Some bartenders rely on squeeze bottles of simple syrup and dashes of bitters to balance a cocktail. Others reach for carrot shrubs, sprigs of dill and black Urfa pepper. Tristan Brunel, head bartender at George Washington Bar in the Freehand Hotel, is in the latter camp.
Brunel is the Flatiron bar’s own sort of founding father. He’s been in the restaurant trenches since he was 16 years old, working at places such as Brooklyn gem Bricolage (where you might have tried one of his fish sauce-laced cocktails). That’s not to say he’s only all about the new tricks. The menu is built on a foundation of classic cocktails, and the old-school trade aspect of making drinks is what drew Brunel to the industry in the first place.
The fact that these classic cocktails make up about 50 percent of the menu is fitting, considering the setting in which they’re consumed. The bar, which opened last year to great acclaim, is a beautiful historic space with vintage furniture, mahogany accents and a centerpiece portrait of George Washington on the wall that’ll keep even the loneliest of drinkers company.
To balance out the solid offering of classic cocktails, there’s the rest of the menu, of which Brunel serves as an “editor in chief” of sorts: providing overall vision to the 20 house-created cocktails while still maintaining a sense of unity. As he describes it, the menu is full of “originals riff on classic proportions, but pushing it further.”
This season’s menu includes the mescal-based Carrot or the Stick (get the recipe), which Brunel calls “an earthy and herbal beverage with subtle savory qualities and a balance of acidity brought on by the vinegar.” The vinegar comes by way of a carrot and cardamom shrub, and it’s finished with ginger beer for added zing. “It is my interpretation of a lively garden,” he says.
There’s also the Cabin in the Woods (get the recipe), a drink with rum and spicy liqueur that’s “meant as a nod to the fresh air and feel of the deep woods.” Cold brew concentrate, black Urfa chili and herbal Branca Menta come together for what Brunel says “seems fit be sipped while telling stories around a campfire.” And in the absence of a campfire, the fireplace at this welcoming hub of NYC cocktail culture will more than suffice.