The virtual trend is moving into the bar world with the opening this month of the new Gin and Juice in Chicago by Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, or LEYE, in partnership with the team behind the tiki bar Three Dots and a Dash.
The virtual cocktail bar’s menu is currently only sold through Tock, but Three Dots and a Dash and Gin and Juice beverage director Kevin Beary said there will be more services in the very near future to deliver these classic cocktail kits to customers’ homes. Pickup is also available at the Bub City restaurant host stand, an LEYE concept.
Chicago recently saw a spike in COVID cases that closed indoor dining and forced the city into a lockdown. Though it didn’t entirely close indoor dining — restaurants are allowed to have customers inside if they are within eight feet of an open window — bars like Three Dots and Dash were never able to reopen because of the small floorplans and lack of windows.
City ordinances meant to loosen liquor laws actually hindered operations, as batch cocktails were allowed to be sold but it had to be delivered by a member of the team and not a third-party delivery service. So Beary and the team decided to find a new way to make money and the virtual bar was born.
Gin and Juice is centered around a more classic cocktail experience, unlike Three Dots and a Dash, which is known for its tiki drinks and wild menu. Gin and Juice’s menu, for example, includes drinks like a margarita, espresso martini, Moscow mules, pickle back shots and more.
“Everybody loves, tiki including myself, but it can be a little limiting in some ways,” said Beary. “We felt that we could reach a broader audience with a wider selection [of drinks].”
The cocktails are sold in batches, like the Chartreuse Swizzle, which makes six cocktails and includes green Chartreuse, lime juice, pineapple juice, and Kev's 57 Falernum for $65. The Espresso Martini serves eight and includes Grey Goose Vodka, Espresso Martini Cordial, and Espresso Bean for $50. The Sesame Japanese Whisky Old Fashioned, which makes 12 cocktails, includes Nikka Yoichi Japanese Whisky and Sesame 2:1 Old Fashioned Syrup for $120. And the Wray and Ting, which makes six cocktails and includes Wray And Nephew Overproof Jamaican Rum, and Ting Grapefruit Soda is $40.
Everything sold at Gin and Juice is in its sealed, original container, and each cocktail kit comes with instructions for portioning.
But Beary and his team had to think strategically about how to make these drinks and still turn a profit.
“If you have a recipe that requires a teaspoon of a certain spirit, you can't include that spirit without including a full bottle,” said Beary. “So, we had to work with very specific recipes that can fit into that format where you don't have a whole bunch of leftover product.”
Some of this was accomplished by using non-alcoholic cordials that produce a similar taste but cut down on cost for the customer. And bar tools like stirrers or measuring devices are included with the kits.
“The goal was to make it as affordable as possible because in a delivery environment, the fees and taxes add up so quickly that when you sign on [for] a $40 kit, by the time you get to your house you probably spent $60,” said Beary.
Drinks that come in larger batches for 12 could still be considered individual servings. Because everything is in resealable and separate bottles, that batch could serve one person over 12 occasions — so Bleary contends the bar is still following social distancing regulations and not encouraging parties.
The next step is videos and interactive virtual events, according to Beary, because virtual bars aren’t as profitable as virtual restaurants. The margins are smaller he said.
“When you look at, the kit maybe costs $60 and it makes 10 cocktails. You’re looking at a $6 per cocktail. Within the bar environment you would, you know, especially downtown Chicago, you'd be $12 to $15 for that same cocktail,” he said.
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