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Pouring Ribbons in Seven Cocktails
A Few Defining Drinks from the Classic Cocktail Bar, Which Will Close March 26 After a Ten-Year Run—or, "A Menu of McRibs."
Pouring Ribbons, the East Village cocktail bar, will close for good on March 26 after a decade in business. Like many New York bars, it was forced to close for an extended period during the pandemic shutdown. But unlike other places, it only sporadically trafficked in to-go cocktails, and its second-floor location made outdoor drinking and dining impossible. The bar was silent a total of 18 long months, far longer than almost any other significant cocktail bar in the city.
When it finally reopened in late September, co-founders Joaquín Simó and Jason Cott decided to simply let their lease at 225 Avenue B run out and make a graceful exit.
“We figured we would reopen to close at the end of the lease to give our devoted regulars and industry pals a final chance to come by, sip some old monk juice or an old favorite cocktail, and reflect on the last decade,” said Simó. “Very few bars or restaurants make it to the ten-year mark in New York, so while we felt gratified that our vision had sustained the length of the original lease, we had ultimately accomplished what we had set out to do.”
Pouring Ribbons was founded by the group Alchemy Consulting in September 2012 on a second floor space near the corner of Avenue B and 14th Street. Alchemy had several partners at the time, but Simó—who made his reputation at the nearby Death & Co. and that year was named the Bartender of the Year at Tales of the Cocktail—emerged as the public face of the bar. The bar embodied Simó’s fastidiousness in both cocktail creation and hospitality. It was larger and more relaxed than what was then the prevailing cocktail-bar model at the time. The menu, meanwhile, was framed by a “matrix” in which customers could easily divine whether a drink was more refreshing or spirituous, comforting or adventurous. The place also became know for the efficient design of its back bar and its deep collection of vintage Chartreuse. After a few years of doing seasonal menus, Pouring Ribbons switched to menus centered around a theme; one menu drew its inspiration from Route 66; others from “Trashy TV,” “Moody Authors” and “New York 1983.”
The bar’s many alumni include Matt Belanger, who now runs Death & Co. in Los Angeles, and Shannon Tebay, the first female American bartender to be in charge of the American Bar at the Savoy hotel in London.
For the bar’s victory lap, Simó and Cott have brought back some of the greatest hits from past menus. “We wanted to have an entire menu of McRibs,” explained Simó. “‘Hey, the McRib is back!’”
We recently asked Simó to pick out five cocktails from past Pouring Ribbons menus that he felt best represented the journey and ethos of the bar. Ever the soul the of generosity, Simó came up with seven. Here they are. [Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.]
Death & Taxes, Joaquín Simó (2012)
Death & Taxes—a gin sour made from Dorothy Parker Gin, Clear Creek Blue Plum Brandy, lavender-infused Cinzano Bianco Vermouth, lemon juice, honey syrup and grapefruit bitters—appeared on Pouring Ribbons’ very first menu. Dorothy Parker Gin was made by Brooklyn’s New York Distilling Company, co-founded by Allen Katz only a year before Pouring Ribbons opened.
“The thing I liked most about this drink is we were able to support distillers we really believed in and Allen is such a old and dear friend,” said Simó. “He was a neighbor. He lived around the corner from Death & Co. and we always found room at the bar for him. So much of that early cocktail culture was based around old timey classics or inventive gin sours. Pegu Clubs, Aviations, stuff like that. I knew I wanted to have some sort of gin sour that would work and fill that spot for this bar. And, then, I’m a sucker for Slivovitz [plum brandy]. What Steve McCarthy does out at Clear Creek, he is an extraordinary distiller. I love that juice so much. What it does here is the entire length of the drink is dictated by the Slivovitz. It’s a gin sour that has a distinctive beginning, middle and end. Also, Cinzano Bianco—it wasn’t the darling vermouth brand. It wasn’t Dolin. But this infusion worked better with Cinzano, for whatever reason. That’s a thing we started early on. Don’t pick a pet product. See what works best.”
Midnight Marauder, Joaquín Simó (2013); and This Charming Man, Joaquín Simó(2016)
These drinks are both Negroni variations made with the same mezcal, Del Maguey’s Vida, and mole bitters. Midnight Marauder pairs the mezcal with the aperitif Bonal and the amaro Cynar. This Charming Man calls on the rabarbaro Sfumato and Lustau East India Solera Sherry.
“We’ve always believed in the power of templates, going back to my Phil Ward training and Mr. Potato Head” at Death & Co., said Simó. (Ward was Simó’s senior at Death & Co. Mr. Potato Head is a school of cocktail creation in which ingredients in a working cocktail recipe are removed and then replaced with broadly similar liquors.) “I do love that ability to—not necessarily rely on them as a crutch, but view them as a jumping off point for creative inspiration. I’m going to do a 1:1:1 Negroni; so, how do I make that work, and, wherever I can, deviate?”
This Charming Man: “Sfumato has that smokey quality to it. So, that’s such a wonderful pairing with mezcal; it’s going to add such a wonderful echo of that smoky note in mezcal, while adding fruitiness, and Vida is already such a fruity mezcal. There is going to be so much echoing in here. Then it was just a matter of finding the thing that’s going to balance all that out, and that’s where the East India Solera Sherry came in. Not quite a cream, not quite an olorosa, just somewhere in between and so beautifully dry. That was so huge in balancing out all the fruit in there.”
Midnight Marauder: “Similarly, with the Bonal and Cynar, Cynar, for being an amaro, is quite sweet. Bitter, but very, very sweet. Bonal is the thing that had to come in and balance it, because it is both a geniane and a quinquina. If you have two bittering agents in there, you might have the stopping power to slow down the sweetness of Cynar.”
