Mesmerizing Drinks to Accompany Immersive Dining Experiences
Carrie Dennis |
October 16, 2018
From Fernet-Branca to soju and arak, mixologists share their most unusual cocktails to sip while attending interactive events
These days, it feels like we’re in a veritable Golden Age of immersive theater events — actor-driven, fully thought-through experiences that require audience participation while transporting attendees to another world. Interactive events like these are really, really fun, but only if you fully give yourself over to the concept. One way to get there quickly? Cocktails.
Here are some of the unique drinks that innovative mixologists have created for immersive and interactive shows around the world.
“Summer Sunset” for underground Brooklyn events
Lindsay Arden is both an event producer and a mixologist — so she makes sure that every unusual event she throws has a signature cocktail. “Everything I do is site-specific,” she says. “It’s all about creating a moment in a time and place where that moment is available. A lot of my events are transient: set up at a moment’s notice and then broken down at the end, leaving no trace.” Arden has produced intimate secret soirées on boats, bridges, speakeasies, and rooftops, each of which immerses attendees in a strange new world. “It can be as simple as setting up a table, putting a few beautiful objects on it, and making a cocktail behind it, which usually consists of whiskey and a little bit of something to make it special.”
The cocktail for her bridge party was “The Bridge Is Falling”; for an outdoor speakeasy that was besieged by storms, she made a “Tornado Warning.” In the below clip, at her secret rooftop bar in the gloaming, Arden makes “Summer Sunset,” a delightful concoction enhanced by Fernet-Branca.
1 part Fernet-Branca
2 parts soda
2 parts bourbon
1/2 part lemon juice
dash of bitters
Combine all ingredients over ice. Garnish with a smashed basil leaf.
“Existing Conditions” for How Do You Hug a Tiger?
StoryCourse is an immersive and interactive dining event in New York City at which the food, cocktails, and overall experience are all evocative of and inspired by the personal stories of the featured chefs. There are six courses, each served between moving anecdotes as part of an interactive script that guests and showrunners all participate in. For their show How Do You Hug a Tiger?, that chef was Jae Jung, and the journey was her coming-of-age-story, from her mother’s kitchen in South Korea to the kitchens of New Orleans and New York City.
“We knew that we needed soju to begin our guests’ experience,” says Mindy Lvoff, StoryCourse’s producer. They found a professional soju maker who had learned classic fermentation practices in South Korea, and shared with him tales of “Jae’s earliest memories of rooftop nights watching her mother cook as a little girl in post-war South Korea.”
Lvoff continues: “From there, we paired him with some old friends of ours, including the inventor of the Spinzall [a culinary centrifuge], who saw a fantastic opportunity with [soju]. They tested a few Asian-revered fruits and found that fresh peaches were the most flavorful at the time, spun that with the help of enzymes in the Spinzall, and our custom cocktail was born. Served with a large clarified ice cube, the drink changes over the course of sipping it with the slow dilution. Fresh and potent, it warms and invigorates guests, helping them to read their parts in the story with gusto.”
Blend all ingredients, allowing the enzyme to work for 10 minutes, then centrifuge. Pour over a large clarified ice cube in a rocks glass.
“The Only One Aniseed” for OMID
Another show by StoryCourse, Omid is the powerful story of Behzad Jamshidi’s parents’ exodus from Iran, which melds into his own present-day tale. Geography and history again informed the design of the drink: the cocktail features arak, a triple-distilled wine often served as an aperitif, which tastes of aniseed, cleanses the palate, and aids digestion.
“We refused to entertain anything other than arak for its authentic roots in the Middle Eastern dinner,” Lvoff says. The team pursued a top maker of the liquor, shared their concept and story, and brought in the team to a test run of the show. Once they were convinced, “mixologist Gabriel Pfaffenbach designed an incredible arak cocktail for us with grapefruit, lime, rosemary, and the all-necessary touch of salinity.”
