The Revamped Orient Express, the Ultimate Traveling Bar
For more than 130 years, the lavish, long-distance passenger train, the Orient Express, has been considered the most refined way to glide between continents. Tales born of both fact and fiction detail spies mixing with socialites, dukes dining with demimondes and artists and aristocrats brushing elbows in the bar car.
Wars, unrest and revolutions spurred rerouted journeys, and by the end of the 1960s, the sleek silver models sent the regal railcars into relative obscurity.
Thankfully, the cars were rescued and rechristened as the Venice-Simplon Orient Express by James B. Sherwood in 1977. Sherwood resurrected the coaches, consulting the original blueprints, and brought aboard French glass designer René Lalique to further ensconce travelers in an aesthetic of beauty and light.
Now owned and operated by luxury hotel and leisure company Belmond, the Belmond Venice-Simplon Orient Express travels along classic routes via London, Paris, Venice, Prague, Vienna and Budapest, as well as new destinations like Berlin.
The beautiful Art Nouveau Bar Car is the ticket for wine and spirits lovers. Under the watchful eye of Head Barman Walter Nisi, white-jacketed bartenders pour steady-handed Pousse-cafés while a jazz pianist turns out Cole Porter standards. A Champagne bar serving vintage Taittinger, Laurent Perrier Rosé and Louis Roederer Cristal adds to the refined ambiance.
Three fully restored dining cars—some featuring Lalique-designed glass panels—showcase Chef Christian Bodiguel’s dishes, built around fresh ingredients brought aboard from each stop along the route.
Recipe courtesy of Walter Nisi
This is a long cocktail, dedicated to the time when the train was finishing its journey in Varna, Bulgaria, and guests continued their trip to Istanbul by boat. With a name that recalls the breezes on the sea, it was the most requested cocktail during that final leg of the trip.
1½ ounces white rum
½ ounce Chambord
½ ounce lime juice
3 ounces cranberry juice
Lime wedge, for garnish
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well, and pour into a highball glass. Garnish with lime wedge.
Recipe courtesy of Walter Nisi
Served in a Champagne flute, this cocktail blends alluring elements of Britain and France—sloe gin and Champagne. It’s a fitting pour for guests as they travel from London to Venice, via Paris.
½ sugar cube
1 ounce sloe gin
Splash of Champagne
Maraschino cherry, for garnish
Place sugar cube at the bottom of a Champagne flute and saturate it with the bitters. Pour sloe
gin into the flute and top with Champagne.
Garnish with cherry.
Created by American cocktail pioneer Sasha Petraske and his wife, author Georgette Moger, this cocktail was inspired by the couple’s equal adoration of Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Gin and the petal-pink peach Bellinis served onboard the Belmond Venice-Simplon Orient Express.
1½ ounces white peach purée*
1 ounce Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Gin
2 ounces Champagne
Combine purée and gin in a glass. Slowly top with Champagne, stirring gently to incorporate the color and create a foam top.
*White Peach Purée
1 peach with skin, pitted and sliced
1 ounce Meyer lemon juice
1 ounce simple syrup
Purée peach slices, lemon juice and simple syrup in a small food processor until smooth. Strain through sieve. You should have enough purée for several cocktails.
Courtesy of Walter Nisi
A three-layered cocktail, the Pousse-Café or “after coffee,” is an ideal digestif. With its distinct layers, the herbal flavors of the Coca Buton, the purple Parfait Amour and the vanilla essence of Galliano create the perfect after-dinner drink.
½ ounce Coca Buton
½ ounce Parfait Amour
½ ounce Galliano
In a Port glass (or other stemmed glass), first add the Coca Buton, followed by the Parfait Amour and Galliano. Do not stir, as this will disturb the layers.
While traveling on the Belmond Venice-Simplon Orient Express from Prague to Paris, Sasha Petraske and Walter Nisi sit down to discuss the creative process, the art of the free-pour and what every young bartender should know before getting behind the stick.
Recorded and edited by Georgette Moger
S: How did you come to be a bartender?
W: When I was very young I fell in love with an imagined picture of a barman—white jacket, a very old man, really a General standing behind the counter. But growing in my career, this didn’t really match what I am because this General was never moving, never interacting.
W: And may I ask why ‘Sasha’—who were you named after?
S: My parents gave me a very versatile name, Alexander. They believed it had many possibilities—Xander, Sasha, Al, etcetera.
W: Where were they from?
S: They are from the Ukraine. Dubăsari—it’s near Odessa.
W: My wife and I had our honeymoon in Odessa.
S: My Russian roots aside, I’m happier we’re honeymooning with you on the Orient-Express! Looking around, I see that all of the bartenders work without jiggers—I presume that’s because of the listing of the train. Is it your own preferred method of bartending?
W: It is. One barman I had met in my career inspired me with his words—Mauro Lotti. Mauro told me that in Italy we don’t use the jigger, as we need to feel the spirits going out of the bottle while standing behind the bar and feeling the blood in our feet.
S: What is your process behind creating new cocktails?
W: I create them in my head and I wait a few months before I share them. You’re never sure how it’ll turn out. These things are important to me and keep me awake. I believe humility is a very important characteristic of being a bartender.
S: Humility is very important. Within a bar, I’ve always believed everyone should be able to do everyone’s job. What would be your advice to a young bartender?
W: You need passion, professionalism and to be ever curious—curiosity makes you go and study a little bit more. If you take up bartending as a job, there will be a time where you start to suffer because you see yourself in an under position. If you take up tending a bar with real passion then there is no level—you give service and it’s selfless. The service shows your professionalism and the guests are going to treat you kindly.
S: How would you describe the essence of your cocktail program?
W: To me, the bar should not reflect a modern time.
S: So you look to more of a place in time rather than a geographical place.
W: Often guests are looking for drinks that reflect the place they have been. For example after we leave Prague, many passengers will ask for a pilsner but you cannot connect that with what you feel inside the train. It is only if you have a cocktail that reflects the atmosphere.
S: So then what are a few of your favorite ingredients?
W: The Guilty 12 recalls the story of Murder on the Orient-Express. Eleven of the ingredients are elixirs from the stops between Paris and Istanbul—Switzerland for the sherry spirit, Maraschino from Italy and from Istanbul, an elixir called raki (pronounced, rocky). Champagne is the 12th. You understand—I cannot give the exact recipe.
S: When we return from Prague, I’ll stand on the customer side of the bar and prepare a cocktail—I wouldn’t want to get behind your bar without the proper coat.
W: I understand, but I want you to get behind the [Orient-Express] bar.
S: When I first opened my bar, I would visit other bars and want to get behind them—I’d feel uncomfortable even to be at a table. If I wear a white jacket, I’ll blend.
W: No. It doesn’t matter. We will make cocktails together. Your place is behind the bar, Sasha.
Take a peak inside the revamped Orient Express and learn one of their signature cocktails in the exclusive Wine Enthusiast video below!
Pictured: The author and her husband, the late Sasha Petraske, traveled on the Belmond Venice-Simplon Orient Express for their honeymoon in 2015.
- 1Black Sea Breeze
- 2British Connection
- 3Tie Binder
- 4Pousse-Café du Train