The Summer of the South has officially begun! Last week Anvil launched what is without a doubt the best cocktail project I’ve ever been a part of – an entire menu devoted to the South. That’s right – fourteen new, original cocktails all inspired by Southern history, cooking, flavors, ingredients, and ATTITUDE. Throw in 15 more classics that originated or are extremely popular in the South, and you’ve got one hell’uva compelling argument for revitalizing interest in Southern drinking culture. Check out the entire menu here.
We’ve even had Chris Shepherd, formerly of Catalan, revamp the food menu. Chris will soon have his hands full with Underbelly, the new restaurant we are opening with him down the street next to our beer bar, The Hay Merchant, but for the time being, he’s willing to lend us his distinguished services. Ok…enough salesmanship – straight from the menu, here’s why the menu really kicks ass in my opinion:
“Today’s modern cocktail resurgence tends to emphasize urban speakeasies and Yankee cocktails. Secession anyone? Sure, we admire our Northern colleagues, but it’s about time other drinking cultures get a little respect. Welcome to the Summer of the South: a four-month tribute to Southern inspired cocktails and food.”
The South is full of a rich cocktail history, which, with some exceptions, is largely ignored throughout the country’s cocktail community. Sure, NOLA gets a ton of attention (plenty from us as well throughout the menu), but the cocktail has played a cultural role throughout the entire region. Check out this example:
The Antebellum Julep – Demerara & Jamaican Rum, Steen’s Molasses, Sassafras, Angostura Bitters, Orka Seed, and Mint
This tasty julep was inspired by the use of okra seeds as a coffee substitute by slaves and, eventually, a greater Southern population. This mixture was often sweetened with molasses and flavored with local sassafras. I was reading about this tradition and just couldn’t resist crafting a cocktail that was a tribute to this rich history. It is an incredible story, and adds such an emotional and narrative component to the menu. When you connect with people in such a manner, it reaffirms why you fell in love with cocktails to begin with. It’s one thing to put out a list of twelve phenomenal cocktails, it’s another thing entirely when they collectively communicate a message. A GREAT COCKTAIL MENU SHOULD BE LIKE AN ADDICTIVE ALBUM – MORE THAN JUST A LIST OF CATCHY SINGLES!
Chuck Taggart, a native New Orleanian, genuine Southern gentleman, and full-fledged cocktail dork, sat at the bar with me the day before the new menu launch and played lab rat. I’m not sure I’ve ever enjoyed serving someone drinks as much as I did Chuck that night. As Chuck tried cocktails, he kept telling me stories about his relatives’ adorations for buttermilk, lit up like a Cajun swamp rabbit on a back country road when he tried the Trinity-flavored Zydeco Fiddle, and predicted the now commonplace slaughtering of the word “Marigny” in the “Marigny Buck”. Conjuring so many personal cultural sentiments simply by serving cocktails was a unique and gratifying experience.
When we opened Anvil, I had never visited another major cocktail bar in the country. I just read as much as I could, knew how to shake a decent drink, and loved making people happy. We’ve always stuck to this basic pattern and continuously try to do better than the day before. After visiting well over 100 cocktail bars since opening our doors, I think the fact that we opened a bar without any preconceptions about what a cocktail bar should be has made us what we are today. I started thinking about this menu idea over a year ago, and I wasn’t sure that it would work. Then, Imbibe Magazine put out an AMAZING issue devoted entirely to the South, and it was so inspiring that I new that I had to go forward with the idea. It was a risky idea – scrapping 90% of the menu including food and going in a very specific direction, but I’ve always been proud of how distinct we are. This menu is just another step in that direction.
Additional Note: Thanks to Alex Gregg for the amazing photographs and the two shown cocktails which are standouts on the menu. Alex – we are so lucky to have you and all of your talents. Anvil has really improved since we added you to the team!