Skinny Girl Margarita, Joaquín Simó (2018)
The Skinny Girl Margarita was part of the “Trashy TV” thematic menu. The drink was a witty response to the entrepreneurship of Bethany Frankel, a star of “The Real Wives of New York City” who, in 2009, parlayed her fame into Skinnygirl, a line of pre-packaged margaritas. The cocktail contains hibiscus-tea-infused vodka, Azteca Azul Bianco Tequila, Rhine Hall Mango, Giffard Passion Fruit liqueur, lime stock (sort of like chicken stock, but lime), simple syrup and a dash of vanilla-black pepper tincture. It is topped with water.
“When we were doing the ‘Trashy TV’ menu, that was the big gimme moment,” said Simó. “There literally is a TV show where one of the people did a cocktail! We just have to do a better version. We wanted to keep it really lean. This was basically going to be for the vodka-and-soda/tequila-and-soda drinker. We just wanted to do it with a twist. The scarlet glow in here is a hibiscus tea that Sebastian Beckwith does at In Pursuit of Tea.
“We wanted to do it carbonated. Keep it light, keep it fizzy. Part of having a bar this size is you do want to have some drinks that can be dispensed relatively quickly. When we first opened the bar, we wanted to say ‘yes’ more than we said ‘no.’ At the Death & Co.’s, the PDT’s, the Milk & Honey’s, they were so small; they had so many rules, because of the logistics of the spaces, that they weren’t able to be flexible. If you had one extra person joining your party, they couldn’t do that. ‘Oh, we don’t allow standing at the bar. Oh, we have no open seats.’ We wanted to have the flexibility to be able to say ‘yes.’ Part of the notion of that is we’re always going to have an accessible drink on the menu, something that will immediately be the gateway drink.”
Warriors, Brian Tasch (2018)
This Old-Fashioned riff was created for the “New York City, 1983” menu and named after the cult classic 1979 Walter Hill film The Warriors. To a base of Sacred Bond brandy bartender Brian Tasch added Vida mezcal, Demerara syrup, and scant amounts of Hamilton Pimento Dram, Laphroaig single-malt Scotch, blackstrap rum and orange bitters.
“On the 30th anniversary release of the film, about thirty hard-core Warriors fanboys came to the bar along with three of the actors from the movie. It was David Harris, Apache Ramos and Wanda Valez. Brian, who made this drink and loved The Warriors so much, was wearing his Warriors vest that night. He got to take a photo with them. We had thirty Warriors cocktails made and ready to go. It used to get poured out of a cocktail shaker that looked like a spray-paint can. The drink got a little bit of press; it must have gotten on their radar.
“I chose this one because it is a brandy drink and brandy drinks are historically a tough sell. But the second people have it, they think it’s delicious. So when we put it on the menu, we didn’t list the brandy first. We listed the mezcal and Scotch first. It turned into the second most popular drink on the menu. This shows how we would make people eat their vegetables. You’re going to drink brandy and like it!”
Survivor, Brooke Toscano (2019)
This drink by Brooke Toscano has a split base of Clontarf Irish Whiskey and Bank Note Peated Reserve Scotch, to which are added Doctor Bird Jamaican Rum, Laphroaig, sour lemon, oatmeal honey, ginger syrup and orange cream citrate. A pandan tea renders the drink green.
“Our current GM Brooke Toscano has really instituted this notion of sustainability,” said Simó. “Every drink that went on the menus from when Brooke started running the show had to have this component of—oh, they’re using pineapple juice; what can you do with the pineapple cores and rinds? That person is using orange juice; what can we do with the peel? I don’t want people working in silos while they’re working on drinks, then you end up with seven Manhattans and no one did a sour. Between shared Google Cocs and literally chalkboard on the back of the door in the office, people could start writing down what they were working on. Also, they would collaborate more, learn how to work with others. If you knew what people were working with, you knew what waste they’d be generating and maybe that would give you an idea for something in your drink. I thought this drink was very emblematic of us becoming very conscientious of how we’re thinking about waste and how the drinks on an entire menu relate to each other.”
As to the sustainable aspects of the cocktail: “The honey is sourced from a local farm, Ballard farms. The pandan leaves are frozen since they aren’t dried and therefore won’t go bad. The sour lemon is made from spent lemon husks and in combination with the Citrate there is no fresh citrus being used/wasted. The oats are saved from the honey infusion to become the garnish.”
Naked & Famous, Joaquín Simó (2011)
OK, not a Pouring Ribbons cocktail! Simó invented this modern mezcal classic back in 2011, a year before opening his bar. But, “It is probably the most commonly ordered drink we’ve had over the the past decade that has literally never been on any of our menus,” he said. “The reason they come here to get it is we’re one of the few bars dumb enough to make it with [Del Maguey] Chichicapa, as it was intended to be made. People will have it here and say, ‘Oh my God, this is so much better than it is at other bars.’”
Pouring Ribbons sells 25-30 of them a night. The bar buys Chichicapa by the six-pack.
For readers planning on visiting Pouring Ribbons before it closes, and who are interested in trying any of the about cocktail, the Skinny Girl Margarita, Survivor and This Charming Man are on the current greatest-hits menu. And, of course, you can always get a Naked and Famous.
I live in Brooklyn. Pouring Ribbons’ location is not exactly convenient to me. I either took the F train to the 2nd Avenue station and then walked for quite a while to get to the bar; or I took the G train, transferred to the L train to the 1st Avenue station and then, again, walked a while. And then I had to trudge up that flight of stairs to the bar.
I never regretted a single trip. Chartreuse shots all around!
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