Jim Zaccara says his bar is an appletini-free zone.
Zaccara, 45, grew up working in restaurants, and bartending was always his forte. When he began making his own style of cocktail at his first full-bar restaurant — Hope and Olive in Greenfield — eight years ago, he didn’t know he was stepping into the craft cocktail phenomenon. He simply knew he wanted his bar menu to be reasonably healthy, which for him meant meant free of excessively sugary mixes and food colorings.
“From the outset I wanted to make it something different from other things happening in the Valley by making our bar something that reflected what our kitchen did,” says Zaccara. “Seasonally based ingredients, and eschewing having junk behind the bar.”
Appletini drinkers need not fear, however, as Zaccara says he revels in turning appletini drinkers on to new, less-fluorescent drinks of his own design.
Zaccara owns both Hope and Olive and Magpie with his sister, Maggie Zaccara, and close friend Evelyn Wulkuhle. As with any successful restaurant, the front of the house and back of the house work in concert. Zaccara initially got crafty with the cocktail menu because it takes more herbs, spices, and infusions to make the final product taste good than if you’re simply dumping a bunch of sugars and crazy colors into the drinks — and that’s a strategy that goes for the food menu, as well. He says he and Maggie do a lot of tasting back and forth before releasing a new item.
“We [behind the bar] take inspiration from everything in the kitchen,” says Zaccara. “I constantly am making drinks and handing it over to my sister to taste it.”
I swing by Hope and Olive during lunchtime and bartender Mike Audet is busily prepping cocktail elements and infusions. While he preps, I sip. He tells me I have to try the Watermelon Sangria, and after the first taste I’m grateful for his recommendation. This fiercely magenta drink is made with watermelon juice, vodka, pinot grigio, orange liqueur, lemon juice, and a splash of simple syrup. It tastes like sticking a straw into a watermelon — taking out the annoying pulp and seeds, of course, and adding in some delicious spirits.
While I’m entranced by my beverage, Audet smooshes fresh ginger through a strainer, milking every last drop of its juices. The resulting ginger juice — so dense it looks like miso soup — is an element in their Ginger-Mint Mojito, which is made with light rum, ginger, mint syrup, fresh lime juice, and a dark rum float. After juicing the ginger, Audet sifts out the brilliant green blanched mint syrup.
Because Zaccara long tended bars that weren’t his own, he knows to consider the time that goes into making these more involved drinks — both for the sake of the bartender’s sanity and the customer’s wait time. Zaccara says the mint syrup is a big prep job, but it makes things easier in the long run. While many Valley bartenders are muddling mint for the many mojitos ordered this time of year, all Hope and Olive bartenders have to do is reach for this already-made mint syrup.
“It’s a huge timesaver,” says Zaccara, adding that because the restaurant is so busy they have to be thinking about saving time. “Anything you can do to not have to muddle in the moment is really awesome.”
Time they save muddling they put towards not pre-mixing juices, which stay fresher when separated. Cocktails taste more crisp and lively when hit with separate squirts of lemon, lime, and simple syrup as opposed to a pre-made sour mix.
Speaking of sour drinks, here’s another favorite: their Flower Power Sour, made with gin, St. Germaine, violette liqueur, lemon, sugar, and fennel pollen. This easy-drinking libation is served shaken and strained into a coupe, and between the color of the violette and fennel pollen, it comes out with an ethereal blue tint.
Zaccara says he changes the cocktail menu about four times a year to keep things interesting, but a number of drinks from older menus don’t ever go away — he says there are drinks that haven’t been on the menu for years that people remember and request.
Zaccara, while not realizing at first it was happening, is proud of the craft cocktail movement and the culture shift it’s brought to dining out.
“What I like about what I do with drinks and what craft cocktails inspire is you can enjoy cocktails without getting wasted,” Zaccara says. “The intention is not to get drunk, but to enhance your experience.”•
Contact Amanda Drane at email@example.com