Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bar Marco: On the Cutting Edge of Ice

Bar Marco has an ice program.  No, not a show featuring Tai Babilonia or Dick Button nor even Sidney Crosby now that he apparently has some time on his hands.   

In the bar business, an ice program is one that only the best of the best cocktail establishments are taking on these days. They make ice.  Hand cut ice.  From the clearest, food-quality ice sculpture grade ice available.  And Bar Marco is the very first bar in town to bring that quality to Pittsburgh
Bar Marco partner, Bobby Fry (yep, that's Bobby behind the bar up there), recently spent almost two weeks apprenticing with Derek Brown at the famed Washington, DC speakeasy-ish Columbia Room hidden behind the equally-famed classic cocktail bar, The Passenger.  Yes, nearly two weeks of training went into learning just how to carve and perfect the right ice for your drink. 

Last Thursday was a stellar fall day to witness the ritual cutting of the ice outside Bar Marco in the Strip District.  The sun was shining and the temps were in the 80's...let the demo begin!

A large block of ice was set up on a cutting board outside and let to sit for a while.  The wait time reduces the chance of the ice fracturing at unwanted spots and angles, it's less brittle and more maleable.  Just right for carving. 

One big hunk of ice waiting to become perfect cubes.

The first ice-taming tool to come out of the chest is a cleaver worthy of any horror movie.  It isn't used to hack the ice, however.  It gently and smoothly scores guidelines into the surface.  (For right now the mighty cleaver is the tool being used. A similar looking Japanese udon noodle knife with a much finer blade is the preferred choice - Bar Marco is just waiting for it to arrive!)

Getting ready to score.
And then the manly tools come out, the testosterone surges and a crowd gathers on the street to witness the showYes folks, the chainsaw!  The call of the chainsaw never fails to summon curious onlookers and lovers of a streetshow.  Honestly, it's such a spectacle they could pass the hat for tips as the engine roars and the ice chips fly!

Do not try this at home!

The ice block slowly and carefully becomes slabs of ice, then each slab is deeply cut, again using the chainsaw but not all the way through, into precise columns.

And the columns of ice are then cut evenly into cube-ish shapes - again, not all the way through.

Now the cleaver is brought back into play to gently, but firmly, separate and trim the ice into nearly perfect cubes approximately 3" X 3" each.  Beautiful.   

One beautifully clear cube reflecting the sun and the scene.

But what's the point?  Why produce ice in such a time-sapping, laborious process?  What makes it better than what comes out of your refrigerator door?  It's the speed of the melt and the resultant controlled dilution of your drink. It's the attention to detail when creating a cocktail of the very finest shelf bourbons and ryes, peerless gins and liqueurs, the Perfect Manhattan or Martini made perfectly. 

Who wants a precisely made cocktail that in a minute or two is diluted beyond recognition with chipped ice or normal cube ice?  Probably not you and certainly not me...nor any discerning cocktail afficianado.  If you're the sort who appreciates the contents of the glass, the aroma, the mouthfeel, the subtle flavors vying for your tastebuds' attention, you're also just the person to appreciate the effort of an ice program to preserve your experience to the very last drop. 

Remember hearing about Derek Brown at the beginning of this post? What?! You don't know the Passenger or the Columbia Room?  The bar was named to GQ's 25 Best Cocktail Bars in America and to Food and Wine's 50 Best Cocktail Bars. Who is Derek Brown?  Only the owner of those esteemed establishments and himself a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional Award in 2010 and was featured in the Wall Street Journal's article, "Master of Mixological Science."  He knows his stuff.

GQ magazine also applauded Derek for making the best martini in America.  While Bobby was working with Derek he taught Bobby how to make his Perfect Martini.  Bobby shared the handed-down martini wisdom with me.  And now, I'm sharing it with you.  Here's how.

The Perfect Martini

  • 1 1/2 ounces London Gin - Bobby used Martin Miller's London Dry Gin
  • 1 1/2 ounces Dolin Vermouth
  • 1 dash Bittermens orange bitters
  • a wide strip of lemon zest, no white

In a martini pitcher, place 2 large, beautiful cubes of ice.  Measure in the gin, vermouth and the dash of bitters.  Stir 60 smooth turns gently around the pitcher.  
Two beautiful cubes in one beautiful martini pitcher.

Strain into a chilled martini glass and twist the lemon above the glass, forcing out the oils.  Rub the rim with the yellow side, if you wish.  Cheers!


 Bar Marco
2216 Penn Avenue in the Strip District
412 471-1900

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