Long Island Pulse: Tell us about your background.
Orion Berge: I started at Great Bay, a restaurant in Boston, right in Kenmore Square. I was a bartender there and worked my way up to beverage director, then to assistant general manager. It was really ahead of its time for the neighborhood, which was around the corner from Fenway Park and still kinda dumpy. We were immersed in the concept of fresh ingredients. I remember we would drive to York, Maine to get lobsters right off the boat, and they’d be at the restaurant in 45 minutes.
Pulse: Did that stick with you?
OB: Definitely. I just love that stuff. Food and drink have always appealed to my nerdy, pedantic side. Both are a physical manifestion of history, of culture. Both give me inspiration. Plus, I enjoy being full and knocking back a few. What’s not to like?
Pulse: That’s our philosophy, too. So you came to Garden City from Boston?
OB: Not directly. I went from Boston to New York City to work as a food and beverage manager at the Waldorf Astoria. It had an amazing, progressive cocktail program. I didn’t expect that.
OB: You would assume a hotel’s bar would be stodgy, but it was quite the opposite. I’ve tried to apply that here, too. I’ve been here since last November and we’ve worked immensely hard on retooling the bar, cherry-picking our spirits to give patrons the experience of a Manhattan cocktail bar, but without dealing with the hassle of traveling there. And the patrons have responded well; we have no problem moving Pritchard’s Double Barrel bourbon, Willet Pot Still bourbon, Louis XIII… It gives us products we can proselytze here, that we can talk about with vigor. I recently spent 25 minutes one afternoon explaining the difference between VSOP and XO cognacs. I just mentioned Louis XIII—the man that I was talking with, he was so intrigued by cognac that he tried Louie and, over the next five days, he polished off the bottle. That gives us the faith to offer these types of high-end spirits.
Pulse: How do you design the cocktail menu?
OB: Well, the Polo Steakhouse is our signature eatery and bar; our menu has about 10 cocktails. We have three staples. The rest we rotate.
Pulse: What’s your favorite staple?
OB: Gardening At Night. It’s a simple drink that isn’t cloyingly sweet, served in a Champagne flute.
Pulse: What’s in it?
OB: Zubrowka, a unique vodka that’s flavored with a hint of bison grass; a raspberry shrub made in-house that gives a zip of acidity; and Sparkling Pointe’s Champagne, which gives a leesy, yeasty character. My friend is a brand ambassador for the vodka company, and I’ve carried it since Boston. Really unique. It has this green tint to it.
Pulse: What about the rest of the menu? You said it rotates?
OB: Yes. The rest rotates about every three months. There, I try to incorporate flavors that are evocative for that season, even if they’re available year-around. I mean, I could make an apple pie in April, but to make it during the fall, that’s much more exciting.
Pulse: What’s new for February?
OB: I’m really proud of two new cocktails right now. Invasion of Normandy is one; it’s a rye-based drink served in a highball glass. The rye whiskey is the American component—we use Rittenhouse—while in terms of an “invasion” from Normandy, we use Bènèdictine, an herbal liqueur, and a sparkling Normandy apple cider. Then we float a touch of Peychaud’s bitters to finish. It’s a golden color, topped with a bright red cap.
Pulse: And the other?
OB: It’s a margarita named Invierno, which means “winter” in Spanish. It’s beautifully bright orange with a hint of winter spices. We infuse tequila with cinnamon and mix that with lime juice and blood orange juice—the latter is a winter citrus; if you hang out with people in Mexico, they’ll do shots of tequila with an orange. Then Pierre Ferrand, a dry curacao, is added and we rim the glass with a citrus and cinnamon salt.