Stepping into Georgette Moger-Petraske’s Midtown Manhattan apartment-turned-cocktail salon is like stumbling upon the Sleep No More bar room you only wish existed. Guests––only a few per class––filter in, sanitize, complete a quick temperature check, and belly up to the antique perfume counter that the evening’s consummate hostess has transformed into the centerpiece of her cocktail and oyster-shucking salon. It’s a place inspired by and dedicated to Regarding Cocktails, the acclaimed cocktail book Moger-Petraske co-authored with––and in honor of––her late husband Sasha Petraske, godfather of the world of drinks as we know it today.
The evening of shaking and shucking begins, the Chrysler Building’s iconic lights illuminating the space as Moger-Petraske wheels out a mint green cart of supplies for guests’ chosen cocktails. Behind the bar, her walls are adorned with stunning sage wallpaper, a vintage Combier poster, fresh and dried flowers, and a pristinely-preserved photograph of her family’s arrival to Ellis Island in 1949 next to a portrait of Petraske’s late grandmother as a young girl. Beautiful bottles line the bookshelves behind the bar––liqueurs and amari up top, then house spirits (think Fords Gin, Montelobos Mezcal, and Bowmore 12, to name a few) just below, bitters et al on the third. Of course, no night of drinking would be complete without at least a few bites, which Moger-Petraske carefully presents on vintage and antique trays. We could go on about the aesthetic, but the contents of the shakers and mixing glasses are the real star of the show––here, Moger-Petraske gives us the inside scoop on the Regarding Oysters experience and the story behind it.
How did Regarding Oysters come to be?
It was on a visit to Wm. Farmer & Sons in Hudson, New York. The bar room on property was Sasha’s last bar project (the owners and innkeepers, Kristan and Kirby, have remained very good friends of mine since Sasha’s passing). I always go with Kristan to the antiques warehouse out there, which has amazing prices––on this particular visit, I went in looking for throw pillows and I essentially walked out with a vintage bar. As I was daydreaming while I waited for it to arrive, the idea of a bar program started to take shape. I wanted to bring the pages of Regarding Cocktails to life.
Cocktails are certainly a natural path for you, but can you share how the oysters became part of the picture?
Things started coming more into focus as I was helping my friend Meg Dowe, who owns Yennicott Oysters, on her boat one day (during the summer I was going out to the North Fork helping her with oyster shucking classes at vineyards around the area). At one point as we were bringing in the buoys, which are attached to 200 pound oyster cages, she said “attagirl,” to which I responded, “atta-buoy!” And that’s how the house martini was born: 2:1 Fords Gin and Dolin Dry, finished with a spritz of oyster liquor and garnished with a cornichon on a pearl-tipped toothpick.
Tell us more about the cocktails you’ve selected for the menu.
Part of demystifying the classic cocktails of Milk and Honey and Little Branch––that school of cocktails––involves fine spirits, juice pulled a la minute, and recipes built on simplicity. Two to three ingredients, four at most, such as the “Gin and It,” which is 2:1 Fords Gin and Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, and the .38 Special, which blends Writer’s Tears Copper Pot Irish Whiskey, yellow Chartreuse, and Amaro Sfumato. There are also Temperance cocktails like the Grapefruit Collins (fresh-pressed grapefruit and lime, simple syrup, Fever Tree club soda, and an optional dash of Peychaud’s bitters) in case a guest is not imbibing.
In this era, what measures have you taken to protect yourself and your guests from COVID-19?
Happy to shake sanitized hands! Sanitizer is offered immediately upon entry, as are temperature checks, and guests generally have been podding together. Masks are also welcome of course if anyone desires. I have the antibodies, but I’m more than happy to wear my mask as well if a guest feels more at ease that way. Windows are kept open and I also have a filtering fan; during the winter months my wood-burning fireplace will be going to keep the space warm while the windows stay ajar. it’s like being in a convertible with the heat cranked.
Any serving recommendations for enjoying oysters at home?
I like to do a mignonette made of Bourgoin Verjus, a rosé vinaigrette, and chopped shallot. When I show people how to top their oysters, I use the Chartreuse vegetal elixir, which I keep in a vintage dropper bottle for easy dressing. We also do a classic Scottish oyster luge with Bowmore 12––essentially, you shuck your oyster, and then using an oyster fork, you savor the naked oyster (reserving the oyster liquor in its shell), and lastly, you add a few drops of the whisky and give it a swirl before sipping it directly from the shell.
The wallpaper behind your bar is quite the conversation starter. What’s the story behind it?
The first time I saw this wallpaper was in the lobby powder room of the Château Marmont. I was living down the street from there for two years after publishing Regarding Cocktails and the Château was my safe haven to write, read, and enjoy a quiet, civilized drink. I fell in love at first sight with the wallpaper, which was rendered in an aubergine and blush palette, not the sage that I have hung here. I promised myself that when I moved back to the city I would make it a mission to hunt down the paper, William Morris’s Pimpernel––I ordered it from the UK in late March, and it arrived six months later. As I don’t want to part with it if I ever have to move, I had it installed by way of a Taskrabbit whom I asked to use a staple gun and double stick tape. It was terrifically easy, and now I will always have the paper.
Can you share a full recipe or two from the book for aspiring bartenders to make at home?
The KT Collins is a great one to make here or at home––it’s a John Dory Oyster Bar classic and it includes gently muddled celery, Ford’s gin, simple syrup, fresh lemon, kosher salt, and the perfect effervescence of Fever Tree’s club soda. Also, if you can get your hands on fresh oysters, those make for the perfect accoutrement, of course. I would also recommend trying your hand at the .38 Special, which I make using Writer’s Tears, a whisky that I love because of its salute to great Irish writers of the past, present, and future.
2 matchstick-size strips of celery
3/4oz (22ml) fresh lemon juice
3/4oz (22ml) 1:1 simple syrup
A generous pinch of kosher salt
2oz (60ml) Ford’s gin
Muddle the celery in a cocktail shaker. Fill the shaker with ice, add the lemon juice, simple syrup, salt, and gin, and shake vigorously until the drink is sufficiently chilled. Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice and top with Fever Tree club soda.
2 ⅜ (67.5ml) blended whisky (the original recipe calls for Scotch, but I use Writer’s Tears Premium Irish Whiskey)
3/8oz (11ml) yellow Chartreuse
3/8oz Amaro CioCiaro
Combine the whisk(e)y, Chartreuse, and amaro in a mixing glass filled with ice and stir until the drink is sufficiently chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with the lemon twist.
Lastly, we have to talk about the legendary Milk and Honey House Rules, which live on as part of your house menu as they’re totally applicable to your salon. One might argue that they’re also great rules to live by in general––care to share them with the class?
Of course––after all, when you’re doing a cocktail salon in your house, the house rules apply!
1. No name-dropping, no star f*cking.
2. No hooting, hollering, shouting or other loud behaviour.
3. No fighting, play fighting, no talking about fighting.
4. Gentlemen will remove their hats. Hooks are provided.
5. Gentlemen will not introduce themselves to ladies. Ladies, feel free to start a conversation or ask the bartender to introduce you. If a man you don't know speaks to you, please lift your chin slightly and ignore him.
6. Do not linger outside the front door.
7. Do not bring anyone unless you would leave that person alone in your home. You are responsible for the behaviour of your guests.
8. Exit the bar briskly and silently. People are trying to sleep across the street. Please make all your travel plans and say all farewells before leaving the bar.
Craving an evening full of bivalves and bygone vibes? Snag your seat at the salon HERE!
[Photos by Stacey Salter Moore/courtesy Georgette Moger-Petraske]