Pittsburgh's burgeoning cocktail culture bid farewell this weekend to Embury in the Strip District -- the pioneering pre-prohibition cocktail bar which marked one of the most serious efforts to bring craft bartending to the city. (Owner Spencer Warren could not reach a new lease agreement with his landlord.)
But Embury's influence will endure, along with some of the vintage cocktails it revived, like the New-Orleans-born "The Sazerac."
"Spencer has brought a lot of old classics back, and there's quite a resurgence for them now," says Peter Landis, manager at NOLA on the Square, a New Orleans-themed restaurant in Downtown's Market Square.
That's one reason you can find several versions of vintage drinks, such as the Sazerac, in select restaurants and bars throughout the city.
The Sazerac has an origin myth too long and disputed to tackle. But at NOLA, bartenders concoct Stanley Arthur Clisby's version of the cocktail, taken from his 1937 book Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix 'Em.
First, they rinse a glass with Vieux Carré Absinthe, then muddle a sugar cube with several dashes of Peychaud Bitters, a dash of Angostura Bitters and 1½ oz. Jim Beam Rye -- (ri)1 brand is also available upon request. Once the sugar dissolves, they pour the rye into the absinthe-rinsed glass and garnish with a lemon peel. The citrusy lemon scent pairs well with the robust aroma of absinthe -- together, they create a cocktail bouquet perfect for sipping, and the tingling sensation from absinthe adds bite.
Landis says he wanted to showcase how bartenders overcame "the terrible alcohol that people were using [during Prohibition] by infusing it with different aromatics and herbs."
NOLA's Sazerac ($9) is just one example of the traditional New Orleans cocktails most places won't serve. Landis has also whipped up his own cocktail, the "Toulouse Martini" ($9). It features vodka, ginger brandy, pineapple juice, prickly pear granita (a sorbet-style frozen Italian desert) and "spanked" mint. It's the kind of innovation that will carry on Embury's legacy.