Above: JIMMY’s Legal In Vermont cocktail
Johnny Swet is a New York nightlife mastermind, legend, and all around good bloke. His unparalleled cocktail alchemy, urbane but laid-back hospitality and considerable cache of good stories–he’s done time at the likes of B-Bar and Freeman’s–can these days be indulged everywhere from the unceasingly groovy JIMMY at both the James NY and Chicago to sexy rooftop lounge The Skylark to where he generally holds court, cool “dive cocktail bar” Rogue & Canon.
Seeking to cut through all the Halloween hype and hubbub, and lately finding ourselves thirsting for the magnum opus of autumn cocktails, we tapped his consummate epicurean wisdom and savvy for tippling enlightenment.
Johnny Swet at JIMMY at the James NY
What makes a great autumn cocktail?
Autumn cocktails need to obviously use seasonal ingredients such as maple syrup, pumpkin, cranberry, applejack, etc.; but they also should bring back memories of this time of year, from trick or treating to warm cider. It’s also nice to use some of the “brown” spirits, like bourbon, rye and apple brandy.
What are your personal fave autumn cocktails from your venues?
At Rogue & Canon, I have a cocktail called “Plymouth Rock”, a spin on a Cape Cod that uses vodka and cranberry with cinnamon spiced poached cranberries and rosemary, topped of with sparkling rosé. At JIMMY NYC and Chicago I have a “Pumpkin Sazerac”, which is a traditional Sazerac with a bar spoon of pumpkin butter. I also use pumpkin butter at the Skylark, which I blend with applejack and tawny port; I call that one “Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater”.
Are there any notable cocktail trends for the season?
Definitely. Using spices like cardamom, ginger star anise, cinnamon and such. You can make a mulled cider with some of those spices and with a splash of apple brandy or whiskey.
With so many so-called “craft cocktail” spots around now, what sets you and your venues apart?
I think what sets us apart is that we make these well crafted cocktails–which are all based on traditional drinks and tweaked with seasonal ingredients—but with no pretension or attitude. We like to have fun and be less serious…and I pour strong drinks. I actually love working on the names and having people ask why we named it that. For example, at Skylark we have a drink called “Fort Knox”, which is really just a version of a gold rush, but we added a grilled lemon ice block and a mezcal rinse. Obviously Fort Knox is where America keeps its gold reserve, and for a bourbon to be a bourbon it has to come from Kentucky, so it really makes sense.
Are you doing anything special for Halloween at your venues?
At Rogue & Canon we’re doing our second annual Halloween party. It’s just fun, easy, come dressed up or not, we have DJs and drink specials. We’re on the edge of the West Village, so we’re just on the fringe of all the craziness; and we’re a dive bar that serves great artisanal cocktails at crazy reasonable prices.
At JIMMY we have a live DJ and we’ll be projecting Friday the 13th out by the pool. There will be some cool drinks like the “Vanilla Ice Ice Baby”—we put a “DUM-DUM” lollipop in it; it’s like trick or treating, but you can get drunk! We also have the “Legal in Vermont”, which I love. And Skylark is just so civilized and chic for autumn cocktails in a beautiful setting; the bartenders there are so talented. An amazing way to do Halloween!
JOHNNY SWET’S FINEST AUTUMN COCKTAIL RECIPES
In a shaker, add 2 oz Templeton Rye, .5 oz Simple syrup, .25 oz of Absinthe, 2 dash of Peychaud”s bitters , add a spoon of Pumpkin Butter or Pumpkin Pie Mix, shake with ice, strain into a chilled rocks glass garnish with an lemon twist.
In a tall collins glass, add 1.5 oz of Tito”s Vodka, with .5 oz of Cinnamon Syrup add 1 oz of Cranberry juice, add ice and stir in a bar spoon of poached whole cranberries, top with sparkling rose. Garnish with rosemary sprig.
PETER PETER PUMPKIN EATER
In a Tin add 2 oz of Laird”s Applejack, 1 oz of Tawny Port and a bar spoon of Pumpkin Butter, 2 dash of orange Bitters and shake with ice strain into snifter with cubed ice garnish with long orange twist.
LEGAL IN VERMONT
In a tin, muddle purple basil with .5 cinnamon syrup, add 2 oz Knob Creek Bourbon and .5 maple syrup and 2 dash orange bitters, shake with ice and strain into a rocks glass over a cinnamon ice block, garnish with purple basil.
VANILLA ICE ICE BABY
In a rocks glass 2 oz of ZU Bison Grass Vodka, 1 oz Licor#43 vanilla liquor, lots of ice and stir with a “Dum-Dum” cherry lollipop and leave in glass.
The back booth at Rogue & Canon