On a recent Friday night I sat at Shepard's luminous marble bar, reading the streamlined menu. Ten cocktails, most with familiar names — a refreshing break from trendy, need-to-Google ingredients. As bar manager Nicholas Mansur explained, “I chose to go with a simpler cocktail program; it fits thematically with the food. It’s the style of bartending that I like to do. It’s about consistency, simplicity and properly executing these staples — classic cocktails.”
Your beverage program reveals a streamlined approach to cocktails. Has simplicity always been your reigning philosophy?
Yes, I would say so. As a bartender, the cocktails that I like, and the cocktails I like to make, have always been on the simpler side.
What are the cocktails you like and the ones that you like to make?
I like stirred, boozy brown drinks a lot. Manhattan variants, really — anything in that range. Those will only be three or four ingredients, like a vermouth, a base spirit, some bitters, and then maybe one other modifier. I also love classic three-part sours – gimlets, whiskey sours, and we have a Gold Rush on the menu that’s just lemon juice, honey, and bourbon. It’s delicious.
I saw that. I thought that was a Hot Toddy.
If it’s hot, it would be. A Hot Toddy usually actually has a little bit more, maybe grate some nutmeg in there, maybe some cinnamon.
The menu you created focuses on classic cocktails, which makes me think of Hollywood in the 1940s — Humphrey Bogart with a martini, lots of glitz and glamour. What's your take on classic cocktails in 2015?
They still have a place in any bar or dining establishment. It’s a great place to start your bar program. That was the basis of ours, and we’re just in the infancy of this space and this restaurant, so there’s room to grow, but it seemed very intuitive to start there.
Do you think there’s still a certain glamour to it?
As long as you’re treated with respect as a bartender and you’re focusing on hospitality, it can still be glamorous. I think there’s definitely still something romantic about it.
Do you ever see your peers in the industry doing things that come off as gimmicky?
I think there’s genuine sentiment behind it; I would’t call it gimmicky. You know, it’s important that people are innovative because otherwise it would just stay the same forever. These drinks all had to be invented at some point.
I've heard Shepard described as "French in spirit" and having an essence of simplicity. What's the French-iest, simplest cocktail you make here?
On our opening list we had an actual French 75 variant that was with cognac instead of gin. It was pretty cool. It’s super simple, just lemon, a little bit of simple syrup, and you’re topping it with prosecco and Cognac.
Would you ever do something that takes simplicity to the extreme, like open a bar that only served one cocktail?
I think that might be a little too far, but this is pretty simple. It’s ten drinks right now, and they’re all classics or mild variations of classics. This is probably about as simple as I would get. In a different environment where it was more of a bar and less of a restaurant, I think I could play with it a little bit more.
I’m curious — in your everyday life, are you very minimalist and streamlined?
I think probably, yes. I have, like, three pairs of pants.