The NoMad Cookbook is probably one of the most anticipated foodie books to come out his fall. But to find James Beard laureate Leo Robitschek‘s The NoMad Cocktail Book tucked in the back was a bit of a surprise.
The NoMad Hotel, in a handsome Beaux-Arts building at 28th and Broadway, in Manhattan, is the latest project by Daniel Humm and Will Guidara, respectively executive chef and general manager of Eleven Madison Park. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because EMP is revered as one of the best restaurants in the US, with 3 Michelin stars to prove it.
For the NoMad, only a few blocks north of their Madison Square eatery, they turned to Sydell Group to operate the 168-rooms, and partnered up with French interior designer Jacques Garcia to turn the creaky, drafty property into a stunner. The result, unveiled in 2012, is timeless, stylish and classic. A textbook example of understated elegance, more in line with Parisian boutique auberges than the diamond-crusted Trumptastic luxury commonplace in today’s North American 5-star hotels. Yet Humm and Guidara knew that to be successful, the NoMad needed the kind of thing American grand hotels had neglected for the last 50 years: a great hotel bar.
Bringing back the Hotel Bar
In the late 1800’s, the Flatiron District was the place to be for good times and entertainment, lined up with saloons and hotels like the Hoffman House, the Fifth Avenue, the Holland House, the Albemarle and the Gilsey House, that is, until things quieted down as hotels moved uptown in the 1910’s. In order to build a hotel bar that could live up to this company, they brought in Robitschek as their wingman.
Leo Robitschek is Venezuelan, and moved to Florida to study at the University of Miami, hoping to become a doctor, before he caught a bad case of bartending bug. His career took him to NYC, where he found himself working at EMP in 2005, first as bartender than as bar manager in 2009. His efforts were recognized at Tales of the Cocktails in 2011, when EMP won World’s Best Restaurant Bar. With NoMad, Robitschek and the team wanted the bar to be a focal point, elegant but not swanky, a place where hotel guests and locals alike would want to hang out, and that could effectively hark back to a time when New York hotel bars were the pinnacle of craft bartending.
Now Beverage Director, Robitschek surrounded himself with a team of New York’s finest (Jim Betz, Jessica Gonzalez, Jonathan Lind, Dominic Venegas, to name a few) and put everyone at work in rooms filled with mahogany, brass and leather — a bartender’s wet dream. The awards didn’t take long to arrive: TOTC’s World’s Best Restaurant Bar in 2014, and the prestigious James Beard Outstanding Bar Program Award the same year.
In Guidara’s words, “What he has built on 28th and Broadway is nothing short of spectacular, so much so that we had to include a dedicated cocktail book as part of this one to fully tell the story of The NoMad.” Thus Robitschek’s Cocktail Book got published as an integral part of the Cookbook.
Robitschek’s Cocktail Book is refreshingly light-hearted, especially when compared to the Dead Rabbit Drink Manual‘s baroque concoctions. Whereas the Cookbook part is filled up with photos, Robitschek opted for hand drawings by Antoine Ricardou, the same guy who created the bespoke artwork inside the hotel rooms. His drinks are generally simple, and relatively easy to recreate at home. He uses premium ingredients, but nothing too difficult to find. The more exotic stuff like Zucca, Rhum Clément and Batavia Arrack only get called in every so often (although they definitely deserve shelf space in any home bar).
“I did not have a mentor coming up behind the bar, nor was I trained by one of the many great bar families. My cocktails are inspired by my surroundings, family and friends, books I’ve read, and the many talented people I’ve worked with over the years.”
— Leo Robitschek, The NoMad Cocktail Book
As Robitschek explains it in the intro, one of the challenges of working at a hotel bar is the need to cater to a vast clientele that may not even be into mixed drinks, therefore his menu has to reach far and wide, with tasty and seasonal as the only driving theme. The book contains about 200 drink recipes culled from NoMad’s ever-changing seasonal menu, and many of those are credited to Robitschek’s colleagues. The savory flavors of sherry and aquavit hit high notes on Robitschek’s palate, and the book is filled with interesting recipes using these, therefore allowing the reader to discover and make good use of these underrated products.
Besides the foreword by David Wondrich and a short intro, there isn’t a lot of text, but each drink is marked on a scale of ‘Refreshing’, ‘Spirituous’, ‘Venturesome’, ‘Bitter’ and ‘Citrusy‘, which makes up for the lack of tasting notes. All of NoMad’s more famous drinks are there: the Suze and pale ale Haymarket, the smokey North Sea Oil (recipe below), the over-the-top Mai Tai Explosion, the bittersweet Black Dahlia, the rum-and-Bourbon Start Me Up, the spicy and fruity Satan’s Circus.
Like most cookbooks, NoMad comes as an oversized coffee table book, north of $100. The eBook is a much better deal at $25, especially if you’re more into the drinking than the cooking. Highly recommended.
North Sea Oil, from the Nomad Cocktail Book
1½ oz Linie Aquavit
¾ oz Cocchi Americano
Stir & strain into a double rocks glass over a 2-inch cube. Express the oils from a grapefruit twist over the cocktail, and place it in the drink.