The Consumption of Style: The Betty
Name: Peter Vestinos
Title: Bar Manager
Hometown: Framingham, MA
Drink Featured: Bow Tie Camera
1.5 oz Smalls Gin
¾ oz Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac
½ oz Yellow Chartreuse
¾ oz Lemon Juice
1 tablespoon Orange Marmalade
1 dash fennel bitters
How it’s made/prepared/composition: Add all ingredient’s to a cocktail shaker, shake hard with ice and double strain into a chilled coupe glass.
Where did you get your start bartending and how did you find your way to developing cocktail programs at restaurants?
I started bartending almost 15 years ago at Cyrano’s Bistro, part time to make ends meet. I fell in love with both bartending and wine and after a few years decided to make a full time go at both, and moved onto the Tasting Room to really study wines. During a trip to NYC in 2005, I had my first real “classic” cocktail and I was hooked. Unfortunately no one was really doing anything like that in Chicago and it would be a few more years before I had the opportunity to be part of the opening team at Sepia in 2007. I put out what would now be considered a very simple, seasonal driven, fresh ingredient classic cocktail menu, but at the time it was very different from any place else in the city. Sepia, along with the bar, received great reviews and attention, and since I was on the forefront of the movement, enjoyed the successes of that.
As head of The Betty Cocktail Program what’s most important when curating cocktails for the menu?
The cocktails should match the room, feel of the space, as well as direction from the kitchen. The cocktails should have an elegance to them, have multiple layers, and be refreshing but at the same be fairly straightforward on the surface without scaring anyone with a long list of ingredients. But I wanted cocktails that evolve in depth the more you enjoy and think about them.
What’s the intended cocktail experience for guests of The Betty?
The entire program is intended to elevate but not discriminate. I really wanted to provide for those looking for a good cocktail (whether it is something on or off the menu), a spirit, a beer, a glass of wine, or a killer bottle of wine. I didn’t want people to have to choose where they go based on what they wanted to drink. We want them to come to the Betty and enjoy whatever they are in the mood for. At the Betty, we’re hitting on all pistons for beverage choices.
How do your cocktails compliment the impressive food menu that The Betty offers?
When doing a beverage program your consideration should always be the food. It is my feeling that the kitchen always leads. There should be a balance of complimentary flavors and one should not dominate. A cocktail should be greater than the sum of its parts and a pairing of food and beverage should also do the same.
What’s essential to achieving a perfectly balanced cocktail-dining experience?
I think it is what is beyond the glass and plate. The space in which they are consumed, the care with which they are presented as well as the knowledge and demeanor of the staff, and everything in which the cocktails and food live in, is really what makes it a great experience.
What’s the importance of using fresh ingredients in cocktails?
Same as in food, it is key. There is an amazing world of spirits out there, many with hundreds of years of history and craft behind them. When you use them in a cocktail you want to make sure they shine and you do this by elevating everything around those spirits.
What qualities of the design aspect of The Betty do you find the most unique?
I really enjoy our chairs. The great bucket seat bar stools really set the tone of the room for me.
What kind of role does the neighborhood location of The Betty play in terms of the crowd you see at The Betty?
I’ve worked on Randolph Street for 10 years, on both ends, and I have seen it change a lot. My real goal with the beverage side of the Betty was to build a neighborhood bar for those who had helped to make the west loop a neighborhood many years ago. Also recognizing the large amount of business which have moved into the area. We wanted to accommodate the after work crowd, so we have a great after-work crowd which then moves into neighborhood diners. Later in the night, we enjoy those who had dinner somewhere else and are looking for a nightcap, as well as our industry friends stopping in to say hi.
Is The Betty cocktail menu for cocktail drinking veterans or is it easily navigated by intrigued guests looking to step up their cocktail game?
Certainly both. There is a lot of work that goes into prepping the bar and the cocktail ingredients, which the guests never see. And we don’t drone on about all the ingredients in the drink, but present them fairly straightforward. On thesurface, a guest can simply enjoy a solid cocktail. However, for those who know about cocktails, they can explore the depth of ingredients that go into the cocktails. Additionally, I judge the quality of a bar not by their ability to execute the cocktail menu well, but their ability to go deep within their cocktail knowledge and execute common as well as lesser-known classics well. I think we do a good job at that and based on the number of classics people are asking for, I think guests feel comfortable knowing we can execute well.
What’s different about cocktail programs now that didn’t exist when you first got your start?
There was nothing in Chicago when I started. I had a Moscow Mule on my first menu at Sepia in 2007 and most people had not heard of that or even ginger beer; it’s hard to imagine that now. I had a lot of gin cocktails as well, and no one wanted to drink gin back then. Now that we have progressed a bit more, we can be more adventurous in our offerings.