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The history of the gin and tonic is a simple one. In the 1800s, British officers found that adding water, sugar, lime and gin to quinine—their malaria medication—made the bitter-tasting drug more palatable. Two centuries later, the cocktail is still sipped around the world. But, like any good thing with humble beginnings, there’s always room for improvement.
Dave Arnold, of New York’s Booker and Dax (202 Second Ave.; 212-254-3500; momofuku.com), has spent years reinventing the drink, searching for new ways to recreate its signature balance of bitter, sweet, acidic and refreshing. “What is compelling is that it’s seemingly very simple—ubiquitous, but often very bad,” he says. “The simpler something is, the more difficult it is to cover flaws. It’s why they’re also the hardest things to do well.”
Recently, bartenders across the country have taken up the challenge, sparking what just might be the next cocktail craze.
Oceana, New York
With more than 45 bottles on its back bar, Oceana has long had a fondness for gin. In the last year, wine director Pedro Goncalves has upped the ante on his gin-and-tonic program, trading unbalanced mainstream tonic for his own housemade versions. The four types—spicy, sweet, bitter and citrus—are made with quality ingredients (cinchona bark; lemongrass; clove; lemon, orange and lime peels); each is paired with a recipe and a specific gin: St. George Botanivore, Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve, Nolet’s and Greenhook Ginsmiths, respectively. 120 W. 49th St.; 212-759-5941; oceanarestaurant.com.
Flintridge Proper, Los Angeles
Flintridge Proper owner Brady Caverly sticks with one tonic (Fever Tree) and lets the gins speak for themselves. Try one of the “improved” gin and tonics here, which pair six different gins with two complementing fruits, herbs or botanicals (lavender and serrano pepper, blueberry and sage). With more than 200 bottles in its collection (the country’s largest), the bar is the perfect place for gin doubters to discover what works for them, whether it’s floral, cucumbery Hendrick’s or earthy, peppery Caorunn. 464 Foothill Blvd.; 818-790-4888; theproper.com.
Paper Plane, Atlanta
At this hot spot, bartender Paul Calvert has refurbished the classic G&T by avoiding tonic all together. First developed as a cold-weather answer to the original, the Brief Hibernation uses a mix of Salers gentian liqueur, Cocchi Americano, Dolin Génépy, Royal Dock Navy Strength gin and lime juice to hit all the notes—refreshing, dry, crisp and sour. 340 Church St.; 404-377-9308; the-paper-plane.com.