In June 2019, Amaro Montenegro announced the theme for its international cocktail competition, The Vero Bartender: “Sharing Cocktails.” According to a press release, the concept was “inspired by the history of mixology and a rising trend in the cocktail industry,” and aims to challenge bartenders to “take a communal and elevated approach to cocktail creation.”
It’s part of a larger movement in which large-format cocktails are getting a modern makeover. Shareable drinks are now both trendy and timeless, popping up everywhere from bowling alleys to the most high-end hotel bars in the country. In NYC, fine- dining destination The Nomad offers table-side punch service, and Henry at The Life Hotel has a two-person cocktail, Big Poppa, featuring Cognac, rum, and coffee. Punch Bowl Social, a Denver-based fleet of punch-centric playgrounds, opened its 16th location in Washington, D.C., in 2018.
When Ian Schrager and Marriott launched their latest venture, the Times Square Edition, in March 2019, the legendary “hospitality godfather” described the luxury hotel’s Midtown Manhattan arrival as a “paradigm shift.” Its bars and restaurants include 701West and Paradise Club. Starring on the drinks menu in summer 2019 are large-format cocktails.
At 701West, the Ay Chihuahua cocktail is made with Don Julio 1942 tequila, shishito pepper and agave syrups, lime juice, and jalapeño. The cocktail is served in a glass vessel resembling a squash set atop a bed of wheatgrass and edible flowers. Bali Ha’i is made with rum, lime and pineapple juices, Korean red pepper paste, and dried red chili threads. It’s served in a Japanese donburi bowl with bamboo shoots mimicking chopsticks, and a plate of fruit that appear to be noodles and fish cakes. The shareable drink is meant to “simulate a ramen experience,” a spokesperson tells VinePair.
Salvatore Tafuri, the hotel’s bar director, says he chose to serve communal cocktails “for several reasons, the most important being that everything is better when you share it with the person next to you. I enjoy going to places where I can share a surprising experience with my friends or family and, of course, walk away with something to post on social media!”
Grant Smillie, co-founder of Botanical Hospitality and owner of Los Angeles’s E.P. & L.P. restaurant and rooftop bar, says large-format cocktails are “the upscale version of a pitcher.”
“We wanted to be able to cater [to] larger groups of people with a shared cocktail experience,” Smillie writes VinePair in an email. “We also absolutely did not want to go down the bottle service model, and this allows for a great outcome without going that route.”
At L.P. Rooftop Bar, a stylish and sceney open-air deck overlooking the Hollywood hills and Sunset Strip, large-format cocktails arrive in custom copper-colored punch bowls shaped like swans and pineapples, created in partnership with Absolut Elyx. Similar vessels can be found at Diego at the Public Hotel in New York, the Freehold in Brooklyn, and Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago.
“It’s about the vessels that you can create,” Smillie says, likening custom creations to “a level of theatre which people want to participate in. It’s a fine line between being sophisticated in delivery and looking tacky.”
Visual impact and cost tend to increase in tandem. At Provision No. 14 in Washington, D.C., shareable drinks are served in French presses priced at $38 each for four to five servings. Communal cocktails at NYC tiki bar The Polynesian start at $75, and Boston supper club Yvonne’s prices its shareable drinks at $95 each. L.P Rooftop Bar’s punch goes for $300.
Clearly, these are not the scorpion bowls of yesteryear. Still, their appeal transcends trends.
“A punch bowl breaks the ice a bit and brings back that magic of human interaction and communality,” Adam Seger, bartender at The Tuck Room, a restaurant and cocktail lounge in Manhattan’s South Street Seaport, told The Houston Chronicle in 2018. Instagrammable moments are great and all, but nothing beats actual face time with your friends.