As an architecture student in college, Leanne Favre discovered that she enjoyed occupying designed spaces more than designing them herself. But a look at the complex, layered structure of her drinks—jerk spice paired with aged rum, kola syrup, citrus and soda, for example—held together by a certain rigorousness and inherent understanding of technique reveals an architecture of its own.
Favre’s path to bartending began not behind a bar, but stationed at a coffee counter. In 2010, she was hired as a barista at Sweetleaf Coffee in Long Island City, the flagship location of the New York coffee roasters. There she came to appreciate the nuance of flavor, technique and terroir that came part and parcel with third-wave coffee.
In particular, the primacy of technique in pulling shots of espresso—the precision required for proper extraction—remains influential in her approach to cocktails. For Favre, technique represents an ingredient unto itself, something that should be as considered as every flavor that goes into the glass. “I’m always thinking about how execution will affect a drink’s presentation,” says Favre, who has passed through some of New York’s most notable bars, like Mayahuel, Clover Club and Leyenda, where she currently works as head bartender.
It was during her tenure at Mayahuel, Phil Ward’s now-shuttered agave bar on the Lower East Side, that Favre tapped into a flavor profile that has since become a calling card. “That’s when I realized that I love savory cocktails; I love adventurous things,” she says.
It’s a perspective she’s taken to the extreme in her repertoire of original drinks, which have spotlighted sesame, seaweed, mushroom, rice, corn, even garlic and onion. Her Shuck & Jive, for instance, highlights oyster shell–infused vodka paired with manzanilla sherry, Edinburgh Seaside gin and a housemade seaweed shrub for what is ultimately a saline spin on the Vesper.
Though they may look busy on the page, her recipes reflect a certain restraint, each ingredient thoughtfully considered. “I’m always like, ‘Let’s just subtract these things [to] see what they’re doing,’” she explains. “If we miss them, they’re there for a reason.”
Here, get to know Leanne Favre in three cocktails.
The BIR Questionnaire
Your approach to cocktails in one word:
Balance…not just a balance of flavor but also a balance of adventurous and approachable.
Best (and worst) drink you’ve ever had:
Best drink: Jelani [Johnson]’s Sherry Cobbler at Gage & Tollner. Worst drink: Margaritas made with sour mix.
Your favorite bar, and why:
Mayahuel will always be favorite bar. You could find me sitting at the bar many of my days off. That bar inspired me to be creative and introduced me to some of the most amazing people!
Your favorite classic cocktail, and why:
Margarita. 100 percent agave, Cointreau, fresh lime, salt rim! Simple, salty and delicious.
Worst drink you’ve ever made:
I once tried to make a black beans and rice horchata cocktail. The texture was just terrible. Never made it through R&D.
Your go-to dive bar drink order:
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever: