From the use of vintage glassware to crafting cocktails that will pair well with the cuisine, bar director Annemarie Sagoi and general manager Clint Rogers have obviously put a lot of thought into their beverage program at the Dawson.
While there’s a menu of fairly straightforward, but well-thought out drinks, there are also a couple things that set the Dawson’s beverage program apart. First, there’s the daily dram program, in which bourbon is infused with seasonal flavors through a four-foot tall cold infuser tower. Sagoi has experimented with various amari, vermouths and flavorings (recently, ingredients like cinnamon, coffee beans and star anise have found their way into the infuser) and the dram is available as a shot.
And second, when Sagoi left the Charleston, she took her popular gourmet Jell-O shots with her. What started as a way to get people into the door at the Charleston during the slower months of January and February became an innovative way to imbibe—offerings have included the Winter Pimm's Cup (gin, Pimm's, mint, cucumber, lemon, ginger, applejack and barrel aged bitters) and the Dr. Bombay (gin, prosecco, sherry, amaretto and acid phosphate).
We recently caught up with Sagoi to talk about three-ingredient cocktails and the drink she always orders on her nights off.
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Where you have worked before?
Although I had little experience, Nightwood fortuitously hired me for their opening staff and I spent a year there before moving on to Graham Elliot as a server. I then wound up behind the stick at Simone’s, Big Star and the Charleston, in that order. I had a great deal of encouragement at the Charleston to host my own events and do quirky things like gourmet Jell-O shots.
What’s your approach to making cocktails?
I definitely fall on the side of the spectrum that says “less is more” as far as the amount of ingredients. Many of the classics are three and four ingredients and are still better than a lot of the cocktails I see on menus today. A professor once lectured about how seemingly simple design—think linear architecture like Frank Lloyd Wright or traditional Japanese—is actually more difficult to successfully pull off than ornate or complicated designs. It’s true with drinks as well—if you have 11 ingredients and you screw up one of them, the mistake will be negligible. It’s often the three-ingredient cocktails that seem the simplest but are more challenging to make balanced due to the delicate ratio; that’s why I usually don’t order an old fashioned or negroni from a place unless I’m certain they will make a great one.
What's your cocktail-making style in three words?
Personalized, harmonious, satisfying.
What is the most important skill a bartender should have?
Hands down, hospitality. The best drink in the world has little value if it is presented in a patronizing or pretentious manner. When I come back from visiting certain countries in Europe, I really appreciate “Midwest hospitality” more and more, which is something I once thought was kind of corny.
What do you drink on your night off?
I like to start off with a dry rosé from Provence, and usually end up having a mezcal negroni. Danny Shapiro from Scofflaw once laughed after a year of me ordering them every time I visited the bar—which is an embarrassingly large amount—and remarked that he “admired my consistency.”
What do you see as a trend in cocktails?
Lower alcohol cocktails seem to be gaining popularity, like cobblers. I also see sherry coming back in popularity, especially as an ingredient in cocktails. "Ready to go" cocktails, made in vessels, seem to be everywhere as well.