When chef William Wright launched the menu at Arthur Ave in the Heights at the end of July, he looked to the Southern Italian cuisine that made its way from Italy to the Eastern seaboard and beyond with the waves of immigrants who crossed the Atlantic between 1880 and 1920.
When Lainey Collum and Josh Beardon signed on to do the cocktail program at the swanky-cum-come-as-you are spot, their North Star was classic American bar programs. The result is a series of mixed drinks that are at once Italian and American, incorporating the best of two cultures and flavors into a dynamic new design.
“This is an American bar,” says Beardon, who cites iconic watering holes like Harry’s Bar in Venice as inspiration. “So, these drinks have a classic American feel. At the same time, we wanted notes that said ‘Italy’ in these cocktails.”
For him, those flavors included thyme, oregano, rosemary, orange, Calabrian peppers, grapefruit and basil, among a host of others. Flavors quintessential to Southern Italy’s hot, dry, sun-drenched summers, they offered a brilliant backdrop for Beardon to play with.
Consider the How You Doin’?, a cheeky concoction whose name is a nod to goomba greetings heard across New York and New Jersey. Beardon and Collum added it to their draft cocktail list, and it’s one of the restaurant’s must-trys. Beardon infused gin with Calabrian peppers, bringing a bright bang to the gin’s herbaceous back. It’s blended with Aperol Aperitivo, a classic Italian aperitif made primarily with orange, rhubarb and spices, gently bitter and a beautiful counterpoint to the gin, as well as lime, grapefruit juice, tamarind syrup and basil. The citrus springs sweetly against the savory gin and Aperol, and the tamarind bestows a yin-yang of sweet and sour, with the bonus of bringing a Mediterranean component to the drink, a nod to Southern Italy’s geography; Africa, where tamarind is a native plant, is just across the sea.
“It’s our take on a Montenegro Cup, or a Pimm’s Cup kind of cocktail,” explains Beardon, who’d been looking to do a twist on the concoction almost from the minute he started working on the list. “This one is our draft cocktail, and what I love in it is that the menu doesn’t have anything really spicy on it. So, this has a bit of that, without being overpowering. You just get a bit of twinge.”
For Beardon and Collum, the Arthur Avenue bar program was an opportunity to stretch their mixology imaginations. In looking to the café cocktail culture of Italy, and the resurrected craft cocktail movement here in the States, they’ve managed to create a scene that’s both sophisticated and authentic in its approach.
For a prime example, look no further than the Amaro Fizz, made with limoncello, Aperol Rosa American, cream, lime, graprefruit juice, rhubarb syrup, egg white and topped with Processco.
“I’m a sucker for a gin fizz,” says Collum. “It’s really an iconic cocktail, so we gave it an Italian flair, with limoncello and the Aperol. It’s very near and dear to our hearts.”
Anyone searching for beautifully crafted drinks that were deliberately designed to complement the cuisine will find the Arthur Avenue bar to be a necessary addition to a regular cocktail crawl.