Long-awaited cocktail bar Midnight Rambler opened earlier this month in a sexy subterranean space at downtown's Joule Hotel, and the bar's been filled with curious drinkers every night since. Cocktail gurus Chad Solomon and Christy Pope of beverage consulting group Cuffs & Buttons have some serious pedigrees, with gigs at legendary NYC bars like the Pegu Club and Milk & Honey under their collective belt, but now they've settled down in Dallas — at least for the time being — to dazzle cocktail fans with their clever concoctions.
While the bar itself is decked out in a sort of retro-glam styling replete with vintage light fixtures and coasters made from old vinyl records, there's also plenty going on behind the curtain. Tucked back behind the main bar is a pint-sized space where Solomon and Pope create their cocktail magic, and it's not just outfitted with shakers and jiggers — it's downright mad scientist-y in there. Eater caught up with Solomon recently to chat about what goes on in the Midnight Rambler cocktail lab.
This space is pretty tiny. Is there a strict "one person at a time" rule in the cocktail lab?
Coming from working in New York for a long time, space is at a premium there, so this is actually not terribly cramped to us. This room seems small but it feels bigger than it actually looked on paper when we planned this all out. So it's definitely tight, but we get a lot done.
Obviously a lot of this is not equipment that you'd find in your typical cocktail bar. What the hell is all this stuff?
This type of equipment really allows us to push the envelope with flavor and aroma.
This type of equipment really allows us to push the envelope with flavor and aroma and accomplish things that we wouldn't be able to do without it. Christy and I, through our company Cuffs & Buttons, personally own all this equipment and it fits into work that we've done for a long time consulting, but Midnight Rambler is a platform to showcase that type of work, and it's great to have this stuff on-site to support this bar.
But you're right, this is not typically found in most cocktail bars. You see it a little bit more in the modern high-end or advanced kitchens, things like this rotovap which is a vacuum still. Basic distillation principles apply but what's unique about this piece of equipment is that it's a closed system and you can pull a vacuum and basically lower the pressure inside thereby lowering the boiling point so you can do cold distillations. It's important because heat can damage aroma, and really what we're looking to do with this is to capture aroma and be able to use that in drinks, either as an ingredient or as an aromatic garnish.
In terms of cocktail bars with these types of equipment, there are only a handful in the country. Booker & Dax in NYC, The Aviary in Chicago, Canon in Seattle, but otherwise you're mostly talking about restaurants that have this stuff.
With the immersion circulator, we're getting fuller flavor and aroma in a shorter time.
The centrifuge is also a very cool piece of equipment that supports our carbonation work. The main purpose for this here is to take a whole product, be it fruit or vegetable, then juicing it, clarifying it, and carbonating it so we can turn it into a soda. We've been sourcing these amazing strawberries for strawberry soda in the summer, but going into fall it'll be something different [currently poblano ginger].
We have an immersion circulator which is really advantageous for speeding up infusion times but also we're finding that with this type of infusion versus just a traditional sit-and-wait type maceration, we're getting fuller flavor and aroma and in a shorter time.
The dehydrator helps us to do some fun garnish work and visually offers this cool kind of elemental decay. We make these dehydrated lemon slices that are a great platform to spritz an aromatic garnish onto.
Outside of just the big pieces of equipment, we're blending essential oils to create aroma and in that way we're working in the same vein as a natural perfumer would. So we use very CSI piece of equipment called a micron pipette so we can get very, very precise and minute quantities of essential oils and then be able to consistently replicate these aromas to spritz onto drinks. We do an aromatic garnish for the Night Marcher, primarily ginger and nutmeg with a little jasmine underneath. Very, very tropical flavors and a little bit of vanilla. This mimics kind of classic Asian perfumes and we spritz this on top of the drink to be carried by dry ice as the gas sublimates.
I see you've got a lot of savory ingredients in here — too beef stock, fish sauce, hoisin.
We're using a little bit of MSG to really push that umami quality in the drink.
There's a drink called the Bull Shot that I think is a little bit New Orleans in origin, we took that idea and reworked it through a lense of pho [for the Pho-King Champ shot]. So instead of just beef stock, Worcestershire, Tabasco, lemon juice, and vodka, we kept the vodka and added oloroso sherry, then we're aromatizing beef stock with star anise, cardamom, cassia bark and then hoisin, sriracha, fish sauce, and a little bit of MSG to really push that umami quality in the drink. In another drink called the Night Marcher, we're aromatizing sriracha with fresh kaffir lime leaf and fish sauce and using it in a very, very minute dose to bring not only some heat but a little bit of funk. Fish sauce we're also using in very small quantities in another drink called the Savory Hunter, which almost has some tom kha-esque qualities to it.
I've been to some bars that do some fancy, "molecular" stuff with dry ice and stuff, but it tends to be very flashy, all about the technique. It seems like you guys are not really concerned with showing off your technique, but rather with what's in the glass.
The tech is nice, but the tech is not the point. We don't overly merchandise or call attention to that on the menu because the point that we're using a rotovap in a drink doesn't or shouldn't really affect the guest's experience. When you have that drink placed in front of you, it should succeed or fail based on the end result you're drinking, not whether or not you knew about all the fancy equipment we were using in the process. We've tried to separate that out.
We want this to be a fun bar, and if the drinks get too intellectual then that can tend to get in the way.
We're happy to discuss all this with [patrons who are interested], but it's not important when you get that drink. We've been of the mindset that it should succeed or fail on its own merits. If somebody has knowledge of this stuff or is interested in the process, great, but I think Midnight Rambler, we want this to be a fun bar and if the drinks get too intellectual then that can tend to get in the way of that. Then it becomes more about us than the guest's experience.
These are just additional tools we use, no different from a stirring spoon or a mixing glass or a muddler, and we're just adding them into our equipment repertoire to produce ingredients. We view this as our own personal little flavor house to produce some cool stuff for drinks.
And now, a bit of menu porn: scope out Midnight Rambler's full offerings below.