The Story Behind One of the Most Beautiful Cocktail Menus We've Ever Seen
From Pantone booklets to graphic novels to short films, there seems to be no shortage of creativity when it comes to modern-day menu design. While we’ll always have a soft spot for the water-warped, tattered cardstock menus of our favorite old pubs and dives, many bar owners are catching on to the idea that a bar’s physical menu is just as deserving of detail as the drinks themselves. After all, it’s one of the first impressions that a bar offers its guests — and if you’re going to spend time and energy crafting the perfect garnish in the name of a memorable experience, why not extend that philosophy to the menu, too?
Baton Rouge, a New Orleans-inspired cocktail bar in Paris’s Pigalle neighborhood, embodies this idea. Their current menu, which was released earlier this summer, is an extraordinary study in craftsmanship: each drink is represented as a tarot-like card (editor's note: as some of our readers have pointed out, Chicago bar The Drifter has also used illustrated tarot cards as menu design). The cards were painstakingly illustrated, lettered with custom typography, and folded accordion-style. It feels more like a work of art than a cocktail bar’s bill of fare, and it’s a stunning homage to a very tangible — yet often overlooked — aspect of the guest experience.
“Our first menu established that we could make something different,” explains Joseph Biolatto, Baton Rouge’s co-owner. The bar’s inaugural menu was on a large sheet of Japanese paper, and Biolatto says they were extremely pleased with it. “But then,” he says, “we thought, ‘we need to go big now.’ We figured we needed to think outside the box and come up with something never seen before.”
Biolatto and his business partner, Julian Escot, worked on brainstorming the cocktails themselves, hunkering down and comparing notes before finally arriving at their list of twenty-five drinks, including both New Orleans classics (like the Hurricane and Grasshopper), and house concoctions. Meanwhile, Paris-based branding firm Be Dandy set out to rethink the design and execution of a new menu. “Their first idea was good, and the second was better,” says Bioletto, “but when they showed us this, these tarot divination cards, we were blown away.”
The guests were, too. The night they launched the menu, an American tourist visiting the bar asked to purchase a copy of the menu, and those requests haven’t slowed down. (Biolatto says they now offer them for sale at €20.)
As for the drinks themselves? “We spent probably 16 hours in front of a computer writing recipes,” says Biolatto. “No books, no other cocktail menus, it was just pure brainstorming.” One important aspect of the research project involved a worn 1937 copy of “New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix Them.” Another required a pilgrimage to Louisiana in the flesh. “We wanted to see how [these drinks are] made, where it was born,” he explains. “Who can teach you better about how it's made than the people who've been making it the same way for years? They didn't try to improve it; they make it that way because it's meant to be that way.”
“We try to think outside the box every time," says Biolatto. "We're passionate about what we do, we have an amazing chance to live our passion. But we are also passionate about other things -- photography, art, music -- it's not only the bar. You need to open your mind and look for other stuff to nourish your passion.”
Why go through all the trouble? For Biolatto and his business partner, it's all about pushing the limits of creativity and the experience you're offering a gust. “The point is, after 16 years in the industry, I always want to go further," he says. "The industry has taken such an amazing turn in the last decade, and information travels so fast, the industry is not the same as I used to know it. You need to go further and you need to reinvent yourself."