Connections through Cocktails

As we enter the New Year, I think back on the interesting connections that 2015 brought us. Ultimately creativity draws on connections so none of this should be surprising, but somehow it always is – and therein lies the delight.

In June, Chris and I attended the Milan Expo, an experience that I detailed in several posts on this blog. In one such post I mentioned our incredible evening of cocktails created by Filippo Sisti at Carlo e Camilla in Milan.

Around the same time, Chris and I decided to invest in the San Francisco bar Cantina, which was being acquired by clients of ours. When – months later – we found ourselves planning our annual holiday party at Cantina, we were struck with a crazy idea: what if we invited Filippo to come bartend? Figuring it was a long shot, we were stunned by his acceptance, which was only conditioned with the request that he bring his assistant Luca.

Concurrently, while searching for a gift for our friends, our assistant Marisa came across Drinking the Devil’s Acre – A Love Letter from San Francisco and Her Cocktails. The book was written by none other than Duggan McDonnell, creator of the very same bar that we were buying into. Duggan graciously offered to sign the books, and further, create a cocktail just for us:

The Architect

.75 oz Encanto Grand Noble Pisco
.75 oz Campari
.75 oz Elderflower Liqueur
.75 oz Fresh lime juice
.75 oz Simple syrup

As Duggan explained during a reception at our office, a drink for architects has to be perfectly balanced: all the ingredients in equal parts, with the five components symbolizing four walls and a roof.

Duggan McDonnell behind the bar at Cantina.

Duggan McDonnell behind the bar at Cantina.

Having sold Cantina, Duggan is now pursuing his writing and his pisco business, Campo de Encanto. He has become enamored with the liquor, which was brought to California from Peru during the Gold Rush, and entered into saloons in San Francisco.

Left: Campo de Encanto Pisco. Right: Pisco Bruja Letts.

Left: Campo de Encanto Pisco. Right: Pisco Bruja Letts.

This history has a personal connection for my wife’s family. Marian’s great-great-grandfather William Letts Oliver emigrated from Peru in the 1850s. A branch of the family – the Letts – remained, and one member has his own: Pisco Bruja Letts.

The pisco connections did not end here: over a holiday dinner with our New York office, designer Carola Vega listened to my newfound enthusiasm for pisco before reminding me that as a Peruvian, she is no stranger to pisco. She proceeded to educate us all on the importance of the grape spirit in Peru.

The day before Duggan’s explanation of The Architect, we learned that Filippo’s visa had been held up, and he would not be able to make our party. Luckily Luca was able to carry on in his absence, not only at our office events, but as a guest bartender at The Battery, where he served over 160 cocktails over the course of three hours.

Creations from Filippo and Luca.

Filippo and Luca’s creations.

What fascinates me about Luca and Filippo is their philosophy of mixology, and the creation of drinks addressing all the senses. The drinks are individual works of art, each served in a vessel appropriate to its character and garnished to celebrate its essence. The touch of the drink is generally cold but can also be coated in chocolate or carob, requiring the drinker to lick their fingers. Filippo describes the process of creating cocktails as one that captures tastes; his vocabulary is that of a chef.

Carlo e Camilla's Luca Vezalli behind the bar at Cantina.

Carlo e Camilla’s Luca Vezalli behind the bar at Cantina.

Luca was magical behind the bar. I ordered off the list – asking for three drinks based on tastes – Panetone, Campari, Fernet Branca – all achieved without the named ingredient. Each was amazing.

The Sugar Bowl Belt Room.

The Sugar Bowl Belt Room.

With all the talk of cocktails, it is somehow appropriate that our last project completed in 2015 was the new Belt Room bar in William Wurster’s historic Sugar Bowl lodge. The Belt Room celebrates the legendary Silver Belt race held atop Mt. Lincoln, one of the earliest international ski races. Another race that dates back many years on the mountain, beginning in the early 1960s – the Trader Vic’s Tiki Race – was organized by my father and featured the Mai Tai’s now celebrated in Duggan’s book.

One of the reasons that we love the food world is the connections it makes – the people and places it brings together.