Bartenders are variously a giving and a denying lot. The givers of the trade are priceless, dispensing all that humanity demands for the tending of hearts either joyous or broken. Whether the order is a cheap pilsner or an intricate cocktail, they aim to please. Slur a little over your third whiskey, or make a sloppy pass that’s rejected? Eh, they’ve seen it before, and they’ll quietly overlook time again.
Deniers, unfortunately, ruin that halcyon picture. Their pours are miserly or watered-down, and their dispositions surly. Ask for substitutions or adjustments, and get the evil eye in return. Time-consuming drinks? Forget about it.
Divided a field as it may be, however, one drink— the minty, rum-based mojito — earns the ire of both camps. Once called “the bane of bartenders” by cocktail guru Eben Freeman, the mojito’s disrepute is understandable, really, beginning with the labor-intensive process of making one the right way. Making one begins well before an order, with fresh mint and limes that have to be bought and stored regularly. Then the mixing itself begs multiple, time-consuming steps: juicing the fruit, picking and muddling the mint with sugar, plunking ice cubes into the glass, stirring in the rum and lime juice, and topping it all off with seltzer. None of this requires a doctorate in nuclear physics, sure, but it does require time, care and moderately pricy ingredients that carry a short shelf life — all of which can be anathema to bartenders who are short on such things.
At the year-old Gavin’s, though, bartenders Sam Cuthell and J.D. Crooks are standing the mojito-hating on its head by instituting a design-your-own mojito night that will run each Thursday throughout the summer. Looking for a regular feature to draw in customers and distinguish the bar – which occupies the same boozy block as the Hot Club and Whiskey Republic – bartenders Crooks and Cuthell settled on the mojito concept after dismissing a few other options. But rather than doing just standard mojitos – although those are available, too, of course – the pair decided to highlight modified combinations with fresh fruit. “We like the idea of getting to do something super-seasonal,” Cuthell explains, adding that he and Crooks visit local farmers’ markets every Thursday for that day’s produce selection, and buy whatever the sellers tell them is at its peak. Back at Gavin’s, they line up their haul on the bar as a kind of visual menu from which customers can pick and choose their drink’s ingredients.
On the night I went with a friend, we let Crooks and Cuthell steer us completely. Why not let the experts do what they do, after all? Besides, demon rum has a way of causing a precipitous drop in decision-making skills — even when said rum is gussied up into sweet, innocent-seeming refreshers. Perhaps especially in such instances, in fact. They got to work on four versions for us to sample, each one requiring several minutes of undivided attention to slice, muddle, pour and stir. Time-consuming it may be for them, but on our end we hardly minded the wait, and in fact enjoyed watching the effort and care that went into each glass. Besides, we were happily engrossed in conversation with the owner’s wife, Katie Latimer, a total charmer, who’s dedicated to making regulars and newcomers alike feel welcome.
Of our sampling, my favorite version featured a slight kick from muddled jalapeno, which was mixed with nectarine, plum, basil, mint, and a topper of Prosecco instead of the usual soda water. (It may sound busy, but it was hardly a fruit salad squeezed into a Collins glass, and all of the individual flavors were somehow subtly discernible.) J., my fellow mojito taster, preferred a mix of pomegranate and kiwi, which was quite a girly choice compared to his typical predilection for whiskey on the rocks. He wasn’t alone, as several broad- shouldered men at the bar unabashedly ordered and slurped down feminine-looking mojitos, all tinged with pink and studded with fruit bits. One even asked, in a voice more suited to barking for a beer, for a splash of Chambord in his. Could there be such a thing as mojito syndrome? What happens at Gavin’s stays at Gavin’s, my friends.