A great cocktail list is more than the mere listing of beverages for sale. The best menus are visually arresting, with a strong design ethic, featuring drinks that speak to the very reason the bar exists. It’s a document of a bar in a certain place and time.
And the 2018 Cocktail List of the Year holders, PS40, know this well. We’ve featured a few iterations of their list before, because they look great, feature delicious drinks, and are very PS40.
But their latest iteration blows their previous efforts out of the water.
Visually arresting? You bet it is. The images are striking — those colours are something else — and the drinks are progressive and very much of the highest PS40 standards.
But we’ve kind of come to expect this from PS40. After all, they are one of the few bars that we know of — the world over — who have a creative director as part of the ownership of the bar. Livia Lima is an owner of the bar, along with her partner Thor Bergquist, and Michael Chiem, and she’s a designer in her own right (her creative studio is called Ultra Violet).
But the menu is a collaboration between the whole PS40 team; we asked Chiem to talk us through the new list and to give us an idea about how it all comes together.
What’s the idea behind the new list?
Menus at PS40 have evolved a lot since we opened three years ago. The approach is still very much the same but the delivery has evolved a lot!
When we approach menus we always try to toy around with ideas, techniques and concepts that are interesting to us and hope they might lead towards a delicious drink. The delivery however has changed from a minimal, white paper, black font, ‘under-promise and over deliver style’ to trying to engage our guests with a concept (our latest one was the PS Pharma menu). The newest one we have chosen is “PS40 Festivus”, taking 10 festivals from all around the world that guests might have already heard about and translating them to tasty cocktails.
This is our blurb for it:
“Who doesn’t love to celebrate? We wish we could participate in all the festivities across the world but there wouldn’t be anyone left to make drinks. Wouldn’t it be amazing to experience 10 festivals in 10 locations at once? Imagine throwing tomatoes while wearing skeletal face paint and dancing in the fields. Here, we bring you a little from each of our favourites so that we can all celebrate together.”
How long does a new PS40 list take? Can you outline a bit about the process you guys go through, from conception to delivery?
Anywhere between one month to six months. It’s definitely taking longer recently; before we only really worried about the drinks, the vessels and a funny name. Now we’re pushing the execution of the drinks a bit further and the menu design has to tie into everything too.
From conception we all sat around and discussed what themes [and] concepts we thought would be fun and relatable to guests and then we all chose four festivals each and presented them to each other. This got narrowed down to 10 and from there we spent a few weeks working on the actual drinks.[PS40 general manager] Peter Seabrook has really helped this process as well with the apps and programs he’s put in place at our bar; everything is communicated in an open and dynamic channel rather than on emails, spreadsheets or pieces of paper.
The last stage was the longest and that was menu design! Budgeting, testing prints, a thousand spell checks, tiny little font changes, alignments, is the size right? Is the finish on the laminate right? Livia and Pete got really American Psycho on it and Thor’s copy is hilarious. Lots of work but I think it shows in the final result too, it’s super pretty.
How do you know when a drink is complete?
It’s never complete until it leaves the menu! Even the Breakfast Negroni which is now being made as an “off-menu” item right now has seen small changes with how we make it. We’ve been making it for over a year now and still finding ways to improve it.