1 part arak 1 ¼ part gin 1 part grapefruit-rosemary reduction ½ part lime ½ part simple syrup pinch of salt
To make the grapefruit-rosemary reduction
Combine 1 quart of grapefruit juice with 6 sprigs of rosemary in a pot. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and let rest.
To make the drink
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain over fresh ice into a lowball glass. Garnish with an additional pinch of salt and a rosemary sprig.
“Flaming Absinthe” for Nuit Blanche
Nuit Blanche in Los Angeles offers romantics the opportunity to go back in time to 1920s Paris, when artistic greats such as Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Auguste Renoir, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Baudelaire, and Pablo Picasso all drank absinthe for inspiration. The party takes place in the Carondelet House (which was built in 1928), and the most popular drink offered at this Parisian revue–themed five-course experience, fittingly, is absinthe.
The drink is simple and elegant. As explained by Vai Tiare, Nuit Blanche’s production manager: “We pour an ounce and a half of absinthe into a glass. We place a silver spoon with a sugar cube on top and light it on fire, so our guests get to experience the making of [the drink]. Then we place it under the spigot of our fountain, which is filled with iced water. The water drips through the cube and into the absinthe until it turns completely opaque. Then la folie begins…”
“Summer Dreams” for City of Dreams
Produced by interactive-theater group Show:UP!, City of Dreams is an ultra-exclusive backyard dinner party in Brooklyn. Only 10 guests are invited to dine on Chef Shellie Porter’s feast while enjoying the drama of the evening. “Summer Dreams,” a spiked lemonade cocktail, is meant to evoke hot NYC summer nights, strolls through Central Park, and sidewalk cafés.
“‘Summer Dreams’ was created by cocktail enthusiast Robert Brown,” explains William Briant Myles, Show:UP!’s creative director. “Robert wanted to create a refreshing cocktail using fresh and seasonal ingredients that could easily be batched for a summer dinner party.” The tart lemonade is kept in check by the cherries and simple syrup. Cherries not your thing? They can easily be substituted with any berry. “No matter what, it’s the perfect cocktail to sip in the shade, on your stoop, or at the dinner table,” says Myles.
photo courtesy of Show:UP!
2 parts citron vodka 3 fresh sweet cherries 1 fresh lemon, juiced 3 mint leaves ½ part simple syrup
Muddle the cherries and mint in a cocktail shaker. Add juiced lemon, simple syrup, and vodka. Shake vigorously with ice for 30 seconds. Strain into an ice-filled mason jar or highball glass. Garnish with fresh mint and cherries.
“Fairy Liquids Dishwater” and “The Beast’s Horn Polish” for Beauty and the Feast
The Vaults in London is a multidisciplinary arts venue that frequently works with immersive theatre companies and other practitioners of alternative arts. This means that what they’re up to any given month can vary drastically. No matter what, though, bar managers George Islay Calderwood and Mimi Petley ensure that the cocktails fit the performances, while also reflecting who they are as a venue. Last year, they were asked by producers Darling & Edge to create the drinks for their show Beauty and the Feast.
“D&E gave us a quick brief on what they were looking for,” says Calderwood. “One [drink] was described as ‘has the essence of Palma violets and tastes like licking your nan’s [grandmother’s] face,’ and another was ‘dark, manly — contains the beast.’ Needless to say, we like to think outside of the box.”
photo courtesy of the Vaults
Fairy Liquids Dishwater
⅓ part lemon juice 1 part gin 1 part crème de violette ⅔ part maraschino liqueur soda or lemonade
Combine all ingredients into a shaker. Shake, strain, and top with soda or lemonade to taste. Garnish with a sprig of lavender.
photo courtesy of the Vaults
The Beast’s Horn Polish
2 parts mezcal 3 parts reposado tequila ½ part bitters 1 part spiced rum
Combine all ingredients over ice. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary, set on fire and extinguished into the glass immediately before serving.
To become completely immersed in parties from other eras, click here.
To peruse interactive culinary innovations overseas, go here.
To read about AR and VR innovations enhancing immersions, try here.
To learn how to throw interactive events of your own, head here.