After playing college baseball in Southern California, Apotheke bartender Chris Marshall moved to New York to get his MFA in Fine Art and took a job bartending at this downtown bar-meets-apothecary, which a friend of his had helped to design. “I didn't have any experience working in a bar before Apotheke, so I had to learn fast — and I did,” Marshall says. “As a person already geared towards creativity, I was able to put my skills to use at Apotheke in the form of cocktails.” Here, the Washington native chats about the value of patience, the facts versus fiction of absinthe, and why we should all place a little more priority on presentation.
BoozeMenus: How do you add a personal touch to the bartending experience?
Chris Marshall: The drinks I make are indicative of my artistic background, I suppose. I try to make them look as interesting as possible, and they all usually have a ‘theme’ to the ingredients. Having a concept behind the drink helps to categorize and sell the drink to the guest. For example, a light, tropical drink is a theme far removed from a strong, fall or winter cocktail.
BM: Apotheke prides itself on the cocktail’s presentation — how important is presentation for you when compared to a cocktail’s flavor and balance?
CM: They are all equal, in my opinion. The eyes eat first. Before you smell, taste, or touch, you see. Ultimately, you want the guest to walk away having had an experience at the bar. The visual component is usually under considered in most places, so I always emphasize aesthetics in the drinks.
BM: Absinthe plays a big role on the menu there — what should people know about absinthe that they might not know already?
CM: Many things. It does NOT make you hallucinate. Yes, it is real Absinthe. No, it is not illegal. It was made legal in 2007. It is a highly misunderstood spirit.
BM: What is a spirit or cocktail you love introducing people to?
CM: Cachaca. It is a Brazilian spirit distilled from sugarcane. It is bright, floral, smells wonderful, and can be used with a lot of tropical ingredients.
BM: Who do you continue to learn from in a consistent manner? What’s the latest lesson you’ve gathered?
CM: I teach the cocktail classes at Apotheke, and sometimes a guest or student will clue me in to something I never knew. I usually end up learning new combinations of ingredients that I never thought would work.
BM: What cocktail on the menu right now most surprised you?
CM: Our ‘Stetson’ cocktail is interesting in that it changes due to the fat wash weuse. It has a hickory smoked bacon bourbon, which changes slightly batch to batch due to the amount of fat rendered from cooking. It is interesting to see how this detail changes the flavor profile of the cocktail week to week.
BM: What ingredients are you playing around with lately?
CM: Duck bacon fat.
BM: Who’s someone that you’d love to make a drink for?
CM: Tough question. I’d really love to chat with Dr. Stephen Hawking but I don’t know if he drinks. His mind is fascinating.
BM: If you could put into effect one house rule at Apotheke, what would it be?
CM: I guess I would impress upon the guests the importance of patience and manners. We are high volume and very complex in our practices, so we function more like a restaurant than a bar sometimes. It would be great if guests thought about it in the same way.
BM: Where do you want to travel to next for a bonafide drinking experience?
CM: I’d like to go to Japan for a drinking and eating experience, along with an overall non-Western culture-based experience. The details of their culture have always impressed me.
By Nicole Schnitzler
(Photos from left: Bar; Chris Marshall; Paid Vacation Cocktail)