The Conceptual Cocktail
La Belle Vie bartender Johnny Michaels

The Conceptual Cocktail

Is the sum of the parts greater than the whole?

Johnny Michaels, the lyrical and heady bartender at La Belle Vie, treats the cocktail as an intellectual challenge—but one that requires equal parts creativity and good humor. (Beware: He cringes at highfalutin’ terms like “mixologist”).

Lately, Michaels has been experimenting with discreteness: Why not separate spirits from complementary flavors to make each taste more pronounced? “All these things would taste great together,” he says. “But you can pull them apart and have a more extreme sensation.”

Take the “Brut Nature,” something he whipped up for LBV’s fall menu. In a snifter, Michaels serves cognac, dry cherry brandy, and bitters. Alongside it, he offers a flute of crisp champagne. “The cognac is like a warm, luxurious blanket,” he says. “And the champagne is a bracing cold shower. It’s a little trippy, but it works.”

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