Drinking It In

B ees love it when lavender shrubs bloom each spring, but the Lavender Fields cocktail, a House of Naan original, attracts buzzing bees like me all year. It’s a drink I think about after it’s gone, and it seems I’m not alone; according to bartender Antonio Perry, the Lavender Fields is the prevailing customer favorite. Sure enough, as I watched him shake—first “wet,” then “dry”—a pair that had just been ordered, another two orders came through.

By the time Perry is through, a matte purple solution of Empress 1908 gin, Luxardo Maraschino, floral agave syrup, lavender bitters and fresh lemon juice has pooled at the bottom of the cocktail. Resting immiscibly above, white as fresh linen, is a heady, velvety comforter of aquafaba—a superior choice over traditional egg white, which carries an unpleasant trace of sulfur—foamed up by all the shaking. Reclining on the lip of the cocktail’s elegant coupe glass is a mint leaf, a restrained finish to a drink that, by number of ingredients, is the most complicated on the menu.

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None of that—not the complexity of the contents or the strict foam-liquid dualism—prevents the Lavender Fields from achieving near-total cohesion. The foam tempers and blends the sweet, tart, bitter, botanical, alcoholic notes below. The second after you try to pull just one of those notes aside, another is politely tapping your shoulder. Eventually you resign yourself, quite contentedly, to a group conversation. Whether you’re spending $13 a glass during peak hours or $8 during happy hour (4:30 to 6 p.m. and 9 to 11 p.m.), you can’t do better.

But you can do different. For a springtime counterpoint, I headed to the backyard at 116 Crown, where a seasonal, off-menu Garden Margarita entailed tequila, lemon simple syrup, jalapeño, grapefruit zest and the drinker’s choice of mint—either chocolate mint, which I preferred for its added depth, or what I’m going to say was spearmint, though it might have been peppermint. Each of the two choices commands a stretch of real estate in 116 Crown’s backyard garden beds, where, having reemerged after winter’s end, they wait to garnish or get muddled into drinks like the Garden Margarita.

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And “garden” really is the right word. Flanked by a slice of lime and a whorl of grapefruit peel, a crowded stem of mint leaves served as something more than a garnish. Shooting up from the glass with the vigor of a living plant, the leaves literally hit my nose and filled it with herbs and citrus each time I took a sip. Likewise, the muddled remains of herbaceous mint and spicy jalapeño, floating in the pale blond elixir below like roots in a vase, repeatedly got up to and into my mouth.

Normally, I’d see these impediments to a smooth drinking experience as a nuisance. But somehow, being in the garden where the mint itself was grown cultivated a feeling of connection. I came to want the mint in my teeth and the burst of extra heat from a stray jalapeño seed.

The peculiar physicality of the drink also meant I had to consume it more slowly than I’d expected. But it turns out that on a temperate spring day, enveloped by weathered wood walls and rich New Haven brick, with strings of glowing bulbs and deepening evening sky overhead, being forced to slow down is a gift.

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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Dan has worked for a couple of major media companies, but he likes Daily Nutmeg best. As DN’s editor, he writes, photographs, edits and otherwise shepherds ideas into fully realized feature stories.

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