“TO ME, FUN isn’t just slinging back shots,” says Natasha David, award-winning bartender, cocktail curator, and author of “Drink Lightly,” a compendium of original recipes for low- and no-alcohol cocktails. “Fun is being able to sit around a table, enjoy a delicious meal, have great conversation, and connect with people — and not have regrets the next day.”
David — who worked behind the bar at New York City mainstays like Danny Meyer’s Maialino and Maison Premiere, before opening Nitecap in 2014 — has never been a big drinker. At a party, wanting to stay present, she always opted for wine or a vermouth spritz, and the book she’s written is an embodiment of her personal style. The project started as an ode to the joy of being with friends, having fun, and feeling frivolous, but it grew into more than that. After being forced to close her bar during the pandemic — an experience David describes as heart-wrenching — she took a break from writing. When she was finally able to “crawl back into finding the joy” after that disappointment, she discovered what the book is really about: “The heart of the book is community,” she says, “and the way you can enjoy your community is by being present and engaged.”
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“Drink Lightly” has 100 recipes for low-ABV and alcohol-free cocktails. Many were designed in the upstate New York test kitchen she shares with her husband and business partner, Jeremy Oertel. The pair met while working together at Corner Shop Cafe and had, in David’s retelling, a “very tempestuous relationship in the beginning.” But, she says, the experience of “breaking up and getting back together” as coworkers turned out to be good for them — they figured out how to leave any drama at the door in order to get their jobs done.
Now, the couple has two children and a thriving consulting company called You & Me Cocktails. They design drinks for venues like the Soho Grand and the Roxy Hotel in New York City, and for a few businesses upstate owned by restaurateur Taavo Somer, like Inness in the town of Accord, and LOLA Pizza in Kingston. After their own move upstate, David and Oertel converted an old barn on their property into an office. Collaborating on projects at home is “pretty ideal,” David says. “We have a full bar setup in there,” she continues. “Every time I walk by, I’m kind of shocked by the number of bottles,” she laughs, “because we don’t really drink very much. People come over and they’re like, ‘Oh my god, it’s the party house!’ For us, it’s just walking into our workplace.”
For the Endless Spring cocktail, David wanted to create something that is “really easy to throw together and shows my style of drinking.” It’s simple but serious, “more of a cocktail cocktail,” in her words, for the person who craves something more exciting than a spritz. To make it, David mixes Lillet Rosé, which “has this incredible flavor, like the green tops of the strawberry type flavor,” with vanilla and fresh strawberry. “I think we think of strawberries as a really sweet fruit, but they’re actually quite tart,” David says. She adds Ramazzotti, an amaro, because the “bitterness balances out some of the sweetness in the Lillet, which is a fortified wine. But it also has really deep berry notes that I find really surprising.” As with many of her cocktail recipes, David sought balance in the Endless Spring: a cocktail that’s “not overly sweet and fruity, has that bitter tang, and that rich, deep berry.” At the end she adds some fresh citrus to brighten it up.
There isn’t much strawberry in the recipe — just half a berry in the cocktail and half as garnish — but its flavor, David says, “comes out so much because of the other ingredients.” The drink is served in a Collins or highball glass with a little seltzer on top, so it’s “bubbly and refreshing,” David adds. “It’s the perfect five o’clock cocktail. It goes down easy.”
- ½ strawberry
- 1 oz Lillet Rosé
- ¾ oz Ramazzotti Amaro
- ¾ oz fresh lemon juice
- ½ oz simple syrup
- Bubbly water, to top
- Lightly muddle the ½ strawberry at the bottom of a shaker.
- Add the Lillet Rosé, Ramazzotti, lemon juice, and syrup to the shaker. Add ice and shake.
- Fine strain into a highball glass with cubed ice.
- Top with the bubbly water. Stir to incorporate all ingredients.
- Garnish with the remaining strawberry half. Serve with a straw.
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Nina Renata Aron Writer
Nina Renata Aron is a senior editor of Departures based in Oakland, California. She is the author of “Good Morning, Destroyer of Men's Souls.” Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, the New Republic, Elle, Eater, and Jezebel.
Grant Cornett Photographer
Grant Cornett is a photographer and director based in upstate New York. He likes to take pictures of pristine detritus and austere moments.