Like so many bartenders, Mony Bunni’s introduction to the industry was something of a happy accident.

Bunni, who made headlines last month for winning this year’s national Speed Rack competition, got her start staging behind the bar at Chicago’s Sable while studying illustration in college. 

“Once I started doing it, I kind of never looked back,” she says. 

Today, in addition to acting as a brand ambassador for Lustau sherry, she tends bar at Boleo in the Kimpton Gray Hotel, where she’s known for wrapping classic templates around unexpected ingredients. “It’s actually how I make most of my cocktails,” she explains. “I’ll go in with no clue what I’m going to do, then taste one ingredient and get completely inspired.”

Oftentimes, those flavors recall her Arabic heritage (her family is Iraqi and Egyptian). “I use a lot of cardamon; I love sesame and tahini; [and] any sort of Arab spice,” she says. “Those are the flavors that I’m just the most familiar with. I’ve grown up with them.”

Here, Bunni highlights three drinks that define her style.

Elective Amnesia

“This was the first of my cocktails to ever go on a Sable menu, and the first time I really discovered the versatility of sherry as a cocktail ingredient. The Brovo Amaro #14 has strong notes of chocolate, thyme and sarsaparilla; the PX sherry provides notes of raisin and walnuts; and the fragrant spices in the ras el hanout bitters complement the spicy caraway notes in the rye whiskey. Becoming a bartender at Sable was a goal of mine for so long, and to finally be able to contribute to the cocktail program at such an iconic bar was one of the coolest feelings. Elective Amnesia became a pretty popular cocktail, and stuck around on the menu for a few years.”

Mony Bunni Drink Recipe

Stone’s Throw

“This cocktail was on the opening menu at Queen Mary Tavern. I helped open Queen Mary as the bar manager in the fall of 2015 and, while writing our Scotch training program, I was reading up on the early history of Scotch whisky. I found out that Scottish nobility used to drink Scotch with milk and honey to cover up the flavor of the poor distillate of the time, which gave me the idea of making a Scotch-based milk punch for the menu. My parents are Arab-American immigrants, and I grew up surrounded by Arab flavors and have always wanted to incorporate them into cocktails. The tahini syrup is based off of an Arab sesame confection called halawa. The nuttiness of the tahini syrup was a perfect fit with the peaty notes of the [Great King Street] Glasgow Blend, and held up to the addition of the cream. This is a weird, dessert-y cocktail, but still savory and smoky, which I tend to love.”

Mony Bunni Drink Recipe

The Last Petal

“The Last Petal speaks to my love of low-ABV cocktails. I’m a person who loves imbibing, but hates being drunk. Daytime, sessionable cocktails are my jam. This came about after I tasted the Imbue Petal and Thorn vermouth for the first time. It was such a different vermouth (pinot gris-based, but has the color of rosé, with notes of chamomile, cinnamon, roses and orange peel) that I knew I wanted to work with it right away. I had also just come back from Martinique, where I’d visited multiple rum distilleries. The earthiness of the agricole, the dry brininess of the fino and floral notes of the Petal and Thorn were a perfectly refreshing match.”

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