2018’s class of new cocktail manuals welcomed a distinguished addition last week, when superstar bartender Sam Ross and his colleagues at New York’s Attaboy released the long-awaited updated version of their Bartender’s Choice mobile app. The extensively redesigned and expanded app now contains recipes for over 600 cocktails, almost 50% more than there were in the first edition, with each drink accompanied by a brief discussion of its historical origins.
Bartender’s Choice offers something for liquor lovers at every level of the libational learning curve. Novice users will appreciate the app’s introductory tutorials on shaking, stirring and muddling techniques, as well as its comprehensive coverage of the Manhattan, the Margarita, and mixology’s other greatest hits. Also included is a generous sampling of the canon’s deeper tracks, with a list of hidden treasures that has been gradually curated by Attaboy’s bartenders over years of historical exploration. For example, Attaboy regulars will likely recognize the Rolls Royce, a delicious but obscure Benedictine-enhanced Martini variation that was invented in the 1920s by legendary English barman Harry Craddock of Savoy fame.
Veteran cocktailians whose shelves are already replete with recipe books may be most intrigued by the homegrown “modern classics” that appear in Bartender’s Choice — now-legendary drinks that were invented by Attaboy’s bartenders when they still worked at Milk and Honey, Attaboy’s predecessor at 134 Eldridge Street. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Penicillin, an intensely flavorful Scotch sour made with honey and ginger. The Penicillin has become so ubiquitous around the world, many drinkers would never guess that it was created not by some giant of an ancient era, but by Ross, at Milk and Honey, in 2005. (Good news for globetrotting tipplers: Bartender’s Choice includes the recipe for the fresh ginger syrup that often distinguishes an authentically prepared Penicillin from its blander impostors.)
Other Eldridge Street classics include Ross’ Paper Plane, a popular shaken drink that features Bourbon and two varieties of Amaro, and Michael McIlroy’s Greenpoint, which augments the natural complexity of the Manhattan with the herbaceousness of Yellow Chartreuse’s 130 secret botanicals.
Drinks like these have already stood the test of time, but the modern classics of tomorrow are also well-represented in Bartender’s Choice. Ross, McIlroy, and the other elite bartenders at Attaboy (currently ranked eighth among the World’s 50 Best Bars) haven’t been shy about enriching the app with the most prized of the creations that they’ve developed in the ten years since the first version of the app was released. Numerous drinks from Attaboy’s two spinoffs, Attaboy Nashville and Brooklyn’s Diamond Reef, have also been added, as have favorites from top bartenders elsewhere in New York and around the world.
In today’s crowded world of craft cocktail bars, Attaboy occupies the hallowed space that was carved out by Milk and Honey both literally and figuratively. Sasha Petraske, the cocktail renaissance pioneer who opened Milk and Honey in 1999 and tragically passed away in 2015, stated his credo thusly: “We are craftsmen. We are not artists, not ‘mixologists,’ nor bar chefs…. We make cocktails as well as can be made, and that should not be such a big deal.” To that end, Milk and Honey’s drinks were made from common, easily procured ingredients, and the drinks’ superlative quality was a product of the craftsmanship that went into them, rather than their exoticness.
Ross and McIlroy, Attaboy’s owners and Petraske’s most celebrated protégés, inherited from their mentor not only the narrow room that his bar once occupied, but also the passion for simple excellence that made him a hero in the industry that he helped to reinviforate. Attaboy’s guests still enjoy drinks that are made with gin, or rum, or whiskey, never lemongrass-infused cachaça or house-made coriander-fenugreek bitters. Similarly, downloaders of Bartenders Choice can rest assured that, upon opening the app for the first time, their five-dollar purchase will not immediately balloon into a 200-dollar shopping list of esoteric bitters that will be dashed once, then shelved forever. Most of the drinks in Bartender’s Choice can be prepared using versatile ingredients that, if not already present in an enthusiast’s home bar, can be easily purchased and repeatedly reused.
Another hallmark of a guest’s experience at the original Milk and Honey, and one that lives on today at Attaboy, was the conspicuous absence of a drink menu. Ironically, one of Milk and Honey’s most honored contributions to cocktail history resulted from a technical problem: Petraske couldn’t figure out how to use a printer. Nevertheless, the menu-less tradition that was born of necessity became a signature Petraske invention, one that ensured adherence to the highest standards of hospitality that he insisted on maintaining. Guests at Attaboy typically order their drinks through a short but open-ended discussion process, in which bartenders do their best to elicit whatever clues will help them satisfy a guest’s craving with the most joyful results. Whether it’s a bright-eyed newcomer’s “I like Cosmos,” or a regular’s specification of “something with agave… stirred, rocks, and Amaro-forward, please,” the ordering process is a collaborative effort between bartender and guest.
Bartender’s Choice simulates Attaboy’s conversation-based approach to bartending with its unique “I feel like…” search feature, in which the user answers up to four focused questions to narrow down the app’s hundreds of choices. For example, entering “Bourbon,” “refreshing,” and “shaken” produces a list of five cocktails that might fit the bill. There’s also a more conventional search function, which allows searching by name, drink family, or ingredient, as well the name of the drink’s creator, or the bar where it was created. Whichever method you choose for navigating its extensive recipe database, Bartender’s Choice will bring you as close as you can get to the Lower East Side without leaving the comfort of your home.