations. Our bartender showed himself to be a master craftsman, well-practiced in the fundamentals, and more than capable of innovating.
As we left at the end of the evening, our bartender went back from showman to host, sending us out the door with a miniature digestif, and the most exquisite of jello shots for dessert.
What We Ordered
Thank You ‘Monchito’: vodka, walnut liqueur, oloroso sherry, pineapple, roasted coconut
Ticket to Phuket: aquavit, ginger, honey, lime, thai basil, thai chili
Dark Side of the Moon: old tom gin, creme de violette, lemon, egg white, citrus ash
2 Stops to Montilla: genever, amontillado sherry, hojicha, sesame oil, lavender bitters
The Highlander: Scotch, mezcal, rosemary, creme de cacao cloud
Jaune Giallo: yellow and green Chartreuse, Galliano, saffron, orange, cream, egg
Leatherette: brandy, rye, spanish vermouth, oloroso sherry, lavender bitters, all aged in leather
What Else We Tasted
Carmen Miranda: banana Bourbon, cinnamon, sugar, angostura bitters
Veruka salt: peanut rum, pineapple grog, crumbled salted peanuts
The amuse-bouche and the jello shots, for neither of which we caught the details, sadly.
Thoughts about the cocktails
We chose all barmini creations, rather than standards. Maybe we should have tried at least one standard, just to see what it was like in the hands of these artists. But to call this a regret would be too strong; we were very happy with our drinks. Each was a wonder, and every one in its own way. You could tell that, even though these are the innovations, they are all built on the solid bones of a great classic. They take those classics in delightful directions through bold substitutions. For being as flamboyant as barmini is, they are also admirably judicious in their choices, not overusing anything and putting every ingredient in a good place to shine. Dan, a firm believer until now that lavender belongs in soaps not drinks, found himself consuming and enjoying lavender in several forms. Even the crazy stunt elements like the dried ice felt like they contributed to the taste experience and not just the visuals.
We thought we were done after ordering two rounds, but our bartender wasn’t done with us. Perhaps in recognition of how much we were appreciating what we were drinking, perhaps to fill a gap he thought we had left, he offered us a Carmen Miranda to share. We’d been somewhat mocking of its banana-flavored Bourbon on our pre-order run through the menu, but, wouldn’t you know, it was absolutely delicious. It turns out that a decent Bourbon, infused with an actual banana, is far different from and far superior to the artificial creme de banane we’ve had in the past. This led us to try the leather-aged Leatherette: also fascinating and delicious. And, for our nightcap, our bartender offered us miniatures versions of another one he couldn’t bear us leaving without trying: Veruca Salt, featuring an intriguing dry, peanut-infused rum.
Should you go?
By all means, you should go. It’s a bit pricier than a round of drinks usually is, at $15-20 per drink or $65 per person for a tasting menu. But it’s well worth it. The drinks alone are with the price. And, remember, at barmini you get your drinks and your show all for one price.
Make sure you make reservations, well ahead of time. The place is very small, and very much in demand.
Make It At Home: Jaune Giallo
We once again neglected to ask for the precise recipe, but our bartender did mention that this drink was based on the New York Flip. There’s (as usual with the standards) a little variation in New York Flip recipes; and there’s one more ingredient in the Jaune Giallo than in the standard NY Flip. So, a little guesswork was involved; but this will give you an idea.
- 1 oz yellow Chartreuse
- .25 oz green Chartreuse
- .5 oz Galliano
- .5 oz cream
- 1 egg yolk
- pinch of saffron
- .5 tablespoon orange blossom water
- 1.5 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon water
- Make saffron syrup by combining saffron, .5 T sugar, and .5 T water and boiling the water until the mixture slightly thickens and turns yellow. With such small proportions, we found the microwave worked best.
- Make orange blossom syrup by combining orange blossom water with remaining sugar and water and stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
- Add the Chartreuses, Galliano, cream, egg yolk, the orange blossom syrup, and a few drops of the saffron syrup to a cocktail shaker without ice. Shake to agitate the egg yolk.
- Add ice and shake again, for about 15 seconds, until well-chilled.
- Strain into a cocktail glass, and enjoy!