Behind the Bar at Atria
Tucked away on 54th street between 5th and 6th, is Atria.
This is my second visit to Atria, the first was to sample their March Monday night pairing of scotch and donuts,
Upon visiting Atria I came to discover that they had amazing cocktails, something I had trouble believing existed within the realms of midtown, as most cocktail havens seemed to exist below 21st Street. Each cocktail is made to order, and if your having trouble deciding one of the barkeeps will try and feel out both your mood and what might work best for you at the time.
If you feel like trying something new that’s not on the menu they’ll ask you what you like and bring you something that you’ve likely not tried before and occasionally introduce you to upcoming new menu items, if your lucky.
During my visit to Atria, I had the opportunity to talk to Barry Johnson, the Cocktail Director about what the cocktail experience means to him and the type of experience he hopes he can provide for guests of Atria.
Barry believes that each time someone drinks a cocktail; it should be a new and unique experience. And enjoys any opportunity to introduce someone to a new flavor or cocktail experience.
As Atria’s cocktail menu is often influenced by the changing seasons Barry feels that when someone takes a sip of their drink, a person might recall a memory of a favorite time in life. This was proven throughout the night I spent at Atria. Currently Atria has several signature drinks, the Brunette, an Espresso based cocktail that reminded me slightly of an adult version of Manhattan Coffee Soda, the Johnson Orange Soda, which brought back memories of orange soda and childhood summer barbeques. There’s also Barry’s take on the standard Margarita, the SSC but with the right balance of sweet, spice and acid. A drink inspired by Chef Martin Brock whose uses a balance of salt, sugar and spice in his dishes. The SSC is comprised of Cabo Wabo Tequila, Maple Syrup, and the namesake mixture of Salt Sugar, and Cayenne pepper that it’s name is derived from. As I drank this I felt just the right balance of kick from the cayenne balanced with the salt and sweetness of the maple syrup.
Barry mentioned that they have plans for an Easter themed pairing based around a Ramos Gin Fizz, which is comprised of Old Tom Gin, lemon and lime juices, simple syrup, heavy cream, orange flower water, egg white and topped off with a dash of club soda. After a few tastes of this beverage, it conjured the feeling of spring and washed out the chill of winter that I had when I walked into Atria, and reminded me that we were more than likely on a few weeks away from beautiful weather and a perfect spring night. On that note, the drink did it’s job He was tight-lipped however when asked about what food they might be pairing the Ramos with. He did mention, when asked what else he might have up sleeves for the coming spring and summer months, that he was thinking of a summer version of Johnson’s soda, possibly black cherry or birch beer based. Also mentioned was the addition of an Aviation, which is a gin based drink that incorporates luxardo, crÃ¨me de violette and lemon juice. A few tastes of this reminded me of a what drinking a newly bloomed flower might be taste like, if bottled perfectly.
When asked what he thinks every home bartender should have in their liquor collection, Barry mentioned at least one of each of the following: A Rum, a wheat vodka, a sweet vermouth, a dry vermouth, a gin, a bourbon, a few apertifs, such as Lillet, Countreau, Campari and Bitters.
Barry also mentioned a tip for any aspiring home bartenders who are experimenting with egg white. He mentioned that when using egg white in a cocktail, remember to shake initially with ice and then a second time with ice.
When discussing the title of mixologist, Barry corrected me that I should be referring to the individuals preparing the cocktails as Barkeeps.
In addition to having your cocktail menu define your experience, the person preparing your drink is also part of the experience. While anyone who can prepare a good drink utilizing a variety of ingredients can be considered a mixologist, only those individuals that are friendly, social, care about what they are doing and provide entertaining customer interaction can be considered a barkeep, Barry’s preferred choice for the individuals that exist behind a cocktail bar.
After speaking for several hours with Barry Johnson, I can say that the more established cocktail scene that exists downtown has some new competition, and that this man has many new twists in mind for some old favorites. Whether this is the ever-changing Johnson’s Soda, that differs by season, or some unique new versions of tiki inspired drinks that he mentioned he’s currently working on for summer, the man’s always looking for inspiration and seems to be finding it in all the right places. If the goal of someone behind the bar is to introduce someone to a new flavor or a memorable experience, than mission accomplished.
Next time the urge to have an amazing cocktail or to try some place new hits, check out Atria. It will be a memorable experience that will more than likely have you coming back time and time again to see what new recipes have found their way on to the cocktail menu.