In Search of the Red Hook
At the Source: How Far Will a Cocktail Writer Go to Have One Particular Cocktail? This far.
The global influence of Milk & Honey, the trailblazing cocktail bar opened by Sasha Petraske in New York on December 31, 1999, can be found most everywhere serious cocktails are made. During a recent trip to Italy, I saw Petraske’s unmistakable impact in Rome at the Jerry Thomas Project, with it’s snug, darkened interior, unmarked entrance and emphasis on classic cocktails. In Naples, L’Antiquario has many of the hallmarks of a Petraske bar, with its nattily dressed bartenders and hushed atmosphere. There was even a picture of Petraske in a high corner above the bar. Both bars serve drinks invented at Milk & Honey—including the Greenpoint, American Trilogy and Penicillin—and serve them as Milk & Honey would have, over custom ice and in elegant glassware.
But the purest form of Petraske-esque cocktailing in Italy exists, improbably, in a small bar in the harbor town of Forio on the east side of Ischia, a large island that lies about 19 miles from Naples. L’Artefatto is owned and run by Vincenzo Errico, a thin, smooth-pated Neapolitan who opened the bar three years ago. Errico has an interesting resume. He worked at Match, the influential Jonathan Downey bar that reigned supreme in London in the late 1990s and early aughts, under the tutelage of Dick Bradsell, the godfather of the London cocktail revival. There, he was discovered by Petraske, who was in town opening the London branch of Milk & Honey with Downey. Petraske, impressed by Errico’s work ethic and stylish service, convinced Errico—along with another Italian-born London bartender, Laura Zanella—to return with him to New York to work at Milk & Honey. The American bartenders in Petraske’s circle referred to the two as “The Italians.”
Errico’s primary legacy while at Milk & Honey was the 2003 creation of the Red Hook, a Manhattan/Brooklyn cocktail riff made of rye, Punt e Mes and sweet vermouth. The drink hit New York mixologist like a ton of bricks, mainly because it showed them a clear road forward on how to easily create original cocktails using classic models, a method that worked both structurally and culinarily. (I wrote recently in “The Mix” about the Red Hook’s many offspring.)
By 2007, Errico had become homesick for his family and homeland and returned to Naples. He worked for two years at Alexander Frezza’s L’Antiquario.
I’d met Enzo, as he is called, only once before, during one of my few trips to White Star, the short-lived absinthe bar Petraske opened on Essex Street in Manhattan. I did not know him as the creator of the Red Hook at that point, so—somewhat perversely, in retrospect—I ordered a Greenpoint, one of the drink inspired by the Red Hook. I remember him as being a man of few words and impeccable service.
My next contact with Errico was while I was working on A Proper Drink, my history of the cocktail renaissance. I conducted a long-distance interview with him about his time at Milk & Honey. His recipe for the Red Hook ended up in the book. It also appeared in 3-Ingredient Cocktails and Modern Classics of the Cocktail Renaissance, the app I created with Martin Doudoroff. And it will be in my upcoming book Modern Classic Cocktails.
Given all that history, it seems like a good idea to go and visit Enzo during my recent trip to Italy and get a Red Hook from the hands of the master. It’s a pleasant pursuit of mine to seek out and be served famous cocktails by the people who invented them. Dick Bradsell made me a Bramble; Marcovaldo Dionysos made me a Chartreuse Swizzle; Julio Bermejo made with a Tommy’s Margarita; Joaquin Simo made me a Naked & Famous; etc., etc. The Red Hook was a particular elusive target, given the inventor lived on a large rock in the Mediterranean. But I was willing to go the distance.
We took a ferry from Naples, one of the few that docked at Forio. The seaside buildings in Forio command a view of a lovely harbor. Among them is the narrow, unassuming, two-story L’Artefatto. Most of its seating is outside. The bar inside is actually quite small, with only four stools. Enzo designed the back bar himself and—following what he learned at Milk & Honey—crafts fresh ice every day, which he cuts into large cubes and spears. Petraske’s influence doesn’t end there. As you enter to room, a large framed blow-up of Milk & Honey’s famous rules of etiquette hands on the left wall. “The are just common sense rules,” observed Errico.
It was hot, bright and 6 p.m. when we arrived at L’Artefatto. We were the only customers. Enzo and his partner were still setting up the outdoor chairs. So the Red Hook, a boozy drink, seemed the wrong call. Enzo suggested an Enzoni, which, in the last two years, has unexpectedly become his second-best-known cocktail.
Errico invented the Enzoni, a cross between a Negroni and a Gin Sour (recipe below), more than twenty years ago, while working at Match in London.
“I made it in London,” he said. “It was like 2000 when I was with Dick Bradsell.” At the time, Campari was still a forbidding liqueur to many, and the Negroni, which contains Campari, was not popular. “I tried to make that cocktail to make people closer to our tradition of the Negroni style. I make cocktails with some kind of ingredient to open the range of the people who will like it.”
