As he walked through Valencia, Spain, in February, bartender Amir Babayoff was silently taking notes.
Along the stone sidewalks and in the historic squares, Spaniards and tourists alike sat outside, talking and laughing as they drank goblets filled with effervescent and refreshing cocktails—some Spritzes, others Gin & Tonics.
Later that day, when he and his brother tried and were unable to find a trendy cocktail bar nearby, they opted instead for neighborhood Italian restaurant, Italiamo. They were greeted with a large cocktail popping with carbonation.
“The bartender offered me this prosecco drink he was making,” says Babayoff, who is the head bartender at New York’s Ophelia, which opened last year on the 26th floor of Midtown’s Beekman Tower. (The building was originally built in 1928 as a club and hotel for women belonging to college sororities.) “He brought us a pitcher and I said, ‘No, we’re not going to finish that—can you just bring us two glasses?’”
But the bartender insisted.
Defeated, Babayoff and his brother took the pitcher. Before long—and to Babayoff’s surprise—the pitcher was empty. They ordered a second.
“It was so simple and so balanced,” says Babayoff, noting that the drink was essentially a Spritz, blending prosecco, orange liqueur, Cognac, sugar and a Spanish vermouth. “I’m making these cocktails that taste great, but they take a lot of time to prepare. I was really enjoying something so simple.”
Upon returning to New York, he was inspired to put similar drinks on the menu at Ophelia, starting with a large-format Spritz. While he did get the recipe from the bartender at Italiamo, Babayoff decided to make a few changes to the cocktail.
In fact, he turned it into a punch with fresh orange juice, Martini & Rossi’s Rubino Vermouth, Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac, Cointreau, and Luca Paretti Prosecco. “Cointreau was the common ingredient, and the rubino vermouth is a bit more complex,” he says.
Next, he tackled Spain’s ubiquitous Gin & Tonic, traditionally served in an oversized wine glass and with special attention paid to the garnish. The result was particularly satisfying—so much so that it resulted in a permanent spot on the bar’s menu in the form of his A La Española. It is made with a rotating selection of gins, botanicals and citrus oils as well as a Mediterranean tonic water. The current iteration uses Nolet’s Silver Gin and two types of liqueur.
“The gin has notes of peach and raspberry and Turkish rose,” says Babayoff. “I did add something a little odd—a gin liqueur from Scotland flavored with rhubarb and ginger. I also spray a bit of strawberry liqueur, so it smells like strawberry.”
It’s garnished with a rhubarb stalk, juniper berries, strawberry slices and dehydrated lemons. Babayoff says people like it so much that it’s become one of the most popular drinks on the menu.
Once you try it, you’ll understand why he’s so obsessed by the cocktail.A La Española
- 1 oz Nolet’s Silver Gin
- 1 oz Edinburgh Gin’s Rhubarb & Ginger Liqueur
- Fever-Tree Tonic
- 2 spritzes Strawberry liqueur
- Glass: Chardonnay
- Garnish: 3 strawberry slices, 2 dehydrated lemon wheels, 4 juniper berries and a rhubarb stalk
Fill a Chardonnay glass halfway with ice. Garnish with 3 strawberry slices, 2 dehydrated lemon wheels, 4 juniper berries and a rhubarb stalk. Add the gin and the rhubarb and ginger liqueur, and then top with the tonic water. Spritz twice with strawberry liqueur.