Branding and bars have long gone hand in hand. But the days when cocktail napkins, swizzle sticks, cardboard coasters and matchbooks were the last word in tactile advertising are over. In today’s distracted culture, cocktail bars need something a little flashier to chisel their names into the drinker’s consciousness. Here are a few of the most creative new marketing forays.
Preserved in ice Gaze down at the huge ice cube floating in your old-fashioned at Dante, the Italian-style aperitif bar in Greenwich Village, and you’ll have no doubt about where you’re drinking. Cut into the side of the frozen block is the bar’s poetic name.
The owners had a copper ice stamp custom-made in Hong Kong, shortly after one of them, Naren Young, worked as a guest bartender at Zuma, a bar in Dubai that uses a similar ice brand. “I was amazed by how many guests were taking pictures of it,” Mr. Young said. “In an age of Instagram, it’s hard to ignore free publicity.”
Ice brands can also be found at Hemingway Bar and Cash Only Bar in Prague.
A tart blast Citrus twists make a handy canvas. Canon, a cocktail bar in Seattle, recently began burning a tiny brand of a cannon onto its swaths of lemon and orange.
“We are always looking to give our guests a moment of ‘Wow!’” said Jamie Boudreau, an owner, “or a sensory experience that gives them a moment of pause, something that for a brief second takes them out of their day.”
The Office, a bar below the Aviary in Chicago, stamps its name on twists, and the bar at the Manhattan restaurant Vaucluse etches a “V” on some of its citrus.
The garnish pick When it came time to order specialty barware at Whitechapel, a gin-focused bar in San Francisco, Martin Cate, who owns it and the tiki bar Smuggler’s Cove, knew something original was called for. “Normally I do a swizzle stick,” he said. “That’s a tiki bar tradition, and I’ve done them at every bar I’ve been involved with from Day 1. But at Whitechapel, something to spear olives with was of more value, so I did a garnish pick.”
Coins of the realm Bar tokens, special coins that can be exchanged for drinks, are as old as the hills — so old that most people have forgotten about them. Bar Leather Apron in Honolulu is bringing them back.
“We created a complimentary cocktail coin as a way to promote our bar at events or just as a giveaway to people who visit,” said Justin Park, an owner. Many customers like them so much, they don’t trade them for cocktails. “I’ve heard people using them as golf ball markers, paperweights or just something cool they like to keep on them.”
Coasting on a name Branding ice cubes and twists is one thing. Aviary, in Chicago, is taking burning a bar name into a drinker’s brain to a new level.
Soon, when you order a rum drink called Brand New to the Game, the pre-drink entertainment will include watching a pine coaster being branded tableside with “Aviary.” The fire created by the brand will then be used to smoke the inside of the glass before it’s filled. And yes, you can take the coaster home with you. Of course you can.