POWDERS, PILLS, PAINTS
Kevin Mabry, the whiz kid behind jm Curley's industry-favorite drink menu, is seated in one of the maroon booths in the restaurant-within-a-restaurant known as Bogie's Place, twirling a pen in his right hand.
"I definitely think that bartenders are becoming the new chef superstars of the world," he says with a firm nod. "For sure. People have much more of an appreciation for beverage programs these days, and they're much more knowledgeable off the bat. I see that as a credit to the bartenders that take the extra time to talk to the guests and engage them about what's going on in front of them."
Extra time is something he is absolutely willing to devote to his creations, among them the 21 Temple Gin and Tonic. Mabry uses Peruvian cinchona-bark powder, a bittering agent that features in quinine and various tonic waters, to concoct an à la minute tonic. He puts one-eighth of a teaspoon in the glass, adds some simple syrup, lemon, and lime juice, shakes it up with Plymouth gin and yellow Chartreuse, and finally tops it with soda water.
Mabry's most recent pet project involves dehydrating spirits into soluble sugars, which are then pressed into pill form and used in champagne cocktails for Bogie's Place. Aperol is the fan favorite at the moment, but he plans on building the selection over time.
"I think bartenders are definitely experimenting more and want to be pushing the boundaries," he says. "You have to do it to stay relevant these days; I really believe that."
Back at Clio, Maul is popping open plastic containers of his alcohol paints, a result of reducing extra essences down in a sugar pan to give them a gel-like consistency. The only word I can think of after tasting each is "sparkling." The high notes of each spirit are so concentrated that it almost fizzes with flavor. Maul paints stripes on the walls of a glass, and the paint melds seamlessly into the drink when it's poured.
"I can make a great Sazerac, sure," he says, shrugging. "If you can't, you shouldn't be doing this. But where do you begin and the classics leave off? To me, if you don't challenge yourself by creating your own ingredients and interpretations, you're just hiding in what's already been done. Where are you in that?"