The Appetizer Cocktail

“You know what this bar needs?” I asked my wife as we sat waiting for our drinks at PKNY, the Lower East Side tiki bar formerly known as Painkiller. “An appetizer cocktail. Something to tide us all over while we wait so long for these fussy tiki drinks.”

We looked around the dimly lit bar and noticed that everyone else was fidgety too. We had all come in at the same time: 6:15pm. The bar was supposed to open at 6, but the doors were locked and an increasingly ornery mob had formed until the doors opened and we all flooded in.

So why not serve a small, low-alcohol shot of something to keep us busy while the bartender catches up? Any bar that serves complex cocktails, the kind that can take time to make, could use something like this.

And then I read Robert Simonson’s article about shrubs—sweet vinegar-based cocktails—in the New York Times. Some restaurants are serving shrubs as liquid amuse-bouches, like this pomegranate shrub from Saxon & Parole, a new restaurant on the Bowery in NYC: “pomegranate seeds and a tablespoon of pomegranate molasses left to macerate in cabernet vinegar and water, topped with a float of fino sherry.”

Or this Celery Gimlet, also from Saxon & Parole: “gin, lime juice, celery juice, green Chartreuse, chardonnay vinegar, celery bitters and a lightly pickled celery-strip garnish.”

The beauty of vinegar is it can be a nice acidic substitute for citrus juice, and as Simonson’s piece points out, vinegar can be used in small quantities and doesn’t need to be fresh-squeezed.

Appetizer cocktails needn’t be only vinegar-based. And if tiny palate-cleanser/time-killer cocktails seem like an unnecessary expense, why not create a little appetizer menu of $3-5 drinks that can be made very quickly or prepared in advance? They could have stronger flavors because they’d come in smaller quantities. They wouldn’t all have to be alcoholic, either. How about a two-ounce pour of kombucha? Or a lemon-ginger infusion, beet kvass, or something intensely herbal?

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