The Molly Arlington drink, that was created at The Aviary to go along with the Goodman production of "The Iceman Cometh." | Rich Hein~Sun-Times
Updated: July 1, 2012 11:35AM
‘Sunday Cocktail Hour” at the Goodman Theatre was borne of a mighty thirst, and it led to a new drink at The Aviary.
A thirst for knowledge led the cast of the Goodman’s current production, “The Iceman Cometh,” featuring Tony Award winners Brian Dennehy and Nathan Lane, to study films about old New York, imagining what the city was like in 1912, the year the play is set.
Then, all at once, thirst nearly quenched, the entire cast and crew —even the interns — found themselves clinking cocktail glasses and sipping the flavors of a century ago. Week after week.
Marc Grapey, who plays Chuck the bartender in Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece, watched the films but also thumbed through classic cocktail books and started whipping up drinks on Sunday nights. First he made a Sherry Flip for everyone, because he mentions that drink in the play.
“It was really nice to sort of just hang around and have these Sherry Flips, a drink we had never had before,” says Grapey, a former professional bartender. “Then it turned into, ‘Hey, are we going to have a drink this weekend?’ ”
Next he made a Bronx, and then a Corpse Reviver #2. The Goodman family approved, although some thought the vintage concoctions were a little too sweet.
“Nathan [Lane] claimed I was trying to give everyone diabetes,” Grapey says. “Brian [Dennehy] was a bartender, too, years ago, so he was always up for it. Even when he was being good, he would always at least try whatever cocktail I made. I think he was impressed because I really was a bartender.”
The front office of the Goodman got wind of the burgeoning tradition and approached what could easily be called Chicago’s most original cocktail lounge, The Aviary, to create an Iceman-inspired potion to serve to the cast and crew after one of their final rehearsals.
Craig Schoettler, the executive chef at The Aviary, loved the idea. He created the Molly Arlington, a punch featuring Seville orange shrub, Paul Beau VS Cognac, Henriot Blanc de Blanc, and grated nutmeg.
Schoettler chose it not only because punches were popular around the turn of the century but also because they can be made in a large bowl and shared.
“It was a big group, a cast, a big family and this had the communal feeling of sharing something, a bringing-people-together kind of thing,” Schoettler says. “Also, in a punch bowl there’s a large block of ice.”
After the Goodman tasting, Schoettler took it a step further by putting the drink on The Aviary’s menu throughout the run of the show (through June 17). The drink is part of the three-course prix fixe tasting ($45), served as the second course, or “entree.” (Once you’ve been through the three-course menu you also can order a Molly Arlington a la carte for $17.)
Named for the unseen madam in the play, the Molly Arlington arrives in a miniature punch bowl with a hand-chipped hunk of frozen water bobbing in the middle. The iceball floateth. The drink is refreshing, with flavors of citrus, anise and honey followed by a delightful brush of tiny bubbles.
Grapey admits that the cocktails he made as a professional were nothing compared to what mixologists and bar chefs make today. It was the mid-’80s and ’90s; all anyone wanted was a simple martini.
So Grapey, what’s the key to a good cocktail? “Experimentation,” he says. “Follow your instincts. Don’t follow the recipe too closely.”
Then, after a dramatic pause: “The key to a good martini is ice. Lots of it.”
It’s probably true, but you have to wonder if he was just being dramatic and clever. After all, he is an actor.
Michael Austin is a local free-lance writer.