With a new travel-themed cocktail menu, downtown speakeasy Midnight Cowboy — a narrow, dimly lit den squeezed in between the many shot bars of Sixth Street — proves once again why it's one of the top places in town for mixed drinks.
The menu features 16 original cocktails that were all inspired by a specific country or region around the world. Additionally, there is a lineup of classic cocktails and nonalcoholic drinks that are also tied to various locales. Midnight Cowboy intends to celebrate the wonders of travel and all of the things we can learn from visiting new places with the comprehensive list of cocktails, which launched last week and will be available through the bulk of next year.
Conceptual menus are be tricky to do because they can appear gimmicky or overwrought, but Midnight Cowboy has pulled it off brilliantly for the second year in a row. Last year, the speakeasy's general manager, Tacy Rowland, created a menu around the topic of "the art of conversation"; this year, she and the bar staff took the theme of travel even further, with the design of the menu itself central to the concept.
Namely, the menu looks like a passport that you can personalize. Each page represents countries, such as Russia or South Africa, or regions like Central America, and the U.S. state of Alaska is also featured. Once you enjoy the cocktail listed on a specific page, you can get that page stamped; plus, the Midnight Cowboy staff will take your picture and attach it to one of the front pages. Drink each cocktail over the course of next year to get a commemorative enamel pin.
The bartenders were granted significant leeway with the creation of each cocktail, which aren't intended to be accurate representations of the sort of drinks served in each of the places listed on the passport menu.
"Some people stayed more generally within a region, and then others went more specifically to a country for inspiration," Rowland said. "Not all of the spirits necessarily needed to have been from the actual country. It was more about evoking an idea or a memory, the spirit of the place they had chosen as inspiration."
For example, the China cocktail, called Fortune Favors, that Rowland put together has Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac and peanut-washed Jagermeister, neither of which are made in China. But both are combined with Pagoda rice wine, Szechuan pepper, salt and sesame oil and then served in a martini glass for a savory mix of flavors that brings to mind the cuisine of the large Asian country.
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Many of the cocktails tend to be Instagram-friendly thanks to the wild garnishes and glassware that Midnight Cowboy likes to use. Fortune Favors uses a fortune cookie as a garnish, while the South American drink Pacha Kamaq comes served in an elaborate smoking box. And off-the-wall ingredients are also on offer here — the Pacha Kamaq, for instance, uses ants in the salt that rims the glass.
Other cocktails to seek out include the South African-inspired Another Dawn, with Suntory Toki Whisky, Bols Genever, coffee, Macadamia nut, salt and waffle as a garnish, and the tiki-esque Caribbean Queen, with Basil Hayden's Bourbon, Rujero Singani, Chareau Aloe Liqueur, velvet falernum, orgeat, pineapple and firewater.
Because of their complicated set-up, many of the cocktails take time to make — be patient — but the Midnight Cowboy crew wouldn't have it any other way.
"We're just a bunch of nerds. We can't help it," Rowland said with a laugh.
Midnight Cowboy is located at 313 E. Sixth St. and requires reservations for entrance. Visit midnightcowboymodeling.com for more information.