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Industry Profile: Adam Sarkis of The Phoenix
Cocktail Club


July 2018

Adam Sarkis sees cocktails through the lens of pop culture and film. A film studies graduate and filmmaker, he started bartending on the side at Braise when he realized he enjoyed the creativity of mixology more than film production. Today, heís the inventive beverage director behind The Phoenix Cocktail Club and the co-founder of events company Bodega Party with Ruben Flores of Sugr. Sarkis sat down with MKE Lifestyle to talk Wisconsin cocktails, pop-up events and setting up your home bar.

Tell me about the transition from film to mixology.

I realized that I had more creative control in food and beverage than in film, and one of the main reasons I got into film was to be creative. There was one very specific commercial I was doing for a company downtown, and they wanted to enter a competition for the coolest office space. They needed a video, and we were shooting this in the middle of winter, and they said they wanted to showcase their patio. The patioís covered in snow, with a glass table shattered right in the middle of it, and there was trash out there. They only had one stock image of the patio (in summer looking good), and they were disappointed that I didnít showcase the patio. That ruffled my feathers and made me rethink everything. At the time I was creating all of these new menus at Braise, and I was thinking, ďMan, this is so much more satisfying than the film stuff right now.Ē

How would you describe The Phoenix Cocktail Club to someone whoís never been there?

Well, itís not like anything else along Jefferson. Itís a place where you can have a really nice cocktail and a place where you can kick back and have a High Life and a shot. The drinks are definitely 90 percent of what we sell. A lot of people who come in are not necessarily into cocktails, but thereís reference and imagery that draws you into the menu so when you put the menu down in front of someone, thereís no way theyíre not going to order something off of it.

Whatís popular?

The banana daiquiri is really popular. There arenít many places where you can get a blended, fresh banana daiquiri thatís not overly sweet and is really balanced. Our mai tai on tap is really popular. It was a drink that has a lot of ingredients so we put it on tap. Thatís kind of fun. Our French 75 has been selling really well lately, and we have a drink called a raspberry sour that has some eucalyptus, tequila, raspberry, lemon, cherry bark bitters and a protein in it. The protein is froth from fava beans so it makes the drink vegan.

Donít you have a new Wisconsin classic drink? Whatís it called?

The kingsway. We spent a couple years trying to come up with a modern classic. One of the owners is really into cognac, and we kept making him cognac drinks, and he would say ďMake me something else.Ē When this recipe came up, he didnít ask for it, and I said ďI think weíre onto something.Ē Word of mouth spread so we put it on the menu.

Tell us about the pop-up bars you do. Youíve done Dad Bar, LoveShaq (melding tiki with Shaq OíNeal) and others.

It kind of goes back to when I worked at Braise, and we were constantly changing the menu. The pop-ups are ways for us to be creative, to have fun and to test out new recipes.  They make cocktails less serious.  Iím taking LoveShaq and Dad Bar to other cities, including New Orleans and Baltimore. Iím doing that with a friend of mine, Ruben Flores, and we call our company Bodega Party.

What do you have in your home bar?

I like having mezcal on hand. Thatís something I like to sip on. I have an aquavit from Tattersall in Minneapolis, and I keep a bottle in the freezer and a bottle in the bar cart. Iíve got a bottle of coconut rum from Belize I really like, and I just got a bottle of Sartori whiskey from Japan. Iíve got an amaro from Russia. When friends travel, I ask people to pick up interesting things.

What equipment do people need in their home bar?

I think just having a Hawthorne strainer can get you pretty far, and having mason jars. I like Sur la Table Hawthorne strainers because they have a really tight spring on them so you have the option of not double straining, as it catches ice shards. And I like the Leopold jiggers in gunmetal black from the Cocktail Kingdom.


This story ran in the July 2018 issue of: