Each month, as part of an ongoing portrait of rising talent in the bartending community, PUNCH hosts a resident bartender who has demonstrated a strong sense of personal style. In this installment, Frenchette’s Sarah Morrissey is taking over our bar, and debuting a custom menu of four original cocktails that we’ll serve throughout her month-long residency.
In a drinkscape driven by a constant search for the next trend in technique, ingredient or approach, it’s refreshing to come across a bartender who thoroughly understands what the past can offer the present.
For Sarah Morrissey, who cut her teeth at some of the city’s most established watering holes, it’s a natural stance to take. Having moved from neighboring New Jersey a decade ago, Morrissey, who has been in the service industry since her teens, credits a visit to the pioneering Milk & Honey as a formative moment in her drink-making career. “I was completely shocked and astonished at the bar, the service, ice and, of course, the drinks,” remembers Morrissey, who drank a Gold Rush on her first visit. “To this day it’s one of the best drinks I’ve ever had, and it really inspired me…to be able to make drinks like that.” Through the stints that followed, at such stalwarts as Dear Irving, Dutch Kills and Boilermaker, it’s hard not to see the influence of that initial visit on her less-is-more approach.
Before becoming the bar manager at the newly opened Frenchette, Morrissey created the beverage programs at Pig Beach and Pig Bleecker, leaving her mark on a roster of drinks, like the California Collins and House Gibson, that are at once familiar without reading as rote. It’s a balancing act she achieves through subtle tweaks to a drink’s expected flavor profile, often through the use of split bases or active garnishes that enhance rather than merely decorate. Her Deacon Blues, for example, adheres to the structure of an Old-Fashioned—spirit, sweetener, bitters—but calls on an overproof bourbon and mezcal as the base, which is then sweetened with peppered simple syrup and finished with an aromatic dusting of fresh black pepper.
Here, get to know Morrissey in four drinks.
Much like the legend of the Negroni Sbagliato, Morrissey’s own spin on the Italian classic was born from a fortuitous mistake. While experimenting with Kalani coconut liqueur during service, she filled an order for a Negroni without rinsing the jigger, which allowed some of the coconut flavor to seep in. “Ba-zing!” recalls Morrissey. “It was delicious.” From there, she played around with the formula, ultimately calling on a quarter-ounce of coconut liqueur alongside a quarter-ounce of sweet vermouth to bolster the traditional Campari and gin base. In a nod to the original happy accident, the Donna Reed is served with a sidecar of Champagne.
“It’s a simple take on a classic Old-Fashioned,” says Morrissey of her Deacon Blues. Named for the eponymous Steely Dan song, the drink first started with a Scotch base, but the spirit didn’t jibe with the spiced simple syrup. In its place, Morrissey opted for the smoky hint of mezcal alongside overproof bourbon. “I love doing split-base cocktails. The dryness of the overproof bourbon, a touch of spicy-sweet syrup and smoke from the mezcal brings it all together,” says Morrissey.
I’m on Fire
“My answer to a spicy Margarita,” Morrissey says, of the aptly named I’m On Fire. Mezcal in place of tequila provides a smoky profile, while Cholula hot sauce kicks up the heat. Rather than just reaching for the expected measure of lime, Morrissey uses fresh pineapple juice for both acidity and extra sweetness.
Calvados & Tonic
France’s answer to the G&T, the Calvados & Tonic is a staple in Normandy. Traditionally served chilled, without ice, Morrissey presents hers in a Burgundy glass with heaps of ice and a ton of tonic. “I give it a simple lemon twist and it’s ready to go,” she says. “A little bitter and sweet, refreshing and bright.”