By Sarah Freeman
Cocktails, the social lubricant of choice in today’s urban societies, connect people. Then why, bartender Brian Sturgulewski wondered, should drinking one be a solitary experience? Man orders drink, man waits for drink at barstool maybe conversing with adjacent guest, man is served a glass and repeat. This is why, when designing the first house cocktail menu at Bordel, he wanted to emphasize the communal aspect of cocktailing.
When Bordel opened late last year, the punches, preciously served in ornate tea sets, were a staple. These drinks allowed patrons to share the same cocktail, rather than ordering individual drinks and passing around glasses to sip — a practice Sturgulewski noticed happened regularly. The new menu expands on this idea by way of porrons. The porron, a wine decanter native to Spain’s Basque region, is common in the restaurant below Bordel, Black Bull, a tapas bar that serves Basque wines, Spanish ciders and sangrias in the traditional vessel. Now upstairs, four cocktails can be ordered in porron or “rapid blackout” form for $40. The option came out of a need to showcase the classics in a way that fit the bar’s uninhibited vibe.
Porrons arrive at the table without cups, just the glass decanter outfitted with a spigot, filled with a choice of the house daiquiri, Southside, Pisco Punch or French 75. Brave drinkers grab the porron by the top and raise it above their head. By slowly angling it, a thin steam of the drink can be poured directly into the drinker’s mouth. It’s a messy process. The original intent of the vessel was to aerate wine. The more talented a drinker, the further away from their mouth they hold the porron and the more aerated the wine gets. Filled with gin, the porron’s function is more social than practical. “It helps to create a fun atmosphere,” Sturgulewski says. “People are kind of dribbling on their shirt and out of their comfort zones — it makes cocktails more experiential than transactional.”
On a busy Saturday, Sturgulewski makes a daiquiri porron and hands it to one of the dozen people waiting for a cocktail. The act not only alleviates the stress of fighting for a bartender’s attention, but makes the porron-holder instantly the most popular guy in the room. He pours it into guests’ mouths and bartenders’ mouths, accentuating the bar's lively and sometimes unruly atmosphere, complete with the occasional flamenco dancer or burlesque performance. Porrons grace red velvet booths where one female guest pours the French 75 into another’s mouth, spilling all over her chest in doing so — a welcomed mess that lightens the mood and sends smiles, as well as booze, around the table.
“I think it’s going to be a big trend in the next year or two, because it creates more of a communal atmosphere,” Sturgulewski says, pointing to new large-format cocktails at The NoMad in New York City and Lost Lake in Chicago. These drinks are not punches, he emphasizes, but rather new ways to share a single composed cocktail among a group. Sturgulewski hinted that his other bar at Fulton Market Kitchen is about to release a new large-format cocktail vessel that will bring communal cocktailing to the West Loop.