In these days of COVID-19, staying home has become the new going out. But what to do when your partner and you have exhausted all conversation topics, your kids are restless and climbing the walls or your annoying roommate ends up being your dinner date every evening?
Enter the Zoom party. The video conferencing site has allowed people to create their own houseparty hangouts, movie watch parties and virtual bars. Since the coronavirus hit, I’ve had a virtual grad-school reunion, an online Easter soirée and many toasts — lifting my glass to my laptop’s camera.
So, when I received an email that the Museum of the American Cocktail was hosting an online seminar, I was completely psyched. The New Orleans-based museum’s regular Washington, D.C., events are always fabulous and full of fun demonstrations, interesting tidbits of history and the best part: unique cocktails.
I wondered whether this virtual event could live up to my expectations, since there wouldn’t be any bartenders serving rounds. But that concern was quickly dashed when a list of recipes arrived in my inbox the day before, making it possible to stock up and actually mix the drinks along with the pros.
The only problem was, since the event started at 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, it would only be 6 a.m. in Hanoi, where I live. Not exactly an ideal time for a cocktail party.
The event featured an impressive lineup of D.C. celebrity bartenders, including Duane Sylvestre, Dan Searing of Room 11, Joseph Grimshaw of Stable and Sarah Rosner from Bourbon Steak at the Four Seasons, as well as the King of Cocktails, Dale DeGroff. Best of all, it also served as a fundraiser for people hit hard by the pandemic, with each mixologist advocating a specific charity — truly, drinking for a good cause.
Phil Greene, host and founding member of MOTAC, kicked off the evening by mixing a drink from his revered book “To Have and to Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion.” The drink called Cayo Hueso la Floridita refers to two of Hemingway’s hangouts: Key West, once known as Cayo Hueso, and La Floradita, the author’s Havana watering hole, where Hemingway’s frozen daiquiri was made famous.
Cayo Hueso, which translates as Isle of Bones, was a name given to Key West by Spanish explorers when they found a burial mound on the island. Describing the drink as a “highball version of the Hemingway daiquiri,” Greene pointed out that, given its few ingredients — grapefruit soda, rum and lime juice — it was “very easy to make at home.”
Next, attendees were transported to Duane Sylvestre’s massive subterranean bar, which was stocked more fully than many D.C. liquor stores. If the DMV area is ever forced to take shelter, this is the kind of bunker I want to be in.
Sylvestre utilized the orange cognac Grand Marnier (a common theme in all the recipes he demonstrated) to mix alluring variations of some classic drinks, such as the Sazerac and the French 75. The recipe of his I chose to make first was the Grand Café, a mixture of Grand Marnier, coffee and whipping cream. Since it was early morning for me in Vietnam, coffee was actually my first order of business.
Mixtress Gina Chersevani of Buffalo & Bergen joined to mix what promised to be one of the most exciting tipples of the event, The Sun Also Sets, a groovy blender drink featuring my favorite liqueur, Campari. Demonstrating from her kitchen, Chersevani announced that she had just come home from work and was already in her pajamas — something I related to, since I had literally rolled out of bed less than an hour beforehand. I’d say that, for workers everywhere, Zoom has redefined the term “office casual.”
Chersevani suggested making a batch of the mix (Campari, vodka, Cointreau and orange juice) in a pitcher before mixing it in a blender with ice. Always innovative, she served her drink in a hollowed-out cantaloupe with a mini pool flamingo. Along with this creative container, she dispersed some useful advice: to add a bit of cantaloupe to the mixture to ensure that all the flavors meld together. This drink will definitely be a staple for me in Hanoi’s 100-degree summer days.
Should anyone be looking for some corona resistance, Grimshaw introduced his Sweet Libations line of homemade mixers, forged from ginger and rosehips, which are full of vitamin C to boost your immunity. They are available at Culture Coffee Too in Northeast D.C.
So, as the U.S. reopens from its COVID-19 hibernation, will the popularity of Zoom parties continue? Or will they just be remembered as a big fad of the ’20s, like twerking and Pokémon Go in the 2010s?
There are advantages to consider. No squeezing yourself into skinny jeans or the strain of high heels … no crowded clubs with questionable public restrooms … and no worrying about catching an Uber home.
Gina Chersevani’s “The Sun Also Sets”
Make this batch in advance:
4 oz. Campari
8 oz. Wódka vodka
4 oz. orange juice
4 oz. Cointreau
For each drink, add to a blender:
2 cups of ice
1 cup of mix
2 teaspoons of cantaloupe
Blend until smooth, pour into a hollowed-out cantaloupe and garnish with some fresh mint and an orange wheel.