Parker Luthman’s cocktails bear the same markings as their classic Golden Age counterparts. That is, the radical mashup of cultures that characterized the Manhattan (American whiskey and Italian vermouth) or Martini (English gin and French vermouth) at the time of their creation is reflected in Luthman’s classics-in-waiting, which marry French gin with miso-ginger syrup, or Cognac with five-spice blend. The Korean American bartender simply recasts cocktails into the role they’ve historically excelled in: a melting pot of places, techniques and flavors, one capable of telling his own particular story.
“My approach to cocktails mirrors how I try to present myself: approachable, direct and a little quirky,” says Luthman, who belongs to a new generation of bartenders who grew up seeing the profession as a viable career, not something to merely “fall into.” “In college I decided I wanted to become a bartender [and] that bar management was going to be the goal,” explains Luthman, who took a beverage services class at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, where he studied business administration and entrepreneurship.
The program required completion of an internship for credit. Rather than find a business internship—an unappealing prospect to Luthman—he talked his way into an internship at The Eddy, Providence’s first craft cocktail bar, where he has since worked his way up from a prep position to a bartender, with a stint at The Dean Bar during the same period.
True to the style of The Eddy (named for the reverse current in bodies of water), Luthman’s cocktails build off the wireframe of familiar classics, imbued with elements that run against the tide. “The way I look at my recipes on a menu reminds me of a heartbeat on a monitor,” explains Luthman. “If you read it, it’s pretty linear and it’s very classic... but then there [are] one or two ingredients that really jump out on the page.” Often, these star ingredients are drawn from Luthman’s Korean heritage, a topic he’s explored through home cooking, and more recently, through cocktail creation as a way to connect with a culture that, as a Korean American adoptee, seemed foreign. “I struggled a lot with identity, because I had no connection to my Korean heritage, but I wasn’t fully American either,” explains Luthman. “I wanted to dive more into using Asian ingredients, but I was like, ‘Am I appropriating my own culture?’” he recalls. With time, however, he’s come to see his drinks as a celebration and extension of his personal story, packaged in a way that’s accessible to anyone.
“A lot of the key ingredients in Korean culture are used solely in cooking, but when added to a cocktail, they can add very satisfying notes of salt, heat, umami and more—I simply try to showcase these unexpected flavors in a respectful way.”
Here, get to know Luthman in three cocktails.
The BIR Questionnaire
Your approach to cocktails in one word:
Best (and worst) drink you’ve ever had:
Best: the Normandie Club's Old-Fashioned. Worst: Malört.
Your favorite bar, and why:
Nitecap. The cocktails were obviously amazing, but it was their apparent focus on inclusivity that did it for me.
Your favorite classic cocktail, and why:
Toronto, it has the perfect amount of bitterness for me and warms my soul every time.
Worstdrink you’ve ever made:
Something with rhum agricole and too much Fernet Branca in it.
Your go-to dive bar drink order:
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
Fluffy words like "essences" and "air."