New Orleans. Bourbon Street, specifically. That’s where, during my sophomore year of college, I slurped down the only enjoyable frozen drink of my life thus far. To be fair, actual memory of both that night and the drink escapes me, but blurry photographic evidence is a decent substitute: In my hands, a jumbo cup topped with a glow-in-thedark straw and a mini umbrella. On my face, a Kool-Aid-colored grin that says both “Mmm!” and “Heyyyyyy, rum.” And also, “This may hurt in the morning. Wait – where’s my hotel key?”
It’s not improbable that whatever evaporated my memory (Voodoo? A small barrel’s worth of rum?) also made me think kindly on that slushy libation. Duped or not, though, it looks like I had fun.
My experiences with frozen drinks before and since have been, well, less fun. Admittedly I haven’t consumed many, given the category’s overwhelmingly objectionable baggage: Middle-American restaurant chains, Jersey Shore bachelorettes and Florida-panhandle spring breaks. Add to that corn syrup, premade mixes and plastic cups so ugly that even hipster irony can’t save them.
Discerning bars and barkeeps tend to be of like mind. For them, typical frozen drinks aren’t just déclassé and bad-tasting, but also a royal pain to make. Think of the noise and hassle inherent to mixing them, between the blender, umpteen ingredients, and silly garnishes. Add to that, the burden of a six-deep drink queue and customers who are equal parts tipsy and testy, and frozen drinks become an establishment’s enemy number one.
Demand for icy, breezy drinks nevertheless persists, and top-flight bars often reach for antecedents in the pre-blender era to satisfy it. Before the daiquiri’s factory-friendly makeover, for instance, the cocktail was a straightforward blend of light rum, real lime juice and a bit of sugar, served over crushed or cracked ice. Nothing more. Simple, masculine and American, the daquiri is the cocktail equivalent of Ray-Bans and a white t-shirt. It was Hemingway’s signature drink and what JFK had in hand when he took the call that made him our 35th President. Perfection.
Ditto the original Margarita and Hurricane, and Latin America’s boozelaced aguas frescas, all of which are built with lots of cracked or crushed ice and fresh flavors – no blender or corn syrup to speak of.
Yet sophisticated and delicious as these versions are, they often lack a certain giddiness, which their tacky counterparts radiate like the Vegas Strip. Sadly, this seems to be the standard line when it comes to frozen – or, let’s say, “ice-based” – drinks: Tipplers face a false choice between the elegant and the carnivalesque. As ever, I wonder who drew that line and why we mind it. Do bright colors and intense flavors have no place in a good cocktail? And, if a bad cocktail gets a respectable makeover, is fun necessarily the price?
Chez Pascal thinks not. The restaurant serves up quasi-frozen drinks that offer a happy compromise, blurring the highlow divide amicably. And, like the best inventions, they’re a product of necessity. “We don’t have a blender at the bar, or a frozen drinks machine,” co-owner Kristin Gennuso explains, “so instead we infused some of our house-made sorbets into cocktails.”
Neither the typical frozen drink nor its pre-blender forebears, Chez Pascal’s sorbet cocktails are made without fuss or fancy tools. In one of those ingenious, “Why didn’t I think of it?” solutions, sorbet lends an icy, thickened texture to the cocktails but nixes the need for blender blades. Moreover, the sorbets’ concentrated flavors make the cocktails punchy but not cloying. “It adds a little extra body to the drink without making it thick, syrupy or too sweet,” Gennuso adds.
Seasonally varied, the restaurant’s summer iterations promise a tightrope walk between gaudy fun and artisanal finery. The Piña, for instance, combines coconut rum, coconut sorbet, pineapple and orange juices. (Surely it’s what Jimmy Buffet quaffs when he’s not pandering to the masses.) And my favorite, the Pucker, riffs playfully on the Italian limoncello aperitivo: lemon vodka, limoncello liqueur, fresh lemon juice, lemon sorbet and a shot of sparkling water.
As Paul McCartney once sweetly sang, “Here comes the sun.”