It's not always easy finding Asian-inspired drinks at non-Asian restaurants, but we scoured enough menus and harassed enough bartenders to find some exotic exceptions. In many cases, these Far East-inspired drinks are some of the most popular on the menus, despite their sometimes unfamiliar ingredients. Don't know what shochu is? Never heard of Yamazaki? Read on.
Because of the Seido Sling's somewhat medicinal qualities, the Gin Joint's Joe Raya originally wanted to use the Japanese word for penicillin in the name — that is, until he realized the proper pronunciation of the word called to mind a certain part of the male anatomy. "Late at night that would get pretty funny," Raya admits, but he went with "seido" instead, a word that means precision — something the expert bartenders at the speakeasy-style joint know all about. "We wanted to make a really awesome Japanese whiskey cocktail," Raya says of the drink, and he decided to go with a sling formula. It's an old-school technique that blends a spirit, lemon juice, sugar, and soda water. "There's not really a firm definition, but the name comes from the way you drink it, sort of slinging it back," he says. The Seido Sling blends 12-year-old Yamazaki whiskey, fresh yuzu juice, ginger, and honey. Now, the Gin Joint likes to keep their menu fresh, so you won't find the Seido Sling listed anymore, but they're always ready to whip one up — and they often do, because the drink has earned many fans since its inception. "When we took it off the menu, people were pretty pissed off," Raya laughs.
You'll find another, much more familiar sling at many local bars, including the Big Gun Burger Shop. They're as well known for their burgers as their classic, affordable cocktails and youthful nightlife scene. For around $5, you can choose from dozens of boozy classics like a Manhattan, a Pimm's Cup, a Tom Collins, and a Singapore Sling. According to bartender lore, the drink was created by Ngiam Tong Boon in the early 1900s at the Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel Singapore. The original recipe called for gin, Cherry Heering liqueur, Bénédictine (a French herbal liqueur), and fresh pineapple juice. Big Gun's version keeps it simple by using gin, cherry brandy, and lemon juice, finished off with a sugar rim. The end result is sweet and fruity.
You might not expect a classy joint like the Cocktail Club to use Arizona Virgin Piña Colada (yes, the same brand that markets giant cans of gas-station tea) as a base for a cocktail, much less an Asian-inspired cocktail. But talented beverage director Jasmine Beck goes there, and she succeeds with her efforts. Ty-ku shochu, a low-calorie, vodka-like Asian spirit, provides the kick in this blend of coconut milk, Thai chili, citrus, lime, and basil. It's a spicy-sweet flavor explosion, a signature combo from Beck, and it's one of the Cocktail Club's most popular offerings.
Fish might have a French chef in Nico Romo, but most of the menu is influenced by Asian flavors, and that includes the cocktail selection. The Orient Express starts with a base of Absolut Orient Apple, a newer vodka flavor with hints of red apples and ginger. Added to that is Canton ginger liqueur, Blenheim's ginger ale, mint, lemon, and yuzu marmalade made from the distinctive Japanese citrus fruit. If you're more of a gin-drinker, order the Sapphire Detox, invented by Fish's resident yogi Sarah Martin for the GQ Bombay Sapphire Competition. The sweet, complex creation, which took home two top honors at the competition, blends Bombay Sapphire gin, muddled fresh ginger, agave nectar, green tea, champagne, and grapefruit.
Like the Singapore Sling, you're not likely to find unfamiliar Asian ingredients in a Mai Tai, but it's a classic Polynesian-style tiki bar favorite. Its origins are uncertain, which might account for its many variations, but most seem to think that it was invented at Trader Vic's in Oakland, Calif., back in the 1940s. According to legend, when the cocktail creator offered the drink to some friends from Tahiti, one of them exclaimed that it was "maita'i," the Tahitian word for "good." Vic's rather complex recipe called for 17-year old J. Wray and Nephew Rum over shaved ice, fresh lime juice, DeKuyper Orange Curaçao, rock candy syrup, French Garnier Orgeat syrup, and mint. Locally, the folks at Red's Ice House makes a Mai Tai pitcher, which serves up to six people and blends together Cruzan dark rum, Amaretto, orange juice, pineapple juice, and grenadine.