“This is a terrible idea,” said my buddy Matt when I met him out one Wednesday night. I’d recruited him to try some “cleansing cocktails”—essentially boozy drinks made with fruit and vegetable juices. He was less than enthused. With his un-hip beard and penchant for processed foodstuffs, Matt is not one for fresh anything. So, naturally, he’d be the perfect critical accompaniment on my journey through the so-called healthy cocktail trend.
This latest craze shouldn’t be surprising, considering the recent flood of local companies offering juice cleanse regimens (Can Can Cleanse, Juice Shop, Urban Remedy, Living Greens, and Project Juice, to name but a few) and the opening of Starbucks-owned Evolution Fresh on Fillmore Street. “More than ever, people want to know if what you’re using is fresh,” said bartender Gail Izaguirre at Laszlo, who delivers with a menu of seasonal offerings. “It’s fun for us be- cause they’re more willing to try juices of produce they’ve never had before.”
The beet is undoubtedly the most popular veggie to sprout up in boozy concoctions. The herbaceous, deep red biennial has made its way onto the list at Chaya, where the Can’t Be Beet combines pureed beets with vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, jalapeño, ginger, and lemon. It has also seen action at 15 Romolo, in the Beetlejuice (gin, fresh beet and lemon juices, tomato, sesame oil, crème fraîche and rosemary), and graces Laszlo’s Vida Mezcal (along with mezcal, tomatillo, and a kale chip garnish).
According to the bartenders I talked to, it is the Bon Vivants who are responsible for igniting this public craze, thanks to their signature Pantone cocktail at Trick Dog. “Those dudes pretty much made it famous,” said Laszlo bartender Phil Mauro. “If you’re going to follow a trend, that’s a pretty good place to start.”
After taking Matt to a couple of other spots—of a bell pepper and saffron cocktail at Twenty Five Lusk, he said, “It smells like a salad before I dump Ken’s Steakhouse Italian dressing all over it”—we hit up Trick Dog to try the drink that started it all. He was apprehensive, at best. “Before I have this Pantone thing,” he said, “let me preface by saying I fucking hate beets.” He sniffed it tentatively. “My worst nightmares are confirmed.”
But then, he tasted it. “It’s not bad,” he said with a weird look on his face. He tasted it again. “The booze is helping me get over the fact that I’m consuming more beets than I ever have in my life.” As we walked out, his tune changed. “I feel healthier, like I could play volleyball or something.” When I dropped him at his apartment later, he nearly converted: “I just wish I didn’t know what was in it.”
This article was published in 7x7's June issue. Click here to subscribe.