Let’s Maybe Draw the Line at Hot Dog Martini

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In the hands of a skilled bartender, drinks inspired by culinary dishes can be transcendent. But is the ubiquity of this trend flattening creativity into clickbait?

Time was that drinking a Bloody Mary was the closest you’d get to feeling like your cocktail was a meal. But ever since PDT put bacon-washed bourbon in an Old-Fashioned in 2007, cocktails have found inspiration from the dinner plate. While the Benton’s Old-Fashioned still reads like an Old-Fashioned, today’s food-inspired cocktails invert the formula from a cocktail with food flavors, to food in liquid form. In other words, it’s no longer about infusing a bacon flavor into a cocktail, but making a cocktail that tastes exactly like bacon. These food cocktails are everywhere, and they’re starting to get a little weird.

Take the new Handroll cocktail at Shinji’s in Manhattan, which uses wasabi, seaweed and bonito flakes to mimic the taste of sushi. Nashville’s Four Walls attempts a similar feat with its Emerald City, which features wasabi, Calpico and sesame oil. At Leyenda in Brooklyn, the Daiquiri al Pastor uses pork fat–washed rum, achiote and pineapple to recall the popular Mexican meat preparation. The Zaru Soba at Danico in Paris uses cucumber and tomato alongside both soy sauce and soy milk to evoke noodle broth, while Brooklyn’s Lilistar has cocktails inspired by a hot dog (and by fried pickles and ranch dressing.) Tokyo Confidential in Tokyo also has a hot dog–inspired drink, called the Glizztini, made with gin, shochu, onion brine, MSG and sous-vide sausage, dispensed tableside via a ketchup bottle into a glass lined with both red and yellow cacao butter to mimic ketchup and mustard. Against this backdrop, it’s not ridiculous to see a chicken soup Martini or a melon and prosciutto sour going viral on TikTok.

This trend can perhaps be attributed to the success of Double Chicken Please, the Manhattan bar where the entire menu is modeled after familiar dishes, like Waldorf Salad or Cold Pizza. Novelty aside, the shock of the cocktails being actually good earned the bar adoration and a spot on the World’s 50 Best list. In fact, on many World’s 50 Best Bar menus you can find cocktails inspired by food, whether it’s the Caprese at Martiny’s or a Roasted Corn Sour at Superbueno.

In the hands of a skilled bartender, these trends can be transcendent. But any trend sees its tipping point, where the creativity and innovation that spurred it calcify into a formula, the antithesis of creativity. And, it seems, many bars have gotten the lesson that a cocktail imitating food equals success. Everywhere you look, there’s a new food-flavored cocktail—from Porcini Risotto to Tarte Tatin—whose appeal is less about the precise makeup of the drink than the audacity of the endeavor. Yes, you can drink a cocktail that might taste exactly like a hot dog. But do you want to?

Culinary Cocktail Double Chicken Please NYC

The Culinary Cocktail Is Drunk on Nostalgia

Over the past several decades, the “culinary cocktail” has evolved from a farm-to-glass ethos to a high-tech mission to translate food into liquid form, with memory at its core.

According to Tom Liu, head bartender at Los Angeles’ Thunderbolt, one of the reasons for the trend has to do with tapping into customer nostalgia—you do not grow up drinking, but you do grow up eating. “We get guests that might not know what a Negroni tastes like, but they know their childhood dish they grew up with,” he says. Seeing an ingredient or a cocktail that advertises itself as tasting like cacio e pepe is a hook, especially for those who may be more comfortable with a beer. At Thunderbolt, which has a “culinary adjacent” section of its cocktail menu, some drinks also incorporate ingredients from the dinner menu, reducing overall waste. For example, its Bloody Mary features pot likker left over from cooking the restaurant’s collard greens. 

For Liu, a good culinary-inspired cocktail has to actually remind you of a dish, pulling out the core elements of a vegetable or spice. Which is perhaps why there are so many unsuccessful versions out there. “It’s happened to me: I go out to try a drink because an ingredient sounds so interesting. And then you can barely even detect it. It’s almost like a clickbait kind of situation,” he says, with a menu advertising some transformative experience and woefully underdelivering. 

“Clickbait” is a fitting descriptor as well for how these kinds of cocktails have proliferated on TikTok. There, the content creator may promise their concoction is delicious and replicable, but viewers don’t even have to taste what’s being made. Again, it works as a hook: How weird! Who would do this?! It lets you live in the permanent Willy Wonka fantasy of sipping a Daiquiri that tastes exactly like a Caesar salad or miso soup, without having to slip back to the reality that such a cocktail is probably going to be more weird than enjoyable.

In a bar setting, delivering on the premise of a food-inspired drink has its own pitfalls. After all, loving al pastor tacos doesn’t necessarily mean you want a drink that tastes like them. The best versions of these cocktails have to balance the novelty with drinkability.

When done right, cocktails like this are a true feat. But mimicking food is not the only way to showcase skill, and the way bars have increasingly jumped on this trend only serves to flatten the creative landscape. Cocktails that taste like a flavor you’ve had before are fun. Let there be room for those that taste like nothing you’ve ever imagined.

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