Cocktails with Chemistry

Cocktails with Chemistry

Wine Enthusiast recently had a chance to tie one on, three times over, with the three most luminous couples in the cocktail universe.
Julie Reiner and Susan Fedroff, owners of the artisanal cocktail lounge and restaurant Lani Kai in New York’s Soho neighborhood, are married and have a two-year-old daughter, Maya. Julie was born in Hawaii, and is “an island girl at heart.” With Lani Kai, she wanted to blend the metropolitan glamour of Manhattan with the tropical flavors and beauty of her native island.

Philip Ward, formerly of legendary cocktail lounge Death & Co., is now proprietor of Mayahuel in Manhattan’s East Village. Long-time girlfriend Katie Stipe is a mixologist and partner in the couple’s consulting firm, Last Call.

Audrey Saunders has owned and operated Pegu Club, one of Manhattan’s first upscale Prohibition-erastyled cocktail lounges, since 2005. She is considered by many to be the godmother of the New York Citycocktail scene. Saunders’ husband, Robert Hess, is well known for his Web site,, a source for all things cocktail, and he films segments of The Cocktail Spirit for the Small Screen Network. Saunders and Hess married in July, 2011.

It seemed appropriate to mark Valentine’s Day by asking these top-of-their-game professionals their thoughts on desert–island drinks, morning-after cocktails and much more.


WE: How did you two first meet?
Julie: In 1997, Susan and I were both working in San Francisco at sister bars, dating other people—she was managing Backflip at Phoenix Hotel and I was dating the manager of The Red Room. Backflip hosted a brunch that I attended with the staff of The Red Room, and Sue walked by with a tray of Bloody Marys  garnished with grilled shrimp. My thoughts trailed off and I thought, “Wow, what a great garnish!”
Susan: She was checking out my garnish.
Julie: And then I thought, “Wow! Who is that?”

WE: Have you ever created a drink for one another?
Julie: Kind of accidentally—I created this drink for the Clover Club called The Gin Blossom. I wanted it to be the house martini.
Sue: It is legitimately my most favorite drink in the world.
Julie: I’m seriously glad you like that drink, but could you please try something else? She won’t drink anything else.

WE: What’s in it?
Julie: It’s Plymouth Gin, apricot eau de vie, Martini Bianco and orange bitters, stirred with an orange twist.

WE: Where is your favorite place to go for a date?
Susan: Back in the day, we loved going to Tavern on the Green to drink Manhattans on the lawn in 30-degree weather. I think for a date, a good place is anywhere you don’t feel compelled to tell the bartender how to make a cocktail.

WE: What’s the best morning-after cocktail?
Susan: Gin Blossom!
Julie: No, stop! Tom Collins.
Susan: Yes! Tom Collins. Something about the gin and lemon…or the classic corpse reviver no. 2.

WE: What’s the best in-flight cocktail?
Julie: The flight to Hawaii is 10 hours, so we looked at it as a long party. We’d bring wine, and stinky cheeses, smoked fish and make plates for people around us. It was a little rough getting used to all the post-9/11  regulations.

WE: What do you guys drink when you’re in a fight?
Susan: With each other?
Julie: We actually don’t fight.
Susan: We run four businesses, have a child together and have been together almost 15 years. Fighting is just a breakdown of communication, and women talk each other to death. You talk everything out. There’s no miscommunication, so there’s no arguing.

WE: What mixology endeavors are you currently working on together?
Julie: We run Clover Club, Flatiron [Lounge] and Lani Kai together, and I’m currently doing consulting for the [newly reopened] Monkey Bar uptown.
Susan: I handle all the nonmixology related things. I think it’s why we work so well together.

WE: What cocktail or spirit can’t you agree on?
Julie: I appreciate a lot of different spirits, but…Susan doesn’t like mezcal.
Susan: Oh, God. You make me shoot that, and I just don’t get it.

WE: If you were stuck on a deserted island together, what three cocktail ingredients would you have to have?
Susan: Oh, hmm. Do we get ice?

WE: Yes, ice is a given.
Susan: Well, then rum, sugar and lime.
Julie: Ding, ding, ding!


WE: How did you two first meet?
Katie: I started as a cocktail server at Flatiron Lounge. Phil was a bartender. We worked in the basement bar for a full year before anything romantic developed.
Philip: I was playing hard to get.
Katie: Our romance started through the service window, but at a costume party was really where it happened. One of the Flatiron staff had a get-together where we were all supposed to dress in 80s prom wear. Phil actually wore a Halloween costume, not related to the party at all.
Philip: I dressed up like a droog from A Clockwork Orange. Katie was standing on a skateboard in a puffy prom dress when I first kissed her.
Katie: We still have a Polaroid from that night.
Philip: I still have the invite from the party.

WE: Where is your favorite place to go for a date?
Philip: [Ordering] Prosecco at Otto in the middle of the afternoon because it’s so quiet. It was one of the first places that Katie took me to. Time seems to go a little slower at the bar there.
Katie: On occasion we love going back to Flatiron Lounge, where we met, just for a nostalgic visit.

WE: What do you guys drink when you’re in a fight?
Philip: We don’t really fight. We’re pretty laid back.
Katie: We don’t ever argue—if anything, we’re just a little quiet around one another. But if you’re upset, you’ll drink mezcal.

WE: What did you have to drink on your first date?
Philip: Wine. We were drinking wine.
Katie: We had wine?
Philip: We had wine. [Alexander Valley Vineyards'] Sin Zin, with halibut and tarragon at your house.
Katie: Tarragon?
Philip: You made halibut with tarragon. And risotto.
Katie: I didn’t make anything with tarragon.
Philip: Yes, you did.
Katie: I made mushroom risotto with truffle oil.
Philip: And halibut with tarragon. I remember it perfectly. There’s not a chance in hell I’m wrong.

WE: What mixology endeavors are you currently working on together?
Philip: We finally launched our consulting company, Last Call Consulting.
Katie: We love traveling and love creating cocktails. We want to help out bars that are just starting out—that’s the heart of the business.

WE: What cocktail or spirit can’t you agree on?
Katie: Part of our business is being open-minded and being ready to try anything—well, except for vodka. If anything, we have a difference in styles of beer we like.
Philip: Right. You like cask, and I wouldn’t touch the stuff.

WE: If you were stuck on a deserted island together, what three cocktail ingredients would you have to have?
Philip: Is there fruit on the island?

WE: No. Just ice. And water. Lots of it.
Philip: I would have three different kinds of Tobala [a small-batch mezcal made from wild mountain agave].
Katie: But this is about cocktails, not neat drinks.
Philip: O.K. Well, then Tobala, Campari and club soda.
Katie: I think Cynar bitters, as we’ll need a good digestive. And if we have ice, then we need a nice Manzanilla Sherry. And gin for the base. Wait, would we be sharing this island?
Philip: We could have separate islands and just paddle back and forth, swapping ingredients.
Katie: I like that! Plus, you have the Campari on your island.


WE: How did you two first meet?
Audrey: In 1998, Robert started his online forum, Drinkboy. At the time, I was behind the bar looking to find a like-minded community. And so there was this Drinkboy—a civilian and a bit of a snob. I followed his posts anyway. In 2002, when I was at Bemelmans at the Carlyle, I was alerted Robert was coming in. Robert frequently tests bartenders with his favorite drink, an old fashioned, so I made sure all of my bartenders knew how to make his recipe. Well, Robert shows up, sits right in front of me and was the antithesis of what I expected—a lovely man, very soft-spoken, dreamy eyes…
Robert: She just didn’t like my shoes.
Audrey: The shoes had to go.
Robert: They were perfectly functional shoes…
Audrey: For the 70s. The shoes were a fail. But right from the start, we really enjoyed each other’s company.

WE: Where is your favorite place to go for a date?
Audrey: In Seattle, we love Rob Roy, Liberty Bar, The Zig Zag Café and the new Vessel location.
Robert: Le Gourmand, a French fine-dining restaurant in Seattle, opened a beautifucocktail lounge, Sambar.

WE: What’s the best morning-after cocktail?
Audrey: It would be something subtle like a Ramos fizz. At Bemelmans, we had a great hangover cure that was our house Bloody Mary mix topped with Champagne.
Robert: I don’t get hangovers. I’ve never had one in my life. My mouth gets a little fuzzy, but that’s about it.

WE: What’s the best in-flight cocktail?
Audrey: We tend to bring our own minis of bitters and sweet vermouth. If we’re going to London, definitely gin and tonics because they have that good Indian tonic on board and a better selection of gin than most.

WE: What mixology endeavors are you currently working on together?
Audrey: Robert films The Cocktail Spirit at a 10,000-square-foot house on 14 acres in Duvall, just on the outskirts of Seattle. For two middle-aged kids, the house is a little big for just us. So our intention, after zoning issues are solved, is to turn it into a beverage institute. Kind of a Hogwarts for bartenders—a place where beginners and intermediates can go for full immersion. They can come and stay with us for a week or take a weekend course. We’re super fortunate that we have a lot of talented friends out there that we could just have come teach—Dale DeGroff, Dave Wondrich, Harold McGee. We’d also love to put in a pool with a swim-up bar and even have “whodunit” dinners.

WE: If you were stuck on a deserted island together, what three cocktail ingredients would you have to have?
Audrey: Got to have gin.
Robert: Got to have limes.
Audrey: Let’s assume there’s sugarcane growing on the trees.
Robert: So gin, limes and Cointreau.

Published on February 1, 2012