Some bartenders hate doing it, others relish it. Like it or not, naming a cocktail has an impact. Some names are certainly more utilitarian and descriptive of their ingredients than others, but those that aren't help create expectations, define a mood, and craft a story of a drink's character and past.
When I saw the Bone Machine ($10, bourbon, oloroso sherry, amaro, bitters) on the menu at Third Rail under the Spiritous section, I imagined it was named after a ruthless mixed-martial artist. An extremely slow and packed ride on the T line -- one in which a drunk young professional was threatening to topple over and crush us for the entire 30 minutes -- necessitated something with intensity in the place of mercy. This drink was the perfect remedy, more grappler than brute; the bourbon's strength, the sherry's blatant audacity, and the amaro's citrus wallop landed a deliciously dark strike directly on my mouth.
That's the other thing about drink names: Sometimes the story you create is completely wrong. "I'm a big Tom Waits fan, and Bone Machine was one of the first of his albums I got into," explained barman and co-owner Jeff Lyon. "The 'Bone Machine' replaced another similarly structured drink called 'Ol' 55' (a Waits song), and I just wanted to keep that spot on the menu as the Waits-named drink."
But that doesn't stop people, myself included, from gravitating towards the cocktail, each with a different interpretation of the name. According to Lyon, some people order it because they think it's a reference to one of the Pixies' albums, others because they believe it's a testimonial to the drink's ability to improve their potency in the sack.
Other drinks on the menu have monikers less open to wild interpretation, like the namesake Third Rail ($10, bourbon, Lillet Blanc, honey, lemon, orange bitters). Lyon developed the cocktail while working at Range, and this drink defined the style he was after. As a bonus for ordering the drink, each one comes with an individually numbered, limited-edition coaster, printed on a letterpress by a local artist.
The crystal clear Spotlight ($10, dry sherry, pear brandy, ginger, celery bitters) also has a name that seems to refer to the look and effect. With crisp Manzanilla sherry and fresh and fragrant pear brandy accented with vegetal celery bitters, this low-proof cocktail doesn't pull any punches with flavor, but it dodges the alcoholic knockout blow.
1 ½ oz. La Bodega Oloroso sherry
1 oz. Bulleit Bourbon
½ oz. Amaro Nonino
¼ oz. Benedictine
1 Dash Angostura Bitters
2 Dashes Regan's Orange Bitters
Combine all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice, and stir until well chilled. Strain into a cold rocks glass with a large cube of ice. Flame an orange peel over the drink, and garnish with the peel.
Third Rail, 628 20th St. (at 3rd St.), 252-7966