Daniel Quiroz got into bartending early. So, yeah, at 17 he lied about his age. Which may make it ironic that, today, the now-strapping 24-year-old is a full-time student in criminal justice.
But there’s nothing ironic about a passion for drinks that is also full time. Quiroz, who’s front and center at the Hotel Contessa’s Cork Bar — when not studying — is not shy about placing himself firmly in the mixologist camp of contemporary bartenders. Nor does he shrink from opinions. “I steer clean away from mojitos,” he says. “They’re too 2007.” As for what’s replaced them in the public eye? “Nothing — yet,” he admits — except maybe the whole notion of creative mixology.
Which is what drew OTR to Cork’s stool-with-a-view in the first place. Many of the drinks on the current list are Quiroz’s creations, and we start with a Pineapple Ginger ‘Rita.
The preparation begins with a fresh-ginger-infused simple syrup that is poured over cubes of pineapple and left to steep. Four chunks of pineapple are then put into a mixing glass along with a slurp of the syrup and a splash of lime juice, and the mix is muddled. Add 2 ounces of Don Julio Silver (“I want something good and peppery,” he says) and about an ounce of St. Germain elderflower liqueur. Shake with gusto and strain into a margarita or martini glass. Top with a splash of OJ. Great aromas, good balance … a hit that might only use the barest hint more ginger.
Brian West, the hotel’s executive chef, wanders by as I’m sampling another Quiroz creation, the Smokin’ Glass, in which a few precious but potent drops of Laphroaig Single Malt are added to a mixing glass full of ice that is then filled with Chopin vodka — and stirred, not shaken. West is responsible for the drink’s other component, a skewer of kalamata olives stuffed with Spanish Cabrales blue cheese. The combination is kick-ass, with just a whiff of smoke from the Scotch. “You can’t add too much Scotch or true martini lovers will send it back,” says Quiroz. Take a couple sips, have an olive …
Quiroz and West (who announced that he will be cooking at New York’s James Beard House in December) will be collaborating on some aspects of the fall drinks menu, too, when they intend to move more in the direction of herbs and spices. Naturally, a preview of coming attractions is next. Quiroz starts with some cucumber chunks, muddles them with sprigs of cilantro, 3/4 ounce lime juice and a splash of plain simple syrup. Then comes 3/4 ounce of the popular St. Germain and 2 ounces of Hendrick’s Gin (do not substitute as Hendrick’s is cucumber-infused). Shake and strain into a martini glass that has had half of its rim rubbed with a cut serrano. Garnishes included a thin slice of cucumber ribboned onto a long skewer and slice of floating serrano. Killer. Best yet.
And the chile heat works. “This is my drink,” says Quiroz proudly, and he baptizes it “The Tarantino” on the spot.
Trying to advance the fall season as quickly as possible, OTR asks for a drink based on brown spirits, and Quiroz suggests his Blackberry Manhattan with a base of Basil Hayden’s 8 Year Old Bourbon — great sipped solo. “I haven’t perfected this one yet,” he says. Fine with us; we’re willing to keep testing.
Into a mixing glass go four large blackberries, followed by a couple shakes of Peychaud’s bitters. Muddle. Add a splash of sweet vermouth, a touch of dry vermouth and 2 ounces of Hayden’s. Shake, strain … you know the routine. This drink is poured into a shallow coupe, and it’s deep purple and dense. Working together now, we decide not to float a blackberry as garnish (it gets lost in the purple murk) but to skewer it — and, then, for both color and aroma, to bracket the berry with a little bourbon-friendly fresh mint. Voilà! Jeez, this is fun.
Quiroz has been at the Cork Bar for four years. “If you can’t build a clientele in that time — selling both yourself and your drinks — then you’re in the wrong business,” he says. The wheels of justice turn slower. Just a thought. •
306 W. Market