Return of the Serving Dead
When Kimpton Hotels hosted an internal meeting last summer at Hotel Monaco Portland, Jason Gordon, GM of the hotel's Red Star Tavern, planned an afternoon meeting break that was both exotic and efficient.
"The meeting was held at the end of the summer," Gordon explains. "We were just finishing up our Kimpton-wide tiki cocktail promotion, and we had all this inventory of hand-blown glassware with ornate tiki faces and emblems carved into them. The promotion had been a big hit with our customers, so I thought, 'Why not use this meeting as an opportunity to wow some seasoned hotel professionals, while repurposing the tiki inventory?'"
Gordon says that so many of his job objectives as a restaurant GM (he also serves as GM for Pazzo Ristorante at the Monaco's sister property, Hotel Vintage) involve using existing inventory to run the most effective business possible, but this meeting break was also about having fun.
"I think sometimes we can take cocktail production a little too seriously or be too stiff about it," says Gordon. "There's nothing wrong with colorful, fruity drinks. They're fun. I saw how much delight our bar staff was taking in the drinks, the glassware, and even the promotional menus, so I knew this lightheartedness would convey to the meeting-goers."
SWIZZLE AND SWAY
Gordon, who also would be one of the meeting attendees, called upon Brandon Lockman, head bartender at Red Star Tavern, to execute the cocktails. Lockman chose two cocktails to showcase: the Queen Park Swizzle and the Zombie, a cold brew coffee piña colada.
"The Queen Park Swizzle," Lockman says, "is a mix of rum, lime juice, demerara simple syrup (using demerara or turbinado sugar), a few dashes of Angostura bitters, and crushed ice, all on top of fresh mint, which is pressed at the bottom of the glass. We top it off with some mint sprigs for garnish. The Zombie is a combination of silver rum, coconut milk, cold brew coffee, lime juice, and demerara simple syrup, shaken, strained over crushed ice, and garnished with pineapple, cherries, and kitschy drink umbrellas."
Together with a fellow bartender, who wore a grass skirt, Lockman closed the doors to the meeting break-out room and set about transforming the station tables with grass skirting and pineapple décor. The two crushed the ice with mallets, added the ice to 30 glasses (one for each attendee), and batched the two cocktail offerings in pitchers.
"When the doors opened," says Gordon, "there were gasps, oohs, and aahs. It's incredibly hard to surprise people who have seen so many meeting breaks, but they didn't expect cocktails, and they certainly didn't expect to be transported to a tropical island."
After the shock wore off, Gordon says that meeting attendees actually snapped photos for social media, and, due to the "happy hour" atmosphere, engaged with each other more than at average meeting breaks. Both drinks were a hit, but Gordon says the coffee cocktail was the more popular of the two.
"It was perfect for an afternoon meeting, because it loosened you up and perked you up at the same time," he observes.
BACK FROM THE DEAD
This successful repurposing project wasn't the first time Gordon or Lockman had gotten creative with existing glassware. Lockman opines that a storage room at the hotel, "affectionately" referred to as "the graveyard," has been a wellspring of repurposing ideas—making the Zombie's name perfectly apropos.
"At any given time, you can find a staff member from the bar, kitchen, or catering department rifling through all the long-forgotten boxes in there, trying to meet some need," says Lockman.
For instance, Chef Kyle Rourke recently wanted to showcase a new dessert, a trifle, and he found a box of stemless martini glasses, which were all the rage 10 years ago.
"Instead of having to go out and buy 40 parfait dishes, he just used the martini glasses," Lockman says. "They worked perfectly."
On another occasion, just in time for the holidays, Gordon wanted to add a hot drink to the bar menu but didn't want to invest in a specialty glass for just a month or two. He remembered a box of old glasses that looked like large brandy snifters, and because they were tempered glass, they were ideal for serving the hot toddy the bar team dreamed up.
Even Hotel Monaco's sister hotel, Hotel Vintage, located just down the street, benefits from the graveyard's glassware riches.
"Off of Red Star Tavern, there's a party space that we've named 'The Speakeasy Room.' I had a friend design a door for the room that looks like bookshelves from a private library, to give it a secretive air. Because so many of the glasses in our graveyard storage room have a vintage look and feel to them, they fit perfectly with the speakeasy vibe. And it's a win-win, because this way, the glassware from the restaurant doesn't get depleted."Ashley Allen is an author and writer based in Leesburg, Virginia.
Photos by John Valls.