Final Advice From the Inventor of Cocktail Culture
The most beautiful cocktail book of the year doubles, sadly, as a work of memorial art. When author Sasha Petraske died—in August 2015, after a heart attack, at the age of 42—he had barely begun putting his thoughts on bartending into words.
But these thoughts, it cannot be said too forcefully, were substantial.
Petraske was his generation’s most influential bartender. The standards of mixing and service he set (first at New York’s Milk & Honey, then at bars ranging from London to Los Angeles to Melbourne) emerged within his lifetime as ideals taken for granted by bars all over the world. Atmospheric cocktail-den details that were simply expressions of his old-fashioned tastes in clothing and music—personal preferences for suspenders and swing jazz—went on to become, as abused by imitators, clichés in a few short years. The very concept of the 21-century speakeasy, a hush-hush watering hole guarded by passwords and esoteric entrances, owes itself to Petraske’s desire to run a tiny bar without annoying his neighbors.
Regarding Cocktails features recipes for 75 cocktails invented or perfected by Petraske and his colleagues, and bartenders in every civilized town in the world mix them every night. The book was completed by Petraske’s widow, Georgette Moger-Petraske, a journalist and copywriter.
Invited to discuss the book over drinks, she chose to meet at Little Branch, which her husband opened in the West Village in 2005. She wore her yellow-diamond engagement ring on her right hand and a complicated smile on her proud face. Complimented on the beauty of the book—the cool tone of its warm advice, the elegant illustrations by Studio Lin—she said, “Thank you. It’s an understatement saying it was a labor of love.”
They were married in May of 2015. He died three months after the honeymoon. In time, the publisher, Phaidon Press, raised the issue of what to do about their unfulfilled contract. She thought it over on a New Year’s trip to the Caribbean and reached her decision as her return flight brought the Manhattan skyline into view.
“I thought, I want to do this for Sasha and then get out,” she said. “I lived here for 15 years, and once I turned in the manuscript, I left.” She lives in Los Angeles now.
She settled into a back booth directly opposite an unassuming framed photograph of unpretentious Sasha. “Cocktails are not worth intellectualizing,” he once told an interviewer. “A cocktail is a simple thing—what matters is if you make it right.”
We needed some drinks. Mrs. Petraske started with a Water Lily, a drink invented for her by Richard Boccato (Sasha’s partner in the pioneering Queens bar Dutch Kills). It tastes precisely like the violet candies a fond old family friend gave her in childhood. Her interviewer had a Red Hook, a Manhattan-like new classic by Vincenzo Errico, whom Sasha first met when opening a Milk & Honey in London.
“I wanted [the book] to seem like we were hosting a cocktail party,” she said. She succeeded, with the brisk recipe headnotes, contributed by her husband’s partners and protégés, approximating genial chatter and a selection of brief essays in back sparkling like wit or Champagne. “Sasha hated the word mixologist. He was a bartender. But I think he would really love that all of the credit was going to these bartenders he loved so much.”
Asked whether the book would have been different had her husband seen it through, she ventured, “There would have been a lot more essays in it, such as ‘Cocktails for Your Cat’.” As it is, we’ve only got two paragraphs of what promised to be a funny piece on feline treats served as liquids and foams. (The text notes notes that “solid cat treats must be properly called cat hors d’oeuvres, and should be addressed in another volume.”)
Asked if Regarding Cocktails lacks any recipes she wanted to include but somehow couldn’t, she doesn’t hesitate: “Everything’s in there that he would have wanted in there. I know it in my gut.”
When Petraske died, his friends and admirers toasted his memory by lifting classic daiquiris. Not Hemingway daiquiris, not convoluted variations on the daiquiri, not high-fructose slush spewed from a daiquiri machine, just the real McCoy concocted with care. In Regarding Cocktails, Dutch Kills bartender Abraham Hawkins describes it as “a window into the technique and talent to make any shaken drink. [It’s] the test drink for anyone who wants to see what a bar or a bartender is all about.”
7/8 oz to 1 oz fresh lime juice, to taste
3/4 oz simple syrup
2 oz white rum
Combine the lime juice, simple syrup, and rum in a cocktail shaker, add a 2-inch ice cube, and shake vigorously until the drink is sufficiently chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe.