The Fine Art of Pairing Drinks and Culture

drinks and culture guests whiskey tasting hotel lobby lounge art
Guests enjoying whiskey in the hotel lobby lounge filled with artwork (Photo Courtesy of 21C Hotels);
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At Camp Louise in the 1970s the coolest counselors had tee shirts from the local town tavern in Emmitsburg, Maryland, the Ott House Pub.

According to the legend printed on the back of said tee shirts, the Ott House was the place to go when people were tired, thirsty, hungry, horny, miserable or sick.

All good reasons to visit a bar.  Now, 45 years later, more and more establishments are adding cultural enrichment to the mix as a way to draw people in. It also engenders good vibes, builds community, and encourages plenty of return business.

Con Alma (translates to with soul)is a business designed to preserve Pittsburgh’s legendary jazz heritage, mixing a globally inspired food and wine menu with a curated cocktail list inspired by the jazz musicians who play there, live, each night. And the jazz greats who came through, or from, the city in years past.

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Industry veteran Aimee Marshall is a partner and beverage director at Con Alma, and she’s been in the business for over 30 years, seeing every day what really resonates with guests.

She and her Pittsburgh-native partners were committed to reviving the grand tradition of Pittsburgh jazz four years ago to replace all the local jazz clubs that had closed. 

Creating a jazz spot with live music every night involved every aspect of the business, but most of all the beverage program.

Marshall notes, “I always say when I am training people they need to remember, it is an experience. Going to Con Alma is not just going to have dinner or going to hear jazz or going for cocktails.”

Building that experience requires thorough staff training and relying on history as well as community partners like the theatre next door to Con Alma’s new downtown location.

With many of the cocktails tied to or inspired by a jazz piece, Marshall dives deep with each cocktail and/or wine menu change, bringing in a local jazz luminary for the R&D process.

She explains, “When I do a wine, training I also train on jazz.

I’ll usually pick a topic for them and explore it through a Pittsburgh musician who is famous for what they contributed to jazz in the world. Someone like Billy Strayhorn or  George Benson, for example.

The musical educator will talk about the style and do a listening and exploring the featured artist’s past, the Pittsburgh clubs and jazz history.

Now the staff gets it, this is about something bigger.  This is something we need to preserve. And make sure our musicians have a place to play.

We’ll typically start with an ingredient we’re inspired by same way a jazz musician is inspired by something and start to write – a seasonal ingredient, new liquor we’re introduced to and build on it.”

The 21C Hotel chain was built, beginning with their Louisville, Kentucky opening in 2006, with a commitment to making fine art accessible by bringing together the worlds of museums and hospitality in what they describe as a multi-venue contemporary art museum, boutique hotel, and chef-driven restaurant.

Each property offers free viewing of their contemporary art collection spread throughout thousands of square feet of museum and exhibition space.

September kicks off Nightcap at the Museum for hotel guests who can enjoy a complimentary tasting of the award-winning Angel’s Envy bourbon while exploring the museum and exhibition spaces as the night winds down.

Nightcap at the Museum will be available nightly from 8:00pm – late, and Hotel guests of 21c will receive a voucher for a free sip of Angel’s Envy Bourbon each night of their stay, to be redeemed at the hotel bar during Nightcap hours.

Curated cocktails Con Alma inspired jazz musicians House of Jade Salt Peanuts! Corcavado

Curated cocktails from Con Alma inspired by the current and legendary jazz musicians include the House of Jade, Salt Peanuts!, and the Corcavado (Photos courtesy of Con Alma Pittsburgh)

“At 21c art infuses everything we do, and we are thrilled to be partnering with Angel’s Envy Bourbon to provide guests of 21c with the opportunity to explore our museum spaces and linger-longer with contemporary art. We know that art can ignite new ideas, spark conversation and shape our points of view, and we can’t wait to see how our guests engage with art, and each other, with the launch of Nightcap at the Museum,” says Sarah Robbins, Chief Operating Officer at 21c Museum Hotels.

That memorable experience guests who overnight at a 21C Museum receive with Nightcap at the Museum – whether it’s the location in Durham, Bentonville, Cincinnati, Kansas City or elsewhere – is sure to make an impression and initiate a desire to return.

Marshall finds that bringing guests in, and keeping them coming back, has a lot to do with how they name their cocktails. And the good press they’ve received.

She shares, “The theatre next door is running The Billy Strayhorn Story, and we have a drink on the menu called Lush Life.

It’s named after one of Strayhorn’s most famous songs.Our list definitely piques the interest of people. We’ve been recognized for our cocktails and have people coming in for the drinks.

But, once reading these names they’ll ask, ‘why did you name it that?’. Our bartenders are going to know and be able to talk about it.

They’ll be able to tie the drink in to jazz musicians and the people who play here, and who have played in Pittsburgh.

It’s a great way to educate people who may not know that we have world class jazz and musicians here.”

Here, for Marshall, isn’t just an on-premise experience. Guests can take home Con Alma’s first CD, State of Mind and be reminded of Con Alma at home.

Marshall makes it easy for Con Alma’s sound and experience to translate to the kitchen dinner table as she notes, “People can come in for dinner, ask for the cd and put it on their dinner bill.”

What a way to get your establishment into people’s everyday lives and remain top of mind!

Art at home can’t be overlooked, and this is a great opportunity for spirit brands to partner with fine-living buildings with extensive resident amenity programs.

Bartender Melissa Brooke has extensive experience as a beverage director in some of NYC’s most notable bar programs and, off on her own, has created a niche business in New York collaborating with building management companies that provide concierge style programming all the time, ranging from cocktail classes to yoga experiences, sushi making, cheese classes, and more.

She shares a recent experience, “This particular building in New Rochelle is proud of their artwork due to the ethos of the building and they specifically wanted cocktails to pair with artwork in the building.”

There really is a fine art to pairing with fine beverages, whether in your bar, restaurant, or home. The elegance of a cultural experience enhanced by superior sips is a memorable way to build business.


Jack Daniel’s Bonded Rye Whiskey
Jack Daniel’s Bonded Rye Whiskey

SIPS TO SAVOR

Just when you thought you knew Jack, in comes the new Jack Daniel’s Bonded Rye Whiskey.

This bottling is the newest member of its Bonded Series, a line of expressions created to honor the distillery’s heritage.

It is bottled at 100 proof (50% alc. by vol.), and you can’t miss it’s Bottled-in-Bond designation that, in alignment with the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, means the whiskey was distilled by a single distiller during a single season, matured in a government bonded warehouse for at least four years, and bottled at 100 proof.

The grain bill of 70% rye, 18% corn, and 12% malted barley is charcoal mellowed before aging in new, handmade American white oak barrels and offers notes of dried fruit and toffee balanced with rye’s spicy finish.

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  • McKee Foodservice
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  • DAVO by Avalara
  • Cuisine Solutions
  • BelGioioso Burrata
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  • RAK Porcelain
  • T&S Brass Eversteel Pre-Rinse Units
  • Imperial Dade
  • Day & Nite
  • Simplot Frozen Avocado
  • RATIONAL USA
Francine Cohen
Francine Cohen is an award-winning journalist covering the business of the f&b/hospitality industry, and a proud native Washingtonian (DC). In addition to her work as a journalist she keeps busy fundraising for Citymeals on Wheels, Les Dames d’Escoffier, NY Women’s Culinary Alliance, and the USBG Foundation and serves as chief storyteller and brand steward for clients in the food and beverage sector by providing them with strategic marketing and business growth guidance. She has never met a cheese or beverage she does not like, and lives with her husband in New York; leaving him behind to visit New Orleans every summer. (Except 2020. Darn pandemic.) You can reach her at francinecohen@mindspring.com
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