Cocktail Improv

Tres Bullard of Top Flr puts the art into action
Tres Bullard of Top Flr

Photograph by Ryan Hayslip

The new breed of cocktail list, with its eccentrically named spirits and esoteric brands, sometimes needs as much interpretation as an overwhelming wine menu. More than ever, serious bartenders have to foster an articulate exchange with customers. A gratifying example: Four of us were at Midtown’s late-night haven Top Flr on a Saturday in early spring. We called out our drink orders to bartender Tres Bullard. I asked for the Trade Route: Scarlet Ibis aged rum, Carpano Antica Formula vermouth, Boomsma Jonge Genever (a Dutch gin), and bitters, with the glass swirled with Batavia-Arrack van Oosten (an Indonesian sugar cane spirit) and cherry Heering. It was the kind of heady drink I favor.

When Bullard—tall, blond, tattooed—asked if we were ready for another round, I asked him if he could make something similar to the Trade Route. He went back behind the bar and put his head down in thought. He grabbed Scarlet Ibis again for the base but swapped out the gin for Bonal Gentiane Quina, a French aperitif4 with the whomp of quinine; exchanged the Carpano Antica for Cocchi Americano (a vermouthlike Italian aperitivo); and finished the potion with Angostura and mole chocolate bitters and Becherovka, a Czech digestif. It had the same cross-continental flavors but was even lighter and more appropriate for the warm evening. That kind of in-the-moment hospitality turns drop-ins into regulars. 674 Myrtle Street,

This article originally appeared in our June 2012 issue.