Natasha David of Nitecap
Descending the stairs to Nitecap, one can be sure that Natasha David has left no pineapple unjuiced, no straw not recycled, and no wine unnatural in this cocktail-centric cellar. Born and raised in Europe ("Oh, this is going to sound so bougie!" she said and laughed), Natasha has been tasting wine since she was a kid. "My family has a very European sensibility about drinking," she said. And so she came to favor the social experience of wine and spirits over boozy blackouts. Without formal wine training, she's spent the past 11 years behind New York bars and has a great passion for juice; Natasha knows her palate. "I'm a wine drinker," she said. "After my shift, I don't have a cocktail. I want wine." And so, unlike most other cocktail destinations, Nitecap offers a small but conscientious wine list.
"I didn't want anything to be an afterthought," she said. "If I'm agonizing over 1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon of lemon in a cocktail, I can agonize over the wine list." And this is one of the many things that elevates Nitecap steps above your average cocktail destination. Instead of the typical "$9 glass of pinot grigio", Nitecap offers a number of natural wines from Sylvain Bock, Le Mazel and Sebastian David, alongside grower ports from Casa de Santa Eufemia. "I love acid and weird savory things. A good unfiltered wine. Earthy and dirty. I like things where I can feel the presence of the maker….And I'm a total hippie at heart. I like the idea of my winemaker dancing to the moon. That makes me happy. And since I have a lot of unknown grapes on the menu, I break it down to light, medium and full, so if you don't know Roussanne you won't feel overwhelmed. It's the same way the cocktails are laid out."
A veteran of Maison Premiere, Natasha recently opened Nitecap with partners David Kaplan and Alex Day, cocktail consultants who launched Death & Co. And while the recent Nitecap menu was created largely by Natasha with a few additions by Alex, the next incarnation will be a collaboration between the three. Responding to consumers' demand for higher quality ingredients, that's largely driven by the farm-to-table movement, the trio replaced soda-gun sour mix with fresh citrus, and make all cocktails with juice made fresh daily.
"It's a return to making things," said Natasha. "People like to pooh-pooh the Brooklyn hipster movement, but thank god people are making pickles in Brooklyn. Thank god people are making honey. All of the bees are dying! More and more restaurants are crafting cocktail lists because they have to. People expect it and that makes me happy….However," she continued, "just because something comes from a small vineyard, doesn't make it good. The same with spirits. I hope people don't automatically assume that because it's small batch means it's good. That said, there are some great ones. Germain-Robin is unbelievable." With Germain Robin Craft Method Brandy on the menu, Natasha also created the "Exit Strategy", a cocktail with Amaro Nonino, Germain-Robin Craft Method Brandy, Meletti Amaro and salt. And if you prefer lighter cocktails, be sure to check the "Early Evening" page with "Fruit & Bubbles" and "Pinkies Out" (my personal favorite), with Trabanco Poma Áurea Apple Cider.
Mentored by the likes of Brian Miller, Katie Stipe, and Phil Ward, Natasha said, "They're the ones who brought cocktails back to fashion…I want to innovate but not revolutionize the cocktail movement. If you want to use a centrifuge, that's great, but at the end it just has to taste great." The best advise? Keep it simple. Don't use that extra ingredient. Like Chanel said, take off that last piece of jewelry before you leave the house.