The Enzoni was put on the menu and became a hit. “People loved it. It was good,” remembered Errico. “And then they forgot it for ten years—more. Then, last year, suddenly, everyone went crazy.”
You can thank Covid and the Internet for that. In the last two years, the Enzoni has become an internet-bartender favorite. Ever since the pandemic began, the Internet has been flooded with videos of folks making the Enzoni and going nuts over it. One bartender went so far as to create a rye whiskey riff, called the Fall Enzoni.
Those Internet barkeeps aren’t wrong. The Enzoni is a great drink. Light and refreshing, yet complex, it’s perfect for warm-weather drinking. Before I had drained mine at L’Artefatto, I had already decided it was going to be our go-to cocktail this summer.
Though Errico, like Petraske, is primarily focused on well-wrought versions of the classics—his menu features nothing but them, along with a few modern classics, like the Old Cuban and Espresso Martini (which he calls by its original name, Vodka Espresso)—he does still dabble in originals. He tasted us on one while we were there. As always, he keeps it simple. It was a Martinez variation, with pimento dram taking the place of the usual maraschino liqueur. It was uniformly excellent, needing no improvement.
The only thing keeping the new drink from being served at L’Artefatto was a name. It has none. “The name is the most difficult thing to find,” Errico admitted. Both his best-known drinks, the Red Hook and Enzoni, were named by friends. Did I have any suggestions?
I gave it a try. “Ischinez?” After the island, y’know? No. “Enzinez?” Like the Enzoni. Definitely no. “Enzo Martinez?” Worse.
Apparently, I’m not good at cocktail names either.
Thus fortified with preprandial cocktails, we were led up a narrow, terraced alley to a small new restaurant called Kantharos, run by some friends of Errico’s. We had an excellent meal of risotto with asparagus and sea turbot; an interesting twist on Carbonara that included fish and no butter; grilled vegetables; and a whole fish with was filleted tableside. All washed down with an excellent Ischian Fiano. The seafood was a welcome change of pace after all the pasta and pizza of Rome and Naples. Mary Kate and I walked out with two bottles of amari that were made by the owners, one that featured among its botanicals arugula, which is apparently an Ischian thing.
Then, after a stroll to work off the meal, it was back to L’Artefatto. Errico started the bar in 2019 and, owing first to Covid and then local construction, it has not been an easy road. But lately trade has picked up dramatically. Every table was full the night we went. I asked Errico about the odd name. “‘Artefatto’ is anything that is created by the human being,” he explained. “Anything that is not natural. So everything is artefatto. The internet, cigarettes, alcohol, the cocktail.”
It was now almost 10 p.m. It was Red Hook time. Errico hasn’t changed his recipe in all these years. It’s two ounces of Rittenhouse rye, 1/2 ounce of Punt e Mes and 1/2 ounce of maraschino liqueur, served up with no garnish. (The other house vermouth at L’Artefatto is Mulassano.) It tasted exactly how a Red Hook should taste, sweet and strong and mildly bitter. There are no shrinking flavors in that cocktail. The drink is not on the menu—another example of the owner’s inherent humility—but Errico says he makes a lot of them.
“I like simple ideas,” he said. “Simple ideas that work.”
The Mix with Robert Simonson is a reader-supported publication. And research trips to Italy don’t grown on trees. So, while we welcome and love our free subscribers, please consider becoming paid subscriber.
Vincenzo Errico, Match, London, 2000.
1 ounce gin
1 ounce Campari
3/4 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
5 seedless green grapes
Muddle the grapes at the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add the other ingredients, plus ice to the shake. Shake until chilled, about 15 seconds. Double strain into a rocks glass filled with one large cube. Garnish with a “flag” of an orange slice and a green grape.
Odds and Ends…
The Rochester Cocktail Revival begins today and runs through the end of the week. Events include a 10-year anniversary party for Cure, one of the leading cocktail bars in the city; a seminar on scientific cocktail methods featuring bar owner and author Dave Arnold and Arnold’s former Booker & Dax bartender Donny Clutterbuck; and the annual Bar Room Battle Royale… The late, lamented Nomad Bar, which shuttered during Covid, will return to New York for three days as a pop-up at Dante. Leo Robitschek himself will be behind the stick from 2 to 5 p.m. each day… Don Ciccio & Figli, the respected DC-area maker of amari and liqueurs, is releasing a new collection of limited edition liqueurs. Tutti Frutti, the first liqueur in this new line, will be available May 31, timed to coincide with Pride Month. The spirit is shaded a vibrant purple and made iridescent with the inclusion of edible glitter, and partial proceeds from its sale will go to benefit local and national LGBTQ+ organizations… Patrick Pistolesi, the owner of Drink Kong, one of the top cocktail bars in Rome, will guest bartend at Mace in New York on June 6 from 8 p.m. to Midnight. Hey! I just saw that guy!