You may have noticed by now that we’ve got a killer new cocktail menu featuring ten familiar cocktails, each with three versions: Classic – as true to their historic roots as possible, House – creative twists developed by our bar team, and Local – featuring spirits distilled in the region.  Bartender Chris Matrozza spearheaded the effort to transition to a classics-based menu, and all four of our cocktail wizards participated in creating the House versions of drinks.

A few weeks after the new menu launched, I sat down with Chris and asked him a few questions.

ChrisM

What inspired the new structure for the spring bar menu?

I wanted to incorporate a lot of things we’ve done in the past, but tied into one menu.

This menu lends itself to be more concise through the lens of the classics.  The drinks are really simple yet really tasty, three to four ingredients instead of eight.  Most drinks follow the spirit, sour, sugar, carbonation/water recipe; you can taste all the different flavors, but by putting the house drinks into that same framework, it makes it easier to focus on what type of flavors you want to taste in a drink.

Looking over our old cocktail list, seeing drinks with six different ingredients, I was asking myself, “Are these all needed?”  Creativity can come from constraints; the house drinks that staff created were a lot better than drinks in the past.  In the past, a drink’s name and image might have been selling it, but the liquor wasn’t that impressive.

How are guests responding to this new approach?

It sounds bad to say we’re trying to “educate” the market, but it really is a great entry point for staff to talk about these new drinks and get excited about them.  This menu is more fun for the customer because the various levels have many points of entry.  Someone coming in already excited about local spirits is thrilled, people excited about classics see names they recognize – maybe they’re tired of drinking what they drink so they try the house take on a drink they already know.  The list is fun, there’s longevity to it, it’s interactive, and it creates a great bar experience.

Where and what do you drink for inspiration?

I just drink at home now, or when people take me places.  I’m always checking out a bar’s liquor selection to see what they can provide.  I’ll get on kicks to see what different bars do when I ask for a particular drink; reactions when I try to order something: “We don’t have that.”  “You don’t have rum, white rum, lime juice, simple?  Then you can make a daiquiri.”

I also read a lot of books…currently reading Raise the Bar by Jon Taffer, he talks about food and drink and service as a positive customer experience.  We’re always working on that: the garage doors are open, their dog is tied up outside, people are drinking a mojito…

Other bar menus seem to focus on either the shot and beer crowd, or these highly intricate, technique heavy high quality drinks.  There’s not much in the middle that satisfies the high and low end, but I think this menu fits in that category.

What do you do when you’re not bartending?

Work on bikes, read books about bartending, and ride a bike.  I’m also part of a punk baseball team Pittsburgh Pounders and the Franktuary hockey team.

You can find Chris behind the bar on weekends and at Sunday Brunch.  Follow him on Twitter @chriswithoutyou.