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I'll Make a Cocktail For Neutral Milk Hotel but Not Nirvana

Because music is such an important part of my life, I'll name a lot of my cocktails after songs or bands, and I treat music at Spuntino very seriously. But I've got a strict "no Nirvana" policy, with all apologies to Kurt.

by Benny Locke
Dec 3 2014, 8:01pm

Photo courtesy of Spuntino.

Music's my biggest passion—always has been. And I think what you listen to will definitely determine where you drink.

My first drinking experiences were when I was about 14; I used to come up to London from Salisbury quite a lot to see gigs at the Astoria, skiving off school. Me and my mates would go to the park in Soho Square behind the venue and drink whatever booze we could get our hands on, before seeing a lot of pop punk bands like Alkaline Trio, Finch, and Thursday.

Back in Salisbury—when I was still living there ten years ago, at least—there was a really thriving local music scene. Once we started getting a bit of facial hair and could get into more places, we went to The Ale House, which used to attract a lot of notable independent bands. There was one gig there with Mystery Jets and The Duke Spirit on the same bill—it was part of the NME awards tour—and it was really exciting to have bands like that play our little town.

I wanted to make a drink at Spuntino that reminded me of those times drinking when I was back home. Being from the West Country, I drank a lot of cider before moving to London. At first it was Strongbow and White Lightning. But it was the Scrumpy—which I drank when I started actually appreciating the taste of alcohol, the really strong stuff where you have to put a four-pint limit on your night otherwise you're gone—that inspired one of our bestsellers, The Somerset Sling. It contains Somerset Cider Brandy, lemon, sugar, sweet vermouth, and Angostura bitters, and I invented it when I'd just got back from End of the Road music festival last year. It tastes like a very concentrated, stronger shot of Somerset cider from the Cider Bus at Glastonbury, which also parks up at End of the Road. So I'd had a weekend of drinking it, and the taste was obviously fresh in my head. It's very easy for me to sell the Somerset Sling at Spuntino because it's close to my heart.

I'm never going to go drinking somewhere that plays music that I really don't like, and I put a lot of time and effort into the music at Spuntino. We just have two playlists: a lunchtime one and a nighttime one. There are certain songs that will always stay on there—such as Dinosaur Jr.'s "Feel The Pain," Bruce Springsteen's "The River," Fleetwood Mac's "Second Hand News" and Grinderman's "Palaces of Montezuma"—because we love them and they always go down well. But then there's also lots of underground American punk and whatnot, which maybe people wouldn't necessarily know, but that we think sounds great on there too, because you have to have a mix, definitely.

I've got a strict "no Nirvana" policy, though. I mean, I love Nirvana and I was brought up on them, but I just kind of feel like it's a bit too clichéd in a place like Spuntino.

Because music is such an important part of my life, I'll name a lot of my cocktails after songs or bands. My last monthly special was called Neutral Milk Hotel, which came about after a recent visit to Paris. I visited a few really great cocktail bars and all of them were using pisco and orgeat together in one way or another. I was meant to be seeing Neutral Milk Hotel the day after returning from Paris, but it was cancelled the day we left, so I named the pisco, orgeat, lemon, and egg white cocktail in their honour. Plus, it looks like milk.

I'm a huge Nick Cave fan, and for ages I really wanted to come up with something named after his song "Stagger Lee." The former assistant manager of Spuntino once came up with this black treacle rum, and the colour I associate with Nick Cave is black, so it was perfect for what ended up being quite a murky, dark cocktail, which is basically a liquorice sour with absinthe.

The black treacle rum is also an ingredient in the Polly Jean, another of our specials, which is named after PJ Harvey—and obviously she and Nick Cave were an item. A Polly Jean is black treacle rum with lime, chocolate bitters, Angostura bitters, and Prosecco, and it tastes a bit like Coca-Cola. She's eaten at Spuntino a few times, and I was kind of hoping she might come in when we've had it on special and order it, although that might be a bit strange.

Would Nick Cave order a Stagger Lee if he came in for dinner? If he even still drinks, I'd imagine he'd just order straight up bourbon, or an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan—something that's really hard-hitting and majestic. I'm sure I will dabble in Nick Cave's repertoire again for a cocktail inspiration, anyway—he's a good one. "Red Right Hand" would make a great name for a cocktail.

Right now I'm listening to a lot of American hardcore, because of this amazing book I'm reading, called Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981 – 1990 by Michael Azerrad. All the chapters are based around bands such as Dinosaur Jr., Fugazi, and Sonic Youth. But I don't know if I'll make any cocktails relating to that music, as I'm not sure naming a drink after a Black Flag song would be quite as relatable as Nick Cave and PJ Harvey. It would be amazing if someone did get that, though.

As told to Laura Silver