Have you ever heard of decision fatigue? Jeremy Oertel, beverage director at Donna, has.
“Mr. Big from Sex and the City—he wears the same suit every day,” Oertel told me last night at Donna, where a DJ set floats above a surprising number of cocktail drinkers for the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. “‘If I could just take some choices out of my life, I could be less tired by the end of the day,” Mr. Big’s clearly on-point thinking goes, according to Oertel.
Drinkers want the same thing: to try less hard. “By the end of the day, you get to a bar, exhausted already, and your brain is slowing down, and you’re like, ‘I don’t want to make choices. I don’t know what to get,” So, to aid the dulled and over-worked brains of his patrons, Oertel conceived of something quite useful: a drinking map. I tried it after having been up since 5am, plus being sick—the perfect test subject. And the results were fantastic.
Donna’s new menu map did—as promised—ease me into making my drinking selections. All of the new fall recipes, including 12 new signature Donna cocktails, are illustrated in tiny little drawings and were the collaborative work of Oertel and his team. Every member of it is creative, he says, and has a particular interest in birthing new drinks of their own. “It’s different for them to work in a place where they can put a drink down and, when people say, ‘This is amazing,’ they can be like, ‘Yeah, I made that.'” It’s the old “skin in the game makes better drinks, theory,” which, as I learned last night, works out quite nicely for Donna.
Holding your new drink map key, you’re presented with three easy-to-understand sections that start out light, migrate to full body, and end strong. Little icons illustrate drink ingredients and what vessels they’re served in, so you don’t even have to read to pick something you’d like. For example, the most delicious tequila cocktail I’ve had in ages, created by Oertel, is called the Mirror Maze, which falls within the menu’s “light and refreshing” section. From the little pictures I understood that: The drink is served in a rocks glass (due to the rocks glass picture), has tequila in it (due to the cactus drawing), includes pear notes (due to an image of a pear) and some kind of botanical note, I thought (due to a delicate herb-like drawing)—which, in this case, tuned out to be eucalyptus. I went with a friend, who happens to be a brand ambassador for an alcohol, and has bartended forever, too, and she could not stop raving about this drink. I felt the same.
Next, I told Oertel that—funnily enough—my favorite cocktail I’ve ever had in my life, happened to be the Bitter Mai Tai at Alameda which, miraculously enough, Oertel himself had created. If you like that, he said, you’ll want to try our Milano Vice, which is their take on the Miami Vice—a piña colada mixed with a strawberry daiquiri. At Donna, that means one of their famous Brancoladas (Branca Menta, Appleton Rum, Coconut Cream, pineapple and orange juice) served on top of a Strawberry Negroni—frozen. Similar to the Bitter Mai Tai, