Aasif Mandvi meets me on the exceedingly pleasant pool deck at Jimmy, a posh cocktail lounge on the 18th floor of the James hotel in lower Manhattan popular with models, actors, and bewildered European tourists. It’s late afternoon and the sun is high in a cloudless sky, taking its sweet time floating across the Hudson before disappearing somewhere in western New Jersey. Johnny Swet, who runs the cocktail program at Jimmy—and also owns, with Larry Poston, the elegant Hotel Griffou—is going over with us the details of the evening’s cocktails, a collection of summer drinks that represent innovative takes on the classics as well as a few new ideas.
It’s an appropriately sophisticated way for Mandvi to break his fast. The actor, comedian, and writer has been teetotal for six months, going on a self-imposed booze hiatus to focus on his creative pursuits, of which there are many. He’s a regular correspondent for The Daily Show, interviewing "crazy people and racists" across the country and trading quips with Jon Stewart. He’s been acting in a number of movies, from Premium Rush with Joseph Gordon Levitt, to Gods Behaving Badly with Christopher Walken, to Ruby Sparks with Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan. He even had a "teeny weeny role" in Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator. He’s been promoting the DVD release of his 2010 romantic comedy Today’s Special, including taping a "culinary tour of New York" that aired on the Cooking Channel. And he’s been writing an as-yet-untitled book.
"It’s a collection of essays about my life, my childhood in England, both pre-9/11 and post-9/11 America, and growing up as a brown kid of Muslim origin," he says. So what’s it like growing up as a brown kid of Muslim origin? "You’ll have to wait for the book," he adds. "Or just watch Fox News, they know what it’s like." What we know, however, is that there are seven sublime cocktails that await our critique, so we head inside to a corner banquette, as Mandvi deftly parries the advances of a teetering fan ("Oh my god, are you on The Daily Show? What’s your name?") and tastes the sweet elixir of al-kuḥl that he denied himself for half a year. The results are enlightening.
Muddle a 2 inch chunk of ripe banana with ½ oz lime juice in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, 2 oz Linie Aquavit, and ½ oz simple syrup. Shake and strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh cubed ice. Add a dash of St. George Absinthe Verte and a dash of chocolate bitters.
"I love the licorice taste in this. To use a musical metaphor, it has a nice bass line to it. It has substance and weight. The banana adds to the tactile experience. It’s like an alcoholic smoothie, and you get your potassium."
Blair Witch Cocktail
In a tall glass, pour 2 oz Original Moonshine, ½ oz lime juice, and ½ oz Velvet Falernum. Add cubed ice and top with birch beer. Stir and garnish with fresh bay leaf and brandied cherries.
"It reminds me of Dandelion and Burdock, a drink I had growing up in England. It makes me want to watch The Blair Witch Project again. I think that if you drank this cocktail and then watched the movie it would make more sense. Whenever I hear moonshine it makes me think of The Dukes of Hazzard. Cocktails in general have a femininity to them but this is a man’s drink."
Rosarito Beach Margarita
Muddle two fresh strawberries with a sprig of cilantro in a rocks glass. Add 2 oz Herradura Silver Tequila, ½ oz agave nectar, and ½ oz lime juice. Add crushed ice and stir until frosty. Garnish with a strawberry slice and a sprig of cilantro.
"I like the cilantro, it’s kind of minty. I usually drink margaritas when I’m trying to get laid. I’m a big fan of tequila. Margaritas just make me happy, this one especially. It looks like an aquarium of strawberries."
Going Back to Cali
Muddle 3 chunks of avocado in a shaker with 3/4 oz of lime juice. Add ice, 1/2 oz of Tuaca Vanilla Citrus Liqueur, and 2 oz of aged rum. Shake hard and fine strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.
"This has a custardy feeling to it. It’s like a meal. Very creamy. Like a salad and a dessert mixed in one. I feel like I’m eating Key lime pie out of a martini glass. There’s something very soothing about it."
In an ice-filled rocks glass add 1 oz Nolet’s Gin, 1 oz Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth, and 1 oz Campari. Stir and garnish with an orange peel. To make it extra sexy use one large block of ice instead of cubed ice.
"This is ayurvedic. It’s a sipper. It’s a very grown-up cocktail. I may actually be too immature for this cocktail. There’s a bitter quality to it, it has an edge. It’s businesslike. You’re at the Soho House signing contracts with this one. I like things that have a huge chunk of ice in the middle, like me."
Grapes of Wrath
In a tall glass muddle 3 green grapes. Add 2 oz of Crop Organic Cucumber Vodka, 3/4 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, and 1/2 oz of lemon juice. Add ice and stir in club soda. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.
"It’s so refreshing you could swim in this cocktail. This is one of my favorites. It feels fun, like I’m out by the pool. It feels like summer to me, like lemonade. It puts me on a raft in a pool in Miami."
Grilled Pineapple Mojito
Muddle 6 mint leaves and 6 chunks of grilled pineapple in a shaker. Add 2 ounces Barbancourt Haitian rum, 1 oz pineapple juice, and ½ oz lime juice. Dry shake and strain into a tall glass. Add crushed ice and stir. Garnish with mint and a slice of grilled pineapple.
"When I look at this I think of Africa. It might be my favorite cocktail of the evening. This is like a crocodile. No, I take that back, it’s not like a crocodile, but there’s a deadliness to it. It reminds me of a girl I knew who looked slutty but was actually very sweet. I want to say it’s dirty. It looks like swamp water and tastes like fun."