All photographs by Gabriela Herman/Bloomberg
All photographs by Gabriela Herman/Bloomberg

Airline Mini Bottles Are This Home Bar’s Secret Weapon

Estelle Bossy, head bartender at Mario Batali's restaurant Del Posto, shows off her home-bar laboratory.

Estelle Bossy runs the bar at Manhattan’s Del Posto, owned by Mario Batali and Joe and Lidia Bastianich, after she honed her craft at the Top of the Standard Hotel. Before that, she made drinks at the great Brooklyn pizza joint, Motorino, a welcome detour from a career path in fashion and the arts. “I’d always enjoyed making drinks for all my friends,” Bossy says. “I really fell in love with it about 10 years ago, and I was like, ‘Why do I keep working on everybody else’s projects when I just love giving hospitality to people?’”

The grand Italian restaurant is a fine perch for her thoughtful experiments. “Del Posto, working with that kitchen and those chefs, is where the nuance ended up coming out. They have all these esoteric and incredible and expensive ingredients to inspire something.” At a dinner for the chairman of Fernet Branca, for instance, she fat-washed a vermouth in truffle oil to pair the cocktail with a similar entree.

Bossy’s on the bar four nights a week. That leaves three evenings at home under a high ceiling in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where she tinkers with her favorite lab-like devices, including a hot infusion siphon, refractometer, and dehydrator. “My fiancé”—Jake Lobdell, a restaurant consultant—“is also in the restaurant industry, loves to cook, and basically has given me a lot of toys over the years.”

Over a Bamboo, the 19th-century Sherry cocktail she prefers to make at home, Bossy showed us how she plays drink scientist during off-hours.

 

“I’m a little bit of a magpie,” Bossy says, explaining that she grew up collecting antiques. “I love beautiful, old things, and it’s hard for me to get rid of them. My collecting has gone way down, but any time I leave the city, I’m hoping I’ll walk by an antique store that I’ll want to pop into.”

“Years ago, I started looking for a bar, and nothing I found was ever big enough, even when it was out of my price range. So I had this industrial shelving—I think I had one already as my bookshelf—and I was like, ‘Oh, well, I’ll use this for now.” Then I realized that I was never going to find a beautiful prefabricated bar. And that’s when I started getting stem holders for the glasses and committing to it. It’s kind of evolved in several phases. I redid it a couple times as I accumulated more product.”

 

And what about the mind poisonings drawing next to it? “When I moved to New York, I worked at the Drawing Center in SoHo. This artist, Alejandro Diaz, was a part of a group show there. His artwork was the first I could afford. When we met him, he was doing this kind of performative work where he would stand on a sidewalk in a mariachi suit and make these signs. People would buy them from him without realizing that he was really a fine artist and not just a crazy guy on the street. It took me years to realize that my books were mind poisonings.”

Her glassware includes some deadstock Richard Ginori crystal, old-fashioned glasses from Nachtmann, and some pieces borrowed from work. “We have some samples of glassware that I use at Del Posto. If I’m playing around with a drink, I like to have the glass we would use at the restaurant on hand.” Note also the bevy of vintage cordial glasses. “Often when I work on cocktails, I make really small sizes, and I’m trying subtle permutations—maybe with different twists or different bitters—so I'll have a whole bunch of these tiny cordial glasses out with different versions of the same drink.”

 

And the airplane bottles? “That’s my nip collection. Sometimes I’m given them, sometimes I buy them. Sometimes I’m working on drinks when traveling—which is not easy. So if I’m going by train to my parents’ in Rhode Island, rather than buying everything there or bringing big bottles, I bring little ones.”

“I like to use edible flowers a lot.” Those golden flowers, helichrysums, carry an aroma like that of curry. “I buy them mostly at Kalustyan’s. Sometimes I know I’m looking for something, and sometimes I just walk through the aisles and pick out whatever looks good, and eventually I find a function for it. It’s a very easy place for me to spend a lot of money, so I treat it like a sample sale and limit myself to a certain amount of time.”

 

The flowers share a shelf with jars of acid powders—citric, malic, tartaric. “I’ll use them if I’m making bottled cocktails to bring somewhere. Once, I was creating a cocktail to be served in Denver and because I wasn’t going to be there to execute it, I created a cocktail where the acidity was defined by the weights of these acids. That way, it would come out exactly the way I planned, as opposed to being left up to both human error and the variability of citrus.” The sprinkle-like thingies are mukhwas, candy-coated fennel. “If you balance them on top of a big cube, it’s really nice.” Notice that the mukhwas jar is adjacent to a pair of stogies. “The cigars I’ve been keeping around because I want to make a tobacco syrup.”

“I take empty jars [of Luxardo cherries] from work to store things, but this one was a gift”—again, from her fiancé. “I don’t think he knew at the time that he could have bought a smaller one.”

“This is the back alley,” Bossy says of a booze shelf across the living room from her main collection. “Probably like many bartenders, I have too much of everything. This is my spillover area. This is secondary bottles, extra stuff, unopened bottles, bottles that I’ve been given that maybe I plan to use. I do a little of my own drinking, but most of what I do at home is create cocktails for work. Even if I don’t know I’m working on something, I’ll be experimenting, just kind of having ideas and flavor combinations ready for the next time I have a last-minute cocktail roll-out.”

Here we have Bossy’s hot infusion siphon. “You put alcohol, water, and a sweetener in the bottom chamber, and you put whatever you want to infuse the liquor with in the top.” To illustrate how it works, Bossy invents a new, unnamed drink, using gin, pear brandy, and Drambuie.

 

“In the top chamber, there’s dried coconut, piri piri pepper, basil, lemon peel, and some spices, like cinnamon, black cardamom. You turn the burner on, and it’s going to heat the liquor up enough to move into the top chamber, where it infuses. Then, when it’s infused long enough, you remove the heat and it comes back down into the bottom chamber.”

Another, folksier tradition of infusion is an overproof rum from the Dominican Republic. “This is cheesy but really amazing. It’s mama juana, a homemade spirit that everybody makes there, so they have all these roots and herbs to infuse liquor and honey. Some are like vermouth, and some are really, really strong. I work with somebody who’s from the DR, and I had pestered her for facts about Dominican culture when I was working on cocktails with Brugal. I was really touched that she brought this for me.”

At her refrigerator, Bossy confesses, “I way overdid the vermouth and bitters collections, but I can’t seem to get away from it.” She sets to work making a Bamboo cocktail. “If I’m drinking for myself, and I’m making it, I’m probably having a Bamboo.” She adds, in a stage whisper, “or Champagne.”

 

Is she always so meticulous, at home, about using tongs for her ice cubes? “No, but you might taste the drink, so my hands shouldn't be on it.”

“I’ve got some vintage mixing glasses that I prefer to a lot of the modern ones. This bulbous one—I like the roundness of it. I also like that this little, curved lip means I don’t have to use a strainer. They’re just more my size, too. Not that all bar tools are built for men, but this just feels nicer to me.”

“I’m really open to Bamboos using either fino or amontillado sherry and dry or white vermouth. There’s a lot of room to play within those permutations. Or sometimes I’ll make a Bamboo with marsala instead of sherry. They're flexible and easy to make and ready very fast, and I just find them really thirst-quenching.” The official Bossy version, though, goes like this:

Bamboo

1.5 oz. fino or amontillado sherry

1.5 oz. dry or bianco vermouth

2 dashes orange bitters

Orange and lemon twists

 

Stir well with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the twists (or discard them after twisting, according to preference). Serve.