|Spring Medicinals from Apothéke’s Chemist-Mixologists
By JJ Proville with Will Blunt photos by Vicky Wasik
The Apothéke cocktail lounge lies behind an unmarked wooden door, tucked away in a quiet Chinatown alley known for its barber shops. Here, the mixologists are pharmacists, the drinks are medicinal, and the ingredients seasonal.
The inside of Apothéke (pronounced ah-po-tek) feels like a combination of a 19th century opium den meets pharmacy and speakeasy. A long, thick marble bar and the towering shelves behind it are lined with scores of bottles, vials, drams, and dispensers of all shapes, each containing different house-made essences, elixirs, infusions, tinctures, and bitters.
Owner and apotheker-in-chief Albert Trummer’s concept revolves around the ancient profession of the apothecary, or pharmacist, who would create and dispense medicines to the ailing populace. A local pharmacist-consultant advises Apothéke’s mixologists on the homeopathic applications of the fruits, legumes, herbs, and spices with which they experiment. The cocktail list aims to combine these remedial preparations with fresh produce based on market availability and seasonality.
As is de rigeur today in New York City’s top cocktail rooms, the senior mixologist Trummer manages an all-star stable of young bar chefs, and at Apothéke, they each have a distinct style and area of focus. The mixologists’ creative process is a daily ritual with afternoons spent experimenting to develop new recipes. To end up on the changing menu, the recipes have to pass the approval of the other mixologists, with Trummer as the final hurdle. It’s all done in healthy, competitive spirit within a close familial atmosphere.
The Apothéke crew fuel their inspiration with the help of Trummer plus a dedicated collaborator (also a mixologist) who peruses the city’s markets, Chinatown herbalists, and obscure produce vendors for the freshest and most seasonal ingredients. The result is a plethora of exotic flavors, including star fruit, hibiscus-rhubarb, dill, habanero, Saigon cinnamon, or valerian, amongst countless others.
The cocktail menu lists just 30 drinks, each categorized under their specific medicinal benefit (e.g. stress relievers, pain killers, or aphrodisiacs)—but the mixologists are capable of creating around 200 variants depending on the current seasonal bounty. The constant and creative use of fresh ingredients in cocktails requires a lot of prep work, but this is a reflection of Trummer’s philosophy that the bar is merely an extension of the kitchen. Even the bar itself is considered more of a stage or an open kitchen than a traditional stool-lined counter.
In the spirit of the spring season, here are five cocktails from this team of “dispensing chemists” (the title emblazoned on their service jackets) plus their medicinal benefits:
Apotheker Albert Trummer of Apothéke – New York, NY
Trummer’s version of the Americano is made with his own Elixir#3, a potion of fresh cherries marinated for three weeks in amaro and lavender. The resulting cocktail, after adding gin, fresh cherries, and lime juice, is an Americano that has just the right density, alcohol intensity, and fruit flavor. (If you are still waiting for the first spring cherries from your purveyor, substitute maraschino cherries.)
Medicinal application: digestive (amaro), anti-depressant (lavender), anti-inflammatory, antioxidant (cherries)
Mixologist Jack Judson of Apothéke – New York, NY
Jack Judson specializes in the classic American cocktails, and this julep strikes the perfect balance of ginger and mint (he also takes pride in a saffron-scented Sazerac, but that’s another cocktail for another feature). Its clean and invigorating profile is bolstered by the welcome bite of muddled ginger and a good fizz from the ginger beer.
Medicinal application: digestion (ginger), stimulant (ginger), migraines (mint)
Mixologist Miguel Aranda of Apothéke – New York, NY
Miguel Aranda’s area of expertise lies in the Aztec/Mexican style. In this vibrant, mood-enhancing cocktail, the fennel (muddled and in bitters) is almost eclipsed by the sweet aroma of strawberries, but still strong enough to leave a lingering taste of anise.
Medicinal application: Cosmetic, antioxidant (fennel), cleansing (strawberries)
Mixologist Orson Salicetti of Apothéke – New York, NY
An ex-chef and sommelier, Venezuelan-born Salicetti embraces Apothéke’s culinary approach to cocktails with a Latin inflection. This cocktail is a complex and refreshing combination of an Italian honey liqueur, bitter Luxardo amaro, cachaça, and a house-made simple syrup infused with cinnamon, clove, and smoky dried chipotles. A garnish of fresh marjoram provides an unusual but complementary herbal scent.
Medicinal application: digestive (amaro, honey liqueur), anti-congestion, digestive (marjoram)
Mixologist Jack Judson of Apothéke – New York, NY
The lively Rhubarb Rouge commands a tartness (from the rhubarb puree and muddled raspberries) that is balanced by simple syrup and orange liqueur. The sourness of the blanched and blended rhubarb is counteracted with a house-made syrup made with dried hibiscus flowers.
Medicinal application: aphrodisiac, antioxidant (rhubarb), beauty (hibiscus), cough (hibiscus)