You make your own absinthe — how is that legally possible?
The distilling process was banned in the U.S. What is legal, and what I do, is to take my special herbs (one is wormwood) and soak them in an anisette. Normally you pour the water tower into the absinthe — instead of that, I’m using the anisette to burn off the alcohol so 80 percent of the alcohol is gone. It’s a very smooth absinthe.
And how are you able to use coca and opium leaves, as the press release describes?
There’s a legal coca leaf liqueur on the market, Coca Libre. We’re working with special leaves from South America — I’m getting advice from a pharmacist here. It’s the same as the poppy seed — you can buy it anywhere but you can’t distill or cook it.
What are some other exotic herbs you’re using?
I took trips to Grasse — it’s the main producing area for the perfume industry in Southern France. On one of my visits I met a lot of spice and herbs dealers who are suppliers for the perfume industry. You get beautiful roses and lavender. I’m still experimenting —I have 80 different herbs to experiment with.
You also have 250 cocktails on your menu. Are those all your own creations?
50 or 60 are my creations. And of course we do a lot of classic ones too, because we have to be a cocktail bar where you have to get the sidecar, the best margarita, and the best Bangkok cocktail. And then there’s the creativity of each “novice apotheker.” If you come to our bar and you’re not really in a good mood, we’ll try to give you a drink that will make your mood better. Every novice apotheker has their own specialty — the same way you’d say, “Okay, today I need to go to the eye doctor,” or, “Today my stomach hurts.”
So what would you recommend to someone who’s not in a good mood?
Champagne is a very good mood-maker, especially infused with my special bitters. I have a special selection of my own soaked bitters, labeled No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, like in the perfume industry. My menu breaks down what each ingredient — like the cucumber or the kumquat — is good for. Strawberries, for instance, have a cleansing effect.
Are you using anything more exotic than strawberries?
I’m using the bar as a lab by day, and I’m experimenting with coming up with a special cocktail every week. The mangosteen is a really good fruit — it just came on the market a year ago. We’re using the juice and soaking it with fresh hibiscus herbs. It’s really natural and beautiful.
One of the drinks includes “unfermented grape juice.” Isn’t that just a fancy way of saying grape juice?
During harvest season I’m getting natural grape juice from winemakers in Long Island. Normally, when it’s sold commercially, grape juice is heated up and loses all its flavor.
How about the food?
We’re very influenced by Chinatown and we have friends like Daniel Boulud and David Bouley. We’re still working on the food menu, but in the meantime we’re serving local dumplings.
What do you think will most influence other mixologists when they see it done at Apothéke?
I’ve got this sugarcane machine from Guatemala. A lot of cocktails are too sugary, with artificial sugar. I get my own sugarcane stock from Florida so I can squeeze it in front of the customer if they want a mojito.
You’ve been described as a scientist of sorts — would you go so far as to call yourself a molecular mixologist?
It’s a trend, but I’m not so into that because I’m a classic person and I trained in the cocktail culture in the eighties and nineties. I like my special ice and ingredients. Ferran Adrià has a cocktail lab at El Bulli and I think a lot of bartenders and bar chefs got inspired by that style, but it’s more food-related than cocktail-related and I’m not really jumping on that train.