Raines Law Room's Meaghan Dorman Talks Speakeasy Overload, Creating 'New' Classic Cocktails, and Being a Lady United for the Protection of Endangered Cocktails
Meaghan Dorman is just your average drinks slinger-slash-Penthouse writer. She's also the head bartender at Raines Law Room near Union Square, which has just introduced a brand-new cocktail list, the first major overhaul to the menu since the bar opened a year and a half ago.
So you've just launched the new cocktail menu. Tell me about it.
Myself and our staff felt like, since we've been open for a year and a half now, it was time to just redo everything and have more of our own input into it. Based on the questions we get asked so much, we reorganized the menu by style -- tall and bubbly, strong and stirred, seasonal -- to make it more cohesive, easier for our guests to go through. There's a lot, about 25 drinks on the menu.
So what kind of drinks are popular there these days?
We have two distinct rushes during our night: a solid after-work crowd, where people tend to drink lighter drinks because they're still conducting business or they're going to dinner. Then, we get a late-night date rush, where people are drinking a little bit more, so it's a little more varied. We have a drink on the menu right now with Beefeater Summer gin and fresh raspberries that's doing really well. But also stronger drinks like the Harold & Maude with Scotch, which everyone loves. I tried to make it really varied, so there's something for everyone, whether they're a seasoned cocktail drinker looking for something challenging or it's their first time drinking gin. We try to address the whole spectrum.
How do you come up with a recipe when you're starting from scratch?
Our bar is really rooted in the classics, so I always try formulas that have worked, like a corpse reviver or daiquiri, but then try to mix it up a little, like the Islay Daiquiri, which was dark rum and Scotch, a little darker and smokier for the winter. So I base my drink in some kind of classic, then branch out from there, changing one thing at a time. It's always a process.
Do you think we're in speakeasy overload at this point?
I do. I hate that "speakeasy" term anyway. We're not a speakeasy; we're a legally functioning bar. We are definitely rooted in, like I said, classic cocktails, and I do love the fact that we can control our crowd so it's never too full, which guarantees a good experience for everyone, but we have a lot of regulars. I think people look at these bars and think it's for a special occasion, but I have people who come in two or three times a week. It's their neighborhood bar. Just being secret isn't really enough to sustain you more than a couple of months.
What kind of advice do you wish you could give customers who are new to the whole classic cocktail experience?
You always have to pick your battles. The bartender part of your job is to read people. When people are out with their friends on a Saturday night, they just want a vodka soda, so that's not really a time to pick a battle. But we are in the hospitality business and I want people to trust us. I want you to have a great time. I want you to have a good drink. I'll ask you a couple of questions and I'm pretty sure I can make you something great. It's like going to a good restaurant: You wouldn't order the most boring thing off the menu. You're spending money and you want to get something great. Even if you're not happy with your first drink, we will make you something else. Don't be afraid to branch out.
Where do you like to drink when you're not at your own bar?
I moved to Brooklyn recently, so I've been trying to drink and eat my way through Brooklyn. I have a drink once a week at Milk & Honey. I try to visit our neighbors at Flatiron and Rye House when I get off early. It takes awhile, but I try to see every bar that opens. And I'm taking a wine class. I've been trying to drink more wine and visit wine bars.
What do you like to drink at home?
I definitely make less drinks than I used to, just because I make so many at work. I've been trying to buy a lot more wine and I always have champagne. In summertime, Whiskey Smashes always go over well for a party, or a Pimm's Cup at brunch is really fun. I take it easy at home. Let's say I don't do a lot of juicing.
Is the wine tasting just for yourself or to flex your tasting muscles?
I just felt like I had taught myself so much about spirits and cocktails, and I had a big gap in my knowledge. I hate to feel like I don't know something if someone asks me. I want to be able to explain our wine list as well as our cocktails. I want to be confident when I go out and order stuff. I'm encouraging people to branch out at our bar, so I don't want to always get the same glass of Tempranillo.