Lemon wedges, orange wheels, olives, cherries, and tiny umbrellas—these are the go-to garnishes that adorned cocktails for decades. But inventive restaurants are moving way past the proverbial pink parasol, reaching for bold and unexpected accompaniments to turn basic potables into glamorous drama queens.
For guests who like to keep their assets liquid (or at least suspended in liquid), Smith & Wollensky offers the Ralph Wollensky Signature Martini, a mixture of Stoli Elit Vodka with a hint of citrus and black peppercorns—all garnished with 24-karat gold flakes. More than 1,000 of the $17 gilded libations, named for the owner’s beloved dog, have been sold since the drink made its dazzling debut in May 2013, according to Kim Lapine, Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group vice president of marketing.
If guests seek more jolt than glam, the Stonehurst Manor Restaurant in North Conway, New Hampshire, has created a buzz about the bar’s Electric Cucumber Colada—and that’s not just a figure of speech. Drinkers’ mouths are actually buzzing thanks to the innocent-looking bud of a flowering herb named Acmella oleracea. (The bud is more widely known as Szechuan or Sichuan—or electric button.) Stonehouse Manor beverage manager Michael Rego explains that guests are encouraged to bite down on the bud before sipping the drink. A mild tingling sensation in the mouth is instantaneous and lasts for about four or five minutes, and “guests really seem to love it,” Rego says.
Imbibers can get a major hit of umami from the Truffle Pig cocktail that is a specialty at FT33 Restaurant in Dallas. To make the drink, which the bar began serving last fall, bar manager Lauren Festa says seared maitake mushrooms are muddled into the tequila along with a simple-syrup base made of honey, rosemary, and cinnamon. The finished cocktail is garnished with a giant maitake.
TGI Fridays gets playful with its Pink Punk Cosmo, pouring it over a pouf of cotton candy. According to Matt Durbin, the chain’s vice president of marketing, beverage, bar innovation, and revenue activation, TGI Fridays sold more than 300,000 of the colorful concoctions last year, and the fluffy drink is often the subject of guest chatter on Twitter. In addition to sweetening the drink, the cotton candy pour-over adds a touch of tableside flair to the presentation, says Durbin. The Pink Punk typically sells for $6 to $7, but select locations offer it for $3 on Martini Wednesdays.
For daring concoctions early in the day, it’s hard to top the pairing of a doughnut with a Bloody Mary. If that sounds like a brunch beverage with Homer Simpson’s name all over it, it actually is. For the bar team at The Icehouse Restaurant in Minneapolis and manager William Riley, the result is the Bloody Homer, which comes garnished with bacon and a miniature doughnut. Dunking is optional.
Sobelmans Pub & Grill in Milwaukee also reinvents the traditional Bloody Mary with the title Bloody Masterpiece and an array of trimmings. In addition to the drink’s signature celery, garnishes include tidbits of Brussels sprouts, onion, mushroom, cherry tomato, lemon, pickle, shrimp, sausage, cheese, olive, green onion, asparagus, and a bacon cheeseburger slider—all lined up on a skewer. Owner Dave Sobelman says he sells more than 600 Bloody Marys on any given weekend, and two-thirds are the over-the-top Bloody Masterpieces.