3 COCKTAILS WITH
Brian Evans, Director of Bars for Sunday Hospitality (which includes Hotel Chelsea’s newest restaurant, Café Chelsea),
shares three new drinks for fall — and a tip on leveling up your at-home mixology game.
Originally designed by French architect Philip Hubert as an experiment in socialist living, New York City’s Hotel Chelsea was built in the mid-1880s. For over a century, it played host to artists and writers like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Arthur Miller, Patti Smith, Andy Warhol and more. It remained a refuge for the city’s Bohemian residents until 2011 when it closed for renovations. The recent re-opening comes with a refurbished take on the hotel’s original 1930 Spanish restaurant, El Quijote, the new Lobby Bar and the latest addition: Café Chelsea.
An all-day French bistro serving classic fare with a few modern updates, Café Chelsea is managed (like the hotel's other concepts) by Brooklyn-based Sunday Hospitality and partner Charles Seich. The space used to be a bait and tackle shop; now, it’s been seamlessly integrated into the rest of the hotel, featuring art on display from past and present tenants.
Brian Evans oversees the massive, zinc-topped bar at the center of it all. Born in Houston and raised in Arkansas, Brian moved to New York City in 2015. Eight years later, he’s now Sunday’s Director of Bars, and responsible for all the company’s bar programs across the city. He shared the recipes for a few of his top drink contenders on Café Chelsea's menu with us — plus one easy way to level up your at-home mixology game.
TS: When it comes to your personal style, what's key?
Authenticity. Individuality. Never forget who you are. For me, that means a punk band tee, skinny jeans and Doc Martens. I definitely vibe with more of the counterculture side of things.
What’s the most unusual drink someone’s ordered?
A dirty Mezcal martini with triple sec and a lemon twist. And the funny thing is, we made them one drink, and they sent it back. A second drink, and they sent it back. There was clearly some sort of communication issue — but the third time was the charm. That, or they gave up trying to test us.
Fall is nearly here: how do you approach designing bar programs in terms of seasonality?
It’s more about how guests interact with a drink, how the menu represents the space and concept. That applies to the glassware, the coloration of the liquors, and how everything is styled from top to bottom…even the names add a sense of place.
What’s one really useful thing someone could add to their home bar cart to take their drinks beyond basic?
Any bitter aperitif or amaro can help transform a classic cocktail. Just like half or three-quarters of an ounce of one can easily add an element of intrigue to a drink without overpowering it.
What’s your favorite drinking snack?
Quicos, corn nuts. I love them, they hold a lot of nostalgia for my childhood to me.
When you're trying a new bar for the first time, what do you order to test it out?
I’m always on research mode, and will always order from the menu for my first cocktail. I usually select the least likely flavor combination I think I’d enjoy, just to see if it inspires me to think about [it] differently. Otherwise, I lean towards spirit-forward cocktails featuring gin or whiskey, depending on the mood.
Photographed by Phillip Gutman
Interviewed by Kate Andersen
(Suze and umeshu not included)
A stirred drink inspired by a French murder mystery dinner.
1 ¼ oz bourbon
¾ oz peach aperitif
½ oz Suze (An aperitif made from gentian)
⅓ oz beer eau-de-vie
Grapefruit peel, for garnish
Stir, and serve on the rocks with a grapefruit twist.
An homage to French artist Yves Klein, a one-time guest of the hotel. Photo by Noah Fecks.
1 oz Armagnac
¼ oz umeshu (Japanese plum liqueur)
¼ oz plum brandy
⅓ oz honey syrup
⅓ oz lemon juice
3 oz sparkling wine
Lightly shake together the Armagnac, umeshu, brandy, syrup, and lemon juice. Top with sparkling wine and serve in a flute.
An alcohol-free riff on the iconic French 75, which takes its name from the lightfield gun that was the mainstay of the French army during WWI.
1 ½ oz Everleaf Mountain (a non-alcoholic aperitif)
⅓ oz honey syrup
⅓ oz verjus (the pressed juice of unripened grapes)
Sparkling shiso tea
Mix the Everleaf, syrup and verjus together, and top with sparkling shiso tea to serve.