London-based bartender and drinks consultant Felix Cohen is the brains behind Manhattans Project, a pop-up cocktail bar in East London serving "classic cocktails done right," with a drinks list that includes Bloody Marys reimagined with Sriracha, "Pina Colliders" and, of course, a house Manhattan with homemade brandied cherries. Just don't call him a mixologist.
Please don't walk into my bar and order a mojito. I have no problem with a mojito—the mojito is a fantastic drink—but my problem is that it suggests that you don't want to read my menu. It's like going to an amazing restaurant and just eating burger and chips. Again, there's nothing wrong with just eating burger and chips but there's often something much better for you. And that's what I'd love to see more of—people putting their drinks and their nights in the hands of the bartenders.
I'm a massive nerd and that's why I got into cocktails. One of things that I loved was that there was so much myth and legend with classic cocktails. We can talk about the amazing mystery behind a lot of the classics; really fun stories from the coupe glass being based on Marie Antoinette's breast to the Manhattan being invented for Winston Churchill's mum in the Manhattan Club. All these stories are certainly bollocks but are just delightful. We're asking people to pay a lot of money for these drinks so we have to provide a bit of theatre around them.
The Manhattans Project is all about classic cocktails but often with a twist. One of our drinks that everyone is talking about is The Underwood, which is in honour of our friend, the writer John Underwood, who has blood cancer. It's a bone marrow-infused Cognac Sazerac and while it's a bit of dark humour, £1 from each drink goes to the Anthony Nolan blood cancer charity. Of course, I OKed it with him first—he thinks it's hilarious.
To make it, you need to do some fat-washing. A lot of the flavour compounds soluble in fat are also soluble in alcohol, which is why it's a great ingredient for drinks. You take animal, vegetable, or mineral fat, and mix it up with booze. With The Underwood, we take about two halves of a marrow bone from the butchers, roast them at a high heat to caramelise them for that sweet sugar hit, and then heat for about another hour to render all the fat out of the bone so it's as gelatinous as possible.
Then we scrape it all out of the bone, it goes in a bottle of cognac, gets vacuum-sealed, and goes in the sous-vide machine and the blast freezer. It looks gross, really terrible—milky, brown, bits of bone, bits of blood. When we freeze it, most of the fat solidifies so you can immediately decant this liquid, fine strain it, and run it through a filter with a clear liquid which has all the flavours in it. I'm terrified of being labelled a molecular mixologist or anything like that but if a cocktail calls for that ingredient, it's great.
I have a degree in psychology but I learned more about people from working in a bar. I can read a date in 30 seconds. They are the most fascinating thing to watch. I can tell in about ten minutes if someone is going to get laid or not. It's lovely to facilitate people meeting in the bar but the bad side of it is the rise of "lad culture" and pick-up culture. I've definitely seen pick-up artists in some of the places I've worked in, coming in in their fedoras and negging. You see this stuff going on and it's sad—I call people out on that.
The London bar scene is banging—it's just so inclusive. We recognise each other and we go to each other's bars. We also do "boomeranging" which is, if you know your customers are going on to another bar that you're friends with, you send a little bottle of cocktail with them. Then if they have people coming down our way, they'll send a bottle of cocktail back with them.
There's also "iceing," which is when you hide a bottle of Smirnoff Ice somewhere behind the bar and whenever a staff member finds it, they have to get down on one knee and neck it. Someone got me the other night with one in the icebox and I was like, Fuck you. Then I had to drink it.
Alongside the No Mojitos rule in the bar, our other rules are No Raised Voices, No Vertical Drinking (people have to be seated), No Tories, and No Being Creepy. We can't really enforce it, it's just, y'know, don't be a Tory around me. On Monday night we offered 25 percent-off drinks for people who came in and reminded me that David Cameron had fucked a pig.
It's weird being hard-left wing in a luxury industry but I try my hardest.
As told to Laura Martin.
This post originally appeared on MUNCHIES in September 2015.