(Ed note: In the aftermath of John Ashbery's death, I've been scrolling through our archive of John-related posts. We've had hundreds! I discovered this one from 2011 and it has inspired me to attempt "The Improvement" as tonight's cocktail.)
The idea was genius, cooked up by Tree Swenson of the Academy of American Poets and poetry-loving restaurateur Peter Hoffman (Back Forty, Savoy): Take eight of the city's most creative mixologists and challenge them to invent a drink inspired by a favorite poem. To the drinks add poem-inspired hors d'oeuvres prepared by chef Shanna Pacifico and dramatic readings of the featured poems by the Bowery Poetry Club's charismatic Bob Holman. Serve it all up in the acclaimed restaurant Back Forty in the East Village, with chef/owner Hoffman as host, and you've got my kind of National Poetry Month celebration. .
I was there on Tuesday night with camera and notebook but I must confess that after chasing mixologist Anna Dunn's "Tender Buttons" (LIV Vodka, Zaya rum, Berkshire gin, Chinaco tequila and tarragon and lemon syrups) with Pacifico's "Green Eggs and Ham" (deviled eggs with crispy pork) my notes are barely legible.
But I did capture Back Forty's own Russ Tinsley making "The Improvement," inspired by John Ashbery's poem of the same title. The poem has stayed with Tinsley since college and came to mind when he took up the cocktail challenge. He aimed for a spring-like and refreshing drink -- hence the gin -- in which all of the ingredients would be recognizable, like the "inside out," of the poem.With his combination of ginger infused gin, mint, lemon, lime, honey, and splash of ginger beer, I can affirm that he succeeded beautifully. When asked if he would like John Ashbery to sample his creation, Tinsley replied, "that's the dream." John? Are you game?
I'm hoping that if enough people request "The Improvement" it will become a permanent part of the menu.