There was a time in American history when soda had style. Before the cartoon-era detonation of Sprite and Sunkist, sodas were actually created to appeal to adult palates. Dr. Pepper was once a health drink that offered “Phos-Ferrates” for “Vim, Vigor, and Vitality”—a trio whose lack is not generally a childhood concern. Pepsi promoted itself as a cure for dyspepsia, while Coca-Cola supplied “the pause that refreshes” with African nut extracts and cocaine. These drinks, invented in the age before lab-spawned esters, contained herbal ingredients that were initially combined—often by pharmacists—into complex, adult flavors. In fact, Moxie (marketed as “nerve food” to combat “paralysis, softening of the brain, and insomnia”) was—and still is—based on gentian root, the most prominent flavoring in the classic cocktail mixer, Angostura bitters.
Now, local restaurateurs are snatching sodas back from Junior’s sticky grip by offering adult carbonated beverages made with all-natural ingredients. Alone, these concoctions are perfect for sober tippling—but some restaurants are also mixing their sodas with liquor to offer a modern (and very refreshing) pause. We admit none of these drinks will cure that softening of the brain, but they are making an exciting addition to the mixologists’ growing armament.
386 Main St, Armonk (914) 273-8686; restaurantnorth.com
North’s Stephen Paul Mancini is a self-confessed “wine geek” who—while still in in his twenties—was avidly making wine in his Harlem apartment. In 2008, Mancini was celebrated by the now-defunct New York Sun as the “Mad Scientist” of 16th Street, in an article that discovered the 27-year-old in the basement of Union Square Café, brewing nuclear-yellow limoncello from his family’s recipe. Mancini’s passion for cocktails soon fueled experiments with soda. “I was thinking, soda is something that ninety percent of the population enjoys: why is this something that restaurant people shouldn’t touch?”
Mancini’s sodas at Restaurant North are local endeavors. His version of grape soda is made with locally raised Blooming Hill Farm Concord grapes, which North’s staff crush by hand and then let steep with their skin for two days. According to Mancini, this step helps to extract rich purple color and allows some winey acid to develop in the juice, effectively sidestepping the cloying sweetness of kiddie-aimed grape sodas. For fizz, Mancini puts the juice in a “corny” keg (a Cornelius keg: a five-gallon keg that works in conjunction with the restaurant’s CO2 gas line), which he developed with his friend, Scott Vaccaro, of Pleasantville’s Captain Lawrence Brewing Company. In summer, look for different seasonal sodas at North, including peach/honey and smoked watermelon/basil. Mancini upgrades the latter into a tequila cocktail that he calls the “Melon Baller.”
The Grape Ape
(Recipe Courtesy of Stephen Paul Mancini, co-owner of
(Makes 1 Cocktail)
1.5 oz Plymouth Gin
1 oz Dolin Blanc Vermouth de Chambéry
.5 oz St-Germain a liqueur
2 oz. grape soda (Mancini makes his own soda, though he reluctantly admits Boylan’s Grape is a serviceable substitution)
3 Concord grapes, frozen
Combine the first three ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, and shake well. In the bottom of a highball glass, pour the grape soda. Strain the gin mixture, and float the clear liquid over the soda, add frozen Concord grapes, and serve.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns
630 Bedford Rd, Pocantico Hills (914) 366-9600; bluehillfarm.com
The funny thing about Blue Hill’s mild, bespectacled Will Nazar is that he didn’t grow up drinking sodas. Though young enough to have been raised in the age of its near ubiquity, Nazar “wasn’t allowed to drink soda—my parents wouldn’t let me. Once in while, as a very special treat, they would give me a sarsaparilla soda.” The impression must have been lasting: Nazar is now designing sodas for Blue Hill at Stone Barns. There, you can find sodas made with currant-leaf syrups (whose flavor, Nazar says, starts to mimic that of passion fruit during cooking), or juiced cardamom-leaf syrup that Nazar dresses before serving with a squirt of lime, sparkling water, and Hawaiian ginger juice grown in the Stone Barn Center’s greenhouse. To effect a purer extraction (one without bitter tannins or the taste of chlorophyll), Nazar juices purple shiso leaves with pressure provided by the nitrous charge of a whipped cream dispenser. Mixed with watermelon (when in season), cucumber, and lime, the purple shiso juice is topped with sparkling water to make a soda. Nazar, who spent time planting Blue Hill’s tisane garden, also offers an ode to Coca-Cola—which, like Coke’s modern recipe, does not actually contain kola nut. Nazar’s Cherry Coke uses preserves made in Blue Hill’s kitchen and then blends them into a sugary syrup with cinnamon, star anise, orange and lemon zests. Nazar dilutes the cherry cola syrup with sparkling water and then serves it in a tall glass with ice and a straw.
The team behind the two local China White Noodle Bars worked with Bittersweet Syrups (an organic flavoring company in New Jersey) to create these sister restaurants’ quartet of signature sodas: ginger, green tea, pink grapefruit, and mandarin orange. Laura Saynay, Bittersweet’s owner, personally trained China White’s staff in the proper dilution of her syrups with triple-filtered club soda. The great news for eaters is that China White’s sodas are not overwhelmingly sweet. They offer a sophisticated, acidic bite that’s an ideal match for food.
472 Bedford Rd, Pleasantville (914) 747-4646; tastethemagic.com
This small Pleasantville standard offers a Westchester soda oddity: Captain Lawrence-brewed root beer flowing from its taps. Ever modest, Scott Vaccaro, Captain Lawrence Brewing Company’s owner/head brewer (whose craft brewed beers can be found at DBGB, Birreria, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns) is quick to demystify his non-alcoholic efforts. “Honestly, I just take a bunch of extracts and mix them together.” Vaccaro’s fizzy, sweet libation is spiced with sassafras, lemon juice, and licorice—and tastes perfect by itself, or as the liquefying matrix in a root beer float enriched with Haven’s house-made ice cream.