Technology is taking over the bar. Drinks machines—from slushie-style mixers to vintage soda machines—are popping up in venues around the country, providing a sophisticated take on an enjoyable and easy format. Beyond being fun, the pre-made drinks help bartenders save on labor time and offer guests a dose of nostalgia.
In San Francisco, White Cap cocktail bar has used slushie machines to make everything from a Negroni to a coconut and seaweed Daiquiri. The Monkey Wrench slushie ($13) is made with Gustoso Aguardiente rum, coconut milk, house-made seaweed simple syrup, and lime juice, while the Snow Shoes ($13) mixes George Dickel rye, Angostura Aromatic bitters, house-made smoked pineapple purée, house-made pecan-orgeat syrup, and lime juice.
A few miles away, San Francisco bars The Beehive and The Treasury also serve slushie cocktails. Arnold Eric Wong, a partner in both venues, says the machine-made, frozen craft cocktails are well-liked, although they require an explanation for some guests. “They’re fun and people adore them,” he adds. “Guests like the nostalgia because for many, frozen drinks were a big part of their lives growing up. And while some people expect the slushies to be sweet, we explain that they’re well-balanced.” Among the Beehive’s slushie cocktails are the Quimbara ($14), mixing Santa Teresa 1796 rum, Aperol aperitif, Les Vergers Boiron pink guava purée, and lime juice, and the Strangelove ($14), blending Ketel One vodka, Clean Slate Riesling, Montenegro amaro, house-made raspberry syrup, and grapefruit and lime juices. The drinks are some of the bar’s best-selling cocktails.
Chicago bar Saint Lou’s Assembly serves its popular slushie Frosé ($11), made with Leopold’s gin, Paul D. Zweigelt rosé, and grapefruit juice, from a machine. Beverage director Donavan Mitchem says using the machine alleviates a lot of potential issues. “The machine ensures consistency of drink quality and allows us to create a large number of cocktails without having to worry about making them to order every time,” Mitchem explains. “The Frosé needs to be kept at a consistent temperature to remain enjoyable and the machine enables that.”
Nostalgia and speed of service were also deciding factors when installing machines at New York City bar Existing Conditions. The venue houses vintage soda bottle machines filled with pre-bottled cocktails. Guests must use special tokens, purchased at the bar, to get their drinks. Offerings ($16) include the Manhattan, made with Rittenhouse rye and Carpana Antica Formula vermouth, garnished with a cherry inside the bottle; the 50/50 Martini, blending Plymouth gin, Dolin Dry vermouth, and house-made orange bitters; and the Cinema Highball, mixing butter- and popcorn-infused El Dorado 3-year-old rum and Coke. “Speed of service is something we wanted, but more than anything, we wanted to give guests an experience,” says Existing Conditions partner Don Lee. “People like the novelty.”
For high-volume bars, cocktail machines can greatly ease service pressure. The Wrigleyville location of Chicago bar Big Star serves a substantial number of people, especially during the baseball season. To quicken service times, the Tex-Mex concept installed large-capacity tanks that can hold up to 3,000 pre-batched cocktails. The pre-made Margarita ($11), mixing Lunazul Blanco Tequila, Marie Brizard and Gran Gala Orange Curaçaos, and lime juice, and the pre-mixed Paloma ($10), made with Lunazul Blanco, Mexican Squirt soda, and grapefruit and lime juices, are two of the venue’s most popular drinks. “In the past, people expected machines to make sweet, cheap drinks, but that’s totally changed,” says Big Star beverage director Laurent Lebec. “People get excited because these pre-batched drinks are high quality and we deliver them faster.”