Drinks with Pat

    Pat Evans

    I don’t think it has been any secret, but I find Rob Hanks to be an impressive beverage personality in Grand Rapids. 

    He probably belongs in a bigger city, as I have a few people (and restaurants) in town who, as much as I love Grand Rapids, are too big for the city at this moment. 

    Thankfully, Rob is dedicated to GR and will be opening up a new concept in Grand Rapids soon. The Nightwatch Lounge will open this fall within Plaza Towers. 

    I’ve been following Hanks since his time at Reserve, where he’s since made sops at Sidebar and Post Off and Buffalo Trader’s Lounge and then Two James Spirits’s Grand Rapids location, two of the premier places to get drinks in town. 

    Hanks is one of those people who’s had their chance to fully immerse themselves into a thing they love and make the full go of it in what they want to do. And he’s been damn good at it. 

    Well, now, he’s prepping a place to fully show off his talents.

    He’s still waiting for a liquor license at this point, but he has a great event shaping up this weekend at Pursuit of Happiness Co., 1426 Robinson Road SE. The event is 3-5 p.m. Sunday and tickets are around $60, check out Pursuit of Happiness Co.’s Instagram. 

    Pat: Why do this event with Pursuit of Happiness?
    Rob: Pursuit of Happiness, Wendy the owner she’s been a friend for years. When she was working on it, she asked if I would consult and help with them menu to get the vibe right. She wanted it to be LA day drinking vibe, cute, posh and bubbly. She wanted low ABV cocktails. That’s obviously a huge passion of mine. Having the whole selection there, it was a pretty natural next fun project. But now continuing on here, they’re up and running and having a great time. This event, I’ll be going over classic European concepts of aperitifs and aperitivos, and we’ll do three cocktails paired with bites from the kitchen and everyone will get three cocktails and bites and hear me blab about how cool i think it is drink at 3 p.m. in Italy, France, Spain and Portugal. 

    There is a fortified wine from France, I know I’m one of the only people to carry the torch on. I’ll be making people drink Sherry in a way they’re not used to and then I will showcase a cocktail on the Nightwatch menu, not super well known: a sgroppino. That’s traditionally a northeastern Italian dessert cocktail, lemon sorbet, vodka and Prosecco. We’ll do it in our own way. 

    Pat: What’s cool? What are you drinking now?
    Rob: Honestly, I’ve been, with all the recipe development and what not for Nightwatch, drinking a lot of cognac and Jamaican rum. Those two things together in a glass do something to my palate that is kind of reawakened my excitement about cocktails. I’ve been drinking cocktails for a long time. I’m a huge champion and made more than I can count or think of, but a lot of things don’t bring the excitement like those two. They might be really great, they’re not wow. But this combination that is coming around for me and wrap my head around is really the exciting part. It’s flavors you can’t get anywhere else, I mean this affectionately, the Jamaican rum is rotten overripe fruit, and it’s paired with spicy “floraity” of cognac and all that sweet oak. That’s just so good. 

    So what are you bringing to Nightwatch that people aren’t getting in Grand Rapids?
    Rob: Nightwatch, is in a way for me, I’ve been traversing all the different routes of the cocktail world, whether experimental or classic. This time for me, it’s going back to basics. We’ll focus on classic cocktails from many time periods, whether that be really old like the 1800s or even some of them from the 1970s, like amaretto sours or whatever. Focusing more on the technique of how we’re getting to the end/ The drinks will still be familiar for people, but they’re going to be executed to a level not quite seen from bars in Grand Rapids. There will be extra attention to ice capabilities. 

    But also, a lot of the inspiration is coming from a book I bought from the Michigan State University Library a few years ago. It’s a cocktail book printed back in 1928. I have recipes that are current as of 1928. That’s very different from what most people are using. This book goes back and uses recipes where current might call for vodka, but it wasn’t really drank in the U.S. before 1945. These recipes are gin, cognac and Jamaican rum. But people won’t notice. I’d really learning on those drinks that were much consumed more heavily than they were now.

    Espresso Martinis still hot
    It wasn’t that long ago that I wrote about the surge in Espresso Martinis in Grand Rapids Magazine. I think it was in 2021, but regardless, they are still red hot this summer. It was last week where I was drinking a (non-espresso) martini at Bistro Bella Vita, and I asked the bar manager what’s been hottest this summer. His answer: espresso martinis. And that’s for good reason: that place has a damn good espresso martini, (as does Butcher’s Union, Knoop and Less Traveled.) 

    But hey, sometimes we can’t go out. So, I’ve got a few great canned options I’ve tried recently. The Tribini ready-to-drink option is great. It’s a vodka-based espresso beverage that drinks super smoothly, and comes in double espresso, toasted hazelnut and golden espresso. Likewise, Nightowl Martinis are fun canned espresso martinis as well and come in tequila and vodka. If you want to make your own at home, the Riedel Nick & Nora Glass is perfect for any martini, espresso or otherwise. 

    Beans, beans, the magical fruit
    OK, I don’t how else to put this, but Heyday Beans makes some incredible beans. The company cans a variety of beans that are available at Whole Foods and online, but they are delicious. They come in Enchilada, Tomato alla vodka, Apricot glazed, Kimchi sesame, Coconut Curry, Harissa Lemon. I’ve thankfully been able to try them all and they are all delicious. I hope they expand their distribution soon, so be on the lookout. 

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