Chris Skillern is a Texan at heart, which is what attracted him to the newly opened Javelina (119 East 18th Street; 212-539-0202), which focuses on Tex-Mex cuisine. However, when the general manager — who can often be seen behind the bar fixing up drinks — isn’t feeling a thematically appropriate margarita (one made with agave and not triple sec), he leans on an old New Orleans invention for comfort: the sazerac.
To pay his way through school while studying film at the University of Texas in Austin, Skillern wound up waiting tables at a 24-hour diner, where the menu doled options like chicken and waffles and hash. It was here that he discovered the sazerac, and once he tried it, he found himself returning to it time and time again. But it took him awhile to try it. “I literally smelled it and wouldn’t drink it for a week,” he says. “I finally drank one and it changed my life. The expectation and turning it around intrigued me so much.”
After moving to New York after college, one of Skillern’s first jobs put him in touch with New Orleans native LJ Hollins. The Crescent City resident helped educate Skillern on cocktails, preaching the gospel of balance when it came to acidity and bitters. Additionally, Skillern’s role in helping to open Harding’s, an all-American spirits establishment that concentrated on classic drinks, deepened his love of cocktail versatility.
The composition of the sazerac — the mix of rye, anise (or absinthe), and sugar — is what really drew Skillern in. The overpowering aroma of black licorice gives way to the slight burn of rye, then adds in an enticing element of sweetness. “When you drink it, it goes down so smooth and so clean,” he says, which is not what you’d expect after a sniff of the glass. “Powerful aroma, an educational, intellectual exercise, it’s got a lot of sugar in it, so it’s pretty easy to finish…Because it has those multiple phases, it can go for anybody.”
2 oz Rye Whiskey (either the classic Sazerac Rye, or WhistlePig Rye)
2-3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Splash of water or soda water
1/2 oz Herbsaint Liqueur
Start by filling a rocks glass with ice and Herbsaint liqueur and set aside.
Then take a mixing glass, drop in the sugar cube followed by Peychaud’s bitters and a splash of water or soda water. (I usually use soda water, as it makes it easier to muddle the sugar cube.) Muddle the cube in the water and Peychaud’s and top with your chosen rye whiskey. Add rocks and stir.
Go back to your rocks glass with Herbsaint and either discard the contents or place in another rocks glass for sazerac no. 2. Careful when dumping the Herbsaint to cover all the surface area of the rocks glass.
Strain your mixing glass into the rocks glass, cut a small lemon peel, squeeze over the cocktail, and leave on the rim. (Some like to discard the lemon; I prefer to leave the garnish!)
Javelina “Traditional Margarita” / Tommy’s Margarita
Skillern also offered up the traditional and famous Tommy’s Margarita recipe, which comes from Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco, for those who, like him, are Texans at heart.
2 oz Tequila (Dulce Vida Blanco)
1 oz Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice
3/4 to 1 oz Agave syrup to taste (50 percent Agave Nectar, 50 percent Water)
Shake and serve Javelina-style on the rocks with a half-salted rim and lime.
Sick of your usual call drink? Try something new. In this series, we’re asking the city’s bartenders to name their current drinks of choice.