Category Archives: Cocktail Legends

DMA exhibit to showcase cocktail culture history — through its barware

Dallas Museum of Art
Did someone say cocktails? Among the collection of vintage barware at the DMA exhibit. (Photo courtesy of Dallas Museum of Art)

So….. that cocktail you’re holding in your hand? Your great-great-grandfather might have drunk the very same thing.

That historical connection is one of the great charms of the modern craft-cocktail renaissance, and now, thanks to the Dallas Museum of Art, you might even get to see the very shaker the old guy’s drink got made in. (OK, the chances are wee, but you get the point.)

Dallas Museum of Art
“Shaken, Stirred, Styled: The Art of the Cocktail” features nearly 60 vintage and modern cocktail items. (Photo courtesy of Dallas Museum of Art)

Later this month, the DMA will open “Shaken, Stirred, Styled: The Art of the Cocktail,” a yearlong exhibit tracing the development of cocktails from the late 19th century to their modern-day renaissance, as well as the wares used to prepare and serve them.

The collection goes on display Nov. 18 and features nearly 60 items ranging from 19th century punch bowls and early 20th-century decanters to Prohibition-era shakers and modern designer barware.

The exhibit also spans craft-cocktail culture’s long and glorious history, starting with the punchbowl potions of colonial times and, long before fedoras were a thing, the 1862 publishing of storied bartender Jerry Thomas’ How To Mix Drinks: Or, The Bon Vivant’s Companion – the first printed compilation of cocktail recipes.

Opening night will bring an appearance by Dale DeGroff, another storied bartender whose attention to fresh ingredients and classic techniques at New York’s Rainbow Room throughout the 1990s are pretty much why you can find a properly made Sazerac even in select dive bars today. The godfather of the modern cocktail revival, DeGroff (a.k.a. “King Cocktail”) will addfress the current scene and its centuries-old roots.

As cocktails rose in popularity, so too did the tools needed to make them, and they got fancier and cleverer as time went on.

Dallas Museum of Art
Cocktail culture’s modern reboot has inspired a new wave of designer barware. (Photo courtesy of Dallas Museum of Art)

In an article about the exhibit, Samantha Robinson, the DMA’s interim assistant curator of decorative arts, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that silver was among the primary materials for luxury barware, especially in the prosperous 1920s, when speakeasies flourished in defiance of Prohibition.

Given drinking’s underground nature at the time, shakers took on seemingly whimsical shapes – like penguins, or lighthouses – to mask their actual utility.

(The coolest thing about the story, by the way, is learning that Robinson is a fan of the Aviation, though I prefer mine with crème de violette – as it should be.)

Starting around the 1960s, cocktails fell out of favor and plummeted to truly awful depths of neglect. The current reboot, rooted in the late 1990s, has inspired a new wave of cocktail artistry, including designer shakers and martini glasses, some of which will also be on display.

The exhibit runs through Nov. 12, 2017.

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Cocktail community remembers legendary bar man in nationwide “Milk & Honey Hour”

Milk and Honey
Milk and Honey’s Sasha Petraske, in a still shot from the documentary Hey Bartender.

With coupes raised high, members of Dallas’ craft-cocktails community paid tribute last night to Sasha Petraske, the influential bar man who pioneered or popularized many of the elements linked with the culture today.

Petraske, who launched Milk & Honey in a quiet residential area of New York’s Lower East Side in 1999, died August 21 of unknown causes. A sartorially polished sort whose exactitude and attention to proper form inspired the way many craft cocktail establishments comport themselves today, he was also instrumental in the development of San Antonio’s cocktail scene and a beloved mentor to many in the industry nationwide.

Midnight Rambler
Aleeza Gordon, of Greenwich Village’s Little Branch, delivers the memorial toast.

Bartenders across the country were invited to salute the 42-year-old legend on Monday evening at 9 p.m., the hour at which Milk & Honey would open its speakeasy-style doors. In Dallas, that went down at Midnight Rambler, whose owners, Chad Solomon and Christy Pope, both worked at Milk & Honey more than a decade ago and went on to partner with Petraske in a bar consulting business called Cuffs and Buttons.

Aleeza Gordon of Little Branch, the bar Petraske started in Greenwich Village, led the Midnight Rambler toast for the 30 or so people in attendance.

“He cared about the way that he looked,” Gordon said from her perch atop the bar. “No matter how crazy and interesting the night got, he seemed to be a gentle man. He cared about the way things were done; I think that’s why all of you came to honor him, because you feel the impact of his caring.”

Midnight Rambler
At Midnight Rambler, Petraske’s favorite cocktail, the Daiquiri.

She recalled Petraske’s frequent visits to Little Branch, as well as her occasionally nervous execution of the “ridiculously simple” drinks he would order, such was his presence. “He wanted things to be done right,” she said. “But he did it in a way that made you feel good.”

And with that, a covey of daiquiris – Petraske’s favorite cocktail – rose skyward. Glasses clinked and a group bid farewell to the friend, a mentor and colleague who’d helped shape the world they now inhabited.

An influential bar man passes on: NYC’s Sasha Petraske, whose legacy is a land of Milk & Honey

Milk & Honey
Petraske pioneered or made popular many of today’s craft-cocktail bar practices. (Ben Rose Photography)

Milk & Honey appeared on New York’s Lower East Side in 1999, when today’s rocketing craft cocktail renaissance was practically still on the launchpad. The proprietor was a debonair young gent named Sasha Petraske, who in deference to his mostly residential-area neighbors instituted a number of features that would be copied by other cocktail spots in years to come: A speakeasy-style unmarked location and entrance (to be inconspicuous). A reservations-only policy (to avoid lines of people outside). A no-standing policy at the bar (to quell hooliganism). And because Petraske was a decorum-minded soul, rules of behavior to maintain civility (for instance, asking men to remove their hats and not hit on women).

Other practices would follow, also to become cocktail-bar staples – things like hand-carved ice, an adherence to jiggers and water served with cucumber slices. “If he didn’t outright originate (those practices), he was the most successful champion of them early on,” said Chad Solomon, who along with fellow New York ex-pat Christy Pope now runs Midnight Rambler in downtown Dallas.

And so it was with much sadness that the craft-cocktail world absorbed the news that Petraske had died Friday of unknown causes in Hudson, N.Y., as reported by The New York Times. He was just 42.

Both Solomon and Pope got to know Petraske well, having worked at Milk & Honey in the early 2000s; both bartended and worked as servers in the intimate, 34-seat, candle-lit venue to which customers had to be buzzed in. Petraske had flown in for Midnight Rambler’s grand opening in October 2014, and the two were among the attendees’ at Petraske’s recent wedding.

“Shock doesn’t even cover it,” Solomon said Friday. “It’s a very sad day.”

Even more than his contribution to cocktail culture, Solomon said, Petraske stood out for his generosity and decency. “He was always self-aware, always about becoming a better man,” he said.

Petraske helped launch a number of prominent bars and, in partnership with others, created stalwart spots like Greenwich Village’s Little Branch, Queens’ Dutch Kills and Varnish in Los Angeles. Such was his sway that when San Antonio’s Bohanan’s Prime Steaks & Seafood sought to overhaul its bar in hopes of revitalizing the city’s Riverwalk area, Petraske was brought in to train the staff. He would go on to become a co-founder of the San Antonio Cocktail Conference and was among the New York City bartenders featured in the 2013 documentary Hey Bartender.

His reservations-only and no-standing policies would be adopted by places like Dallas’ Bar Smyth (now closed), while Denver’s Green Russell has been among the bars that similarly posted rules of decorum for their customers. Meanwhile, speakeasy-style entrances, hand-carved ice and cucumber water are everywhere.

While the original Milk & Honey had closed, Petraske was planning to reopen at a new location.

“He was never content to leave things static,” Solomon said. “He was always looking to improve. His influence cannot be overstated.”