Ringing the changes
Manhattan's The Daily
A cocktail menu that changes every day? It sounds crazy, but Naren Young explains how he’s made it work at his hip new Manhattan bar The Daily
A daily-changing cocktail menu. The very notion probably makes many of you tired just thinking about it. Especially if you already know the difficulties of trying to collate a new and dynamic menu every quarter. And yet, there are countless restaurants around the world – most of which are hyper-seasonal in their approach – who will change their menu every day. So why couldn’t a bar offer this same approach? This was my school of thought when trying to develop a unique concept for The Daily, one of the most exciting bar openings in New York this year.
Located in the trendy Nolita neighborhood on the fringes of Manhattan’s Soho district, The Daily is owned by AvroKO Hospitality Group, which also owns the Michelin-starred restaurant next door, PUBLIC, which has remained one of the most beautiful restaurants I’ve seen, ever since it opened its doors back in 2003.
But back to the bar: what was once a small and civilised seating-only wine bar has been transformed into The Daily, with 12 tables to seat 40, a bar that seats eight and room for 10 more standing. Kitted out with navy leather banquettes and hardwood finishes, the room maintains an air of elegance and style, but we also wanted to up the fun factor, as that’s something that’s currently missing in many of Gotham’s modern ‘speakeasies’.
Ready to rock
So you’ll also find The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’ blaring loudly overhead, and bartenders coming out from behind the bar to talk first-timers through our philosophy or recommend something new to a regular. That could be a libation as silly and frivolous as a Corpse Reviver Number Blue, or perhaps something a little more historical – some might say geeky – such as an Army and Navy or a Prince Edward.
But how does one consistently and successfully execute what seems like such a daunting cocktail programme? It’s actually not as difficult as it sounds and most of the orchestration is achieved through knowing one’s drinks and stringently planning ahead.
Here’s how it works: each night we have five cocktails on the menu, as well as a bottled cocktail for two and a cheeky ‘soup du jour’, which is simply a shot of whisky topped with a slice of cold watermelon.
We gather each Wednesday for two hours and plan the entire menu for the week ahead, then send it out to all the staff, accompanied by some brief notes on each drink. That way, they have time to study the drinks and are not walking into their shift unprepared. Our staff are well-versed and can easily provide a little insight into the history of each drink, should a guest be interested.
The trickiest part is making sure that the menu is balanced in terms of drink styles, methodology, glassware, and ingredients. For example, we try never to have two rye cocktails or two drinks that contain pineapple juice. (But I don’t mind if there happens to be two gin drinks on the menu. Why? I like gin.)
Keeping it brief
The menu is divided into sub-headings that describe the particular drink in one or two words: ‘Shaken Up’, ‘Stirred & Down’, ‘Bubbly’, ‘On the Rock’, ‘Long’, ‘Short’, ‘Aperitif’, ‘Sour’ or ‘Frothy’, among many others. Almost all of the drinks are classics or slight variations thereof, such as a Camomile Sazerac, and are taken from a large Rolodex of over 600 cocktails that I painstakingly put together over the course of several months.
Essentially this Rolodex is the cornerstone of what we do and how we plan the daily menu. Without it, putting together that daily menu would indeed be a very time-consuming process, and the drinks would be inconsistent without a house recipe for the bartenders to follow.
Because there is such a small selection each day (priced from $11-15), it means the bartenders are learning all of the drinks very quickly, through repetition. The majority of people order from our daily menu, so we make each drink dozens of times each night, selling about 200 on a busy service. Within six months I’m certain the crew will be able to recite and recommend hundreds of drinks on the fly, which is important when you work in a fast, high-volume cocktail bar such as this.
We also keep our mise en place very streamlined, much like what you might have seen in a cocktail saloon in the 19th century. For example, we don’t stock edible flowers or sugar cane sticks, but we always have a stash of nutmeg, fresh grapefruit juice, eggs, berries, homemade orgeat, mint, raspberry syrup and the humble lemon twist (all used in many classic drinks). Therefore, if a guest requests a drink that was on a previous menu, we will almost always be able to accommodate them.
‘The drinks are taken from a rolodex i put together of over 600 cocktails’
When it comes to publicising the bar and its concept, social media has been key. We don’t have a proper website or a phone – instead we use Facebook and Twitter updates to alert the public to what’s on offer that particular night.
I like to think we’ve created something that is a little different at The Daily. The gold-plated Julep strainers, hand-carved ice, gleaming back bar and a behemoth selection of bitters and tinctures provide a strange juxtaposition to the soundtrack of loud rock music and good times.
But we’re a simple bar at heart. We’re not a precious or pretentious place by any stretch, and we’ll be as happy to serve you a cold beer and a shot of whiskey, as we would a pitch-perfect Chrysanthemum Cocktail. We’re a place where you can – and should – always try something new.
The Daily. 210 Elizabeth St (between Prince & Spring), New York. No phone.
NAREN’S 5 GOLDEN RULES FOR SUCCESS
Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – July/August 2012