Pat Halloran leans across The Belcourt's concessions counter, picks up a knife and slices a perfect coin-sized circle of peel off an orange. He holds his lighter close to the outer skin. As the heat brings out the oil in the peel, it begins to glisten. Holding it vertically between his thumb and forefinger, he gives the peel a pinch — and the citrus oil sprays over the flame, igniting with a soft pfff!
Regulars at The Belcourt's popular weekend midnight movies know that Halloran's got dozens of such tricks up his sleeves. Over the past two-and-a-half years at the theater, inspired by famed New Orleans mixologist Chris McMillian, Halloran has devised a different cocktail for each midnight attraction, taking each movie as a challenge. And we're not just talking White Russians for sold-out screenings of The Big Lebowski, either.
For the helium-headed 1980 Olivia Newton-John fantasy Xanadu, Halloran took his mandate as silly and sugary. Patrons arrived that night, then, to find the bartender using molecular mixology to create cosmopolitan foam — crisp, cold bubbles of cranberry-flavored air that popped like a starburst on the tongue. For the icky imagery of David Cronenberg's Videodrome, he made "body horror" shots thickened with xanthan gum and studded with honey-filled pearls — globules designed to leave the taste buds feeling slimed. He brightens at a visitor's disgusted reaction (much like his own when someone brings up the Tom Cruise stinkbomb Cocktail).
"Exactly!" Halloran enthuses. "That's the face I wanted people to make! That's the way you should feel watching Cronenberg!"
Alas, the Chicago native served his last Belcourt concoction last weekend at the late-night shows of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. (It was a take on the classic Hemingway martini titled, for reasons well known to any Bruce Campbell fan, "A Farewell to Arms.") Halloran will be joining his girlfriend, former Catbird Seat beverage director Jane Lopes, in New York.
"We just have these magical people who come to us with these unique gifts," says Stephanie Silverman, The Belcourt's executive director. "We're really going to miss Pat — and those drinks!"
Before leaving, however, Halloran gave the Scene a private demonstration of some of his greatest hits — cocktails that are playful, imaginative, sparkling with unusual flavors and textures, and frequently as off the wall as the movies they commemorate. Better still, he passed along the recipes along with comments on each drink so you can experiment on your own — with caution.
Drink: Tire Tread
Movie: Rubber (2010)
Plot: Desert town terrorized by a killer tire. Yes, a killer tire.
2 oz. dry gin
3/4 oz. lemon juice
3/4 oz. Russian Caravan syrup (brew a very strong pot of Russian Caravan tea, filter it, and then build a 2:1 syrup with white sugar)
7 drops Angostura bitters
7 drops Regan's No. 6 orange bitters
Shake, serve up. Garnish with a flamed orange coin over the surface of the drink.
Pat says: The goal of this drink was to emulate an "asphalt"/burnt rubber sort of flavor that was still pleasant. I like really pungent, smoky teas, and Russian Caravan is a personal favorite — a blend of keemun, lapsang souchang and oolong, it's practically a campfire you can drink. As for how it ties in to the film ... well, it tastes like a burning tire. Just a pleasant burning tire. The Tire Tread was also the very first drink from the midnights that anyone ever asked me to make again when it wasn't midnight.
Movie: Army of Darkness (1992)
Plot: Bruce Campbell vs. the Evil Dead, round 3
2 oz. bourbon
3/4 oz. lemon juice
3/4 oz. ginger-habanero syrup (build a 2:1 syrup of 60/40 blend of white/demerara sugar to cold-pressed ginger juice; steep a habanero and chopped ginger in it until the heat is where you like it; strain, cool, bottle)
Soda water (for topping the drink)
Shake, serve in an ice-filled Collins glass (or 12-ounce plastic cups) and top with soda water. Garnish with scorched Angostura — fill an atomizer with 1:1 Angostura bitters and Lemon Hart 151 rum and very very carefully spray it over an open flame over the drink. (Never aim at someone when doing this.)
Pat says: The Boomstick seems to be far and beyond the most popular drink I ever did with attendees of the midnights. I imagine part of that involves the sight of burning bitters over something. The cocktail itself is just a variation on a whiskey buck — instead of ginger beer it's soda and a hot/spicy ginger syrup, with the added wonders of scorched bitters on top. You have to be very careful when you make this drink, though, because a torch of bitters and 151 proof rum is extremely dangerous in the wrong hands.
Drink: Sister Faith and Sister Chance
Movie: Possession (1981)
Plot: Isabelle Adjani freaks out, has sex with humanoid octopus — er, let's move on.
2 oz. dry gin
3/4 oz. lime juice
3/4 oz. smoked paprika syrup (steep a lot of hot smoked paprika in water for an hour or so, filter through a coffee filter — this may take a few times — then build a 2:1 syrup of sugar to paprika water)
6-7 sprigs of mint + 1 more for garnish
9 drops Bitter End Moroccan Spice bitters
Rose water (garnish)
Shake, serve over a rock. Garnish with a mint sprig that has had rose water dripped on the leaves.
Pat says: The Sister Faith and Sister Chance is my absolute favorite drink I ever did, even if it, on the surface, has absolutely nothing to do with the film Possession. I love that movie — I was so excited we were doing it as a midnight. I was doing some research on the film and stumbled upon a line I had forgotten but thoroughly loved — it's when Isabelle Adjani says, "What I miscarried there was sister faith, what was left was sister chance." My smoked paprika syrup I made on a whim was my sister faith, and the dumb-luck mint sister chance, and it worked out great.
Drink: Cigarette Burn
Movie: Fight Club (1999)
Plot: Hello? What's the first rule of Fight Club?
2 oz. Lapsang Souchong and rose-infused bourbon (Note: I think I did something like 2 tablespoons of lapsang and 1 tablespoon of untreated rose petals steeped in bourbon for 2 hours, and filtered. You want some smoke and floral notes without it being overpowering.)
3/4 oz. lemon juice
(fill to the rim) 1/2 oz. honey-habanero syrup (place honey over medium heat in a double boiler; throw in the habanero; taste until it is hot to your desire; fish out the habanero; build a 3:1 honey to water syrup; cool, bottle)
14 drops Angostura bitters
Rose petal ash (Buy untreated rose petals and incinerate and grind them down to, well, an ash)
Shake everything but the ash and serve over a large ice cube. Garnish with some rose petal ash over the cube and surface of the drink.
Pat says: The concept behind the drink was kind of a play on the name; as you know, "cigarette burns" are what the film calls cue marks [the dots that signify reel changes], and the drink is smoked and somewhat spicy courtesy of the habanero-spiked honey, so ... a cigarette burn. The garnish came as a result of playing with a technique I've seen at some bars where bartenders will place a glass over a smoldering object — cinnamon sticks being very popular for this — and letting that smoke perfume the glass before you serve out of it. I had made some custom bitters as a gift for the wedding of two friends and had a shit-ton of rose petals left, so I figured I'd give that a whirl. It didn't really work, but what I did discover is that I liked the smell of burning roses. People really loved this drink, I know it's [house manager] Bob Roberts' favorite midnight drink I ever did. It was a really cool and fun drink to serve and make, even with a silly, pretentious garnish.
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