By: Hess Sahlollbey
At Bar Sazerac, cocktail culture and seafood reign supreme. Even if you know nothing about artisan mixed drinks, co-owner Kyle Ferreira and Nick Incretolli, who run the bar program, will tailor a custom drink just for you.
The James Street North bar was opened last month by Ferreira and co-owner Shane McCartney, who owns the neighbouring restaurants Saltlick Smokehouse and Knead Pizza. Sazerac’s seafood, cheese and charcuterie are sourced from the nearby Hamilton Farmers’ Market and the Niagara Falls Tide & Vine Oyster House.
Sazerac is a standout addition into the local food scene. Its Gatsbyesque sign and unique Art Deco vibe harkens back to the Roaring Twenties and the diverse food and drink culture of New Orleans.
“New Orleans was the best place to start with food. It contains French, Créole, Canadian and Spanish influence amongst many others,” Ferreira explained.
The name Sazerac comes from the oldest known American cocktail, a pre-Civil War New Orleans style Cognac drink that has become ubiquitous with Cajun culture.
But Ferreira was quick to add that his own culture also influences him.
“Trinidad comes out in my drinks and the food… you can’t give up who you are. Whether or not you’re completely aware of it, you’re going to be going back to something you love.”
Ferreira and Incretolli both developed dozens of rinses and bitters that were inspired by the Trinidadian Angostura bitters, and use Trinidadian bitters for the first drink of the afternoon, a barrel-aged rum Negroni.
“It takes several days to make some of the ingredients, then it’s an additional seven day process where we age it in a cask,” explained Ferreira while Incretolli made the cocktail.
The beverage is based in Incretolli’s favorite spirit, campari.
Incretolli has won multiple national bartending competitions, including the 2015 Made with Love cocktail competition in Toronto, and the 2015 Hamilton Cocktail Showcase. He can make any cocktail based on your favorite fruit, candy or breakfast cereal.
“Our gateway cocktail is the gin and tonic. We make the tonic syrup in-house but about 30 per cent of our guests every night simply tell us what flavours they like and we go from there. One preparation that we’re really happy about is the Fruit Loops milk punch,” explained Ferreira as Incretolli prepared the next drink.
“Cocktails are getting better and better in Hamilton. There’s a passion in Hamilton to be the best or to get out.”
Sazerac’s unrelenting desire for top quality can be seen in the execution that goes into making every drink. Making cocktails is an art form that Ferreira and Incretolli hold with the same regard top chefs do their food.
The process is reminiscent of Walter White on Breaking Bad, as Incretolli placed a multitude of mixing glasses and tools on the bar while Kyle narrated each step.
“[Incretolli] is consistently telling me about ideas and creative spurs that he’s experiencing. Working with someone that won’t stop pushing the envelope… fuels me as well.”
Our second cocktail, and the one that Ferreira and Incretolli were the most proud of was the S’mores milk punch.
“The milk punch dates back to Benjamin Franklin in the 1860s who had his own recipe, but we set out to make this our own and more interesting and that’s where we got the idea to use Golden Grahams cereal,” said Ferreira.
Imbibing the cocktail, the Golden Grahams are the first notes you experience on your palate followed by the unique smooth smoky roasted marshmallow taste of bygone camping trips.
Incretolli used a blowtorch to roast a campfire marshmallow for a s’mores cocktail while Ferreira polished a tool set. Even the ice in the various cocktails is made crystal clear and hand carved with ice sculpture tools.
That uniqueness and attention to detail is what elevates Bar Sazarac from the rest of the locales on James Street North. With New Orleans-style cocktails and seafood now available alongside downtown’s other eateries, James Street North too continues to become its own the melting pot of cultures and traditions.