Over-the-top cocktails are sweeping the city

Over-the-top cocktails are sweeping the city

Garnishes include cotton candy, dry-ice clouds and blazing pyrotechnics. Here, the Library Bar’s director of mixology explains the method to the madness

James Grant, director of mixology at the Library Bar

At the Library Bar, the Fairmont Royal York’s legendary main-floor lounge, drinks are inspired by the arts, and the menu is divided into genres: poetry, bestsellers, masterpieces and (the reason we’re here) science fiction—extreme concoctions that are immersive and a bit bonkers.

Godzilla inspired the Sacred Beast, made with bourbon, mezcal, smoked lapsang souchong leaves and charred habanero. An explosive garnish mimics the monster’s fiery breath—the strike of a match turns a ball of steel wool and cinnamon into a mini inferno. “It really cements the idea of an atomic reaction,” says James Grant, the bar’s director of mixology.

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The Sacred Beast at the Library Bar

Grant’s radioactive-looking Southern Reach (inspired by author Jeff VanderMeer’s trilogy about a land taken over by vegetation) arrives on a coaster of moss. It’s made with some typical mix-ins (Tanqueray, chartreuse) as well as some wacky ones: riboflavin, which glows under black light, and an electric daisy flower, the bud of which has a numbing property. Guests are instructed to take a nibble before each sip for a tingly sensation. These avant-garde flourishes are certainly about showmanship, but Grant says there’s another benefit: built-in marketing. “Guests see one of these drinks come out and immediately want to know more.”

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Library Bar director of mixology James Grant preparing the Southern Reach

The Library Bar's Southern Reach cocktail


Gonzo Garnishes

The Library Bar’s James Grant on how to up your at-home cocktail game


Spice things up: “I like to rim a whiskey cocktail with a mixture of sea salt, cinnamon and granulated sugar. This adds an aroma similar to the Sacred Beast’s.”

Play with fire: “A lightly torched grapefruit twist makes a striking garnish. Using a peeler, cut a large swath of grapefruit zest. Move the flame of a lit match over the surface of the peel, then squeeze the zest to express the oil into the drink. The released oil will ignite.”

Break the ice: “Fill two-thirds of a small insulated cooler with water, then put it in the freezer without its lid. After 24 hours or so, take it out, remove the layer of clear ice that has built up, and discard the remaining water. Using a serrated knife and a small hammer, you can cut the ice up into different shapes.”

Drop it like it’s hot: “If you want to enhance a spicy cocktail, add a drop or two of Scrappy’s Fire Tincture or Bittercube’s Chipotle Cacao bitters.”

James Grant, director of mixology at the Library Bar


More high-drama drinks

Savor: The Boom Bang Fai Fizz, a gin-based cocktail at St. Clair West’s new modern Thai restaurant, is inspired by Thailand’s rocket festival and garnished with a flame-spouting flare lit tableside.

And/Ore: Perhaps unsurprisingly for a restaurant with its own cave, And/Ore replaces the simple syrup in its house old fashioned with freshly spun cotton candy, which melts when stirred in.