I love asking a bartender what inspired a cocktail he created: sometimes it's a spin on a classic, or a flavor combination from a favorite dish, and sometimes a drink is built around the nuances of a new spirit or liqueur, or something more esoteric. But even though many bartenders are storytellers, writers, poets, and playwrights on the side, it's rare for a group of them to get together and build cocktails inspired by bits of verse. At the National Poetry Month Cocktail Celebration this weekend at Back Forty in New York, they did just that, offering a group of drinks each inspired by a poem, which was then performed by the Bowery Poetry Club's Bob Holman.
How do you get from a poem to a cocktail? Sometimes the link was a specific ingredient (a bright yellow flower floating on top of a lush magenta cocktail inspired by Emily Dickinson's Nature rarer uses yellow), but often it was a feeling: a tinge of sardonic bitterness in a poet's words made for one cocktail built around bitter gentian root, while a hint of promise in a poem about death inspired another bartender to lighten his drink with fresh mint leaves and freshly squeezed orange juice to balance out the harsh side of rye.
We sipped our way through them all (lining our stomachs with perfectly poppable pork jowl nuggets and sweet beet crostini), and enjoyed the chance to chat about poetry with bartenders from top spots like Clover Club, The Beagle, The Shanty, and Serious Eats' own writer-bartender, Michael Neff of Ward III. Check out the slideshow for a sampling of the drinks and dishes we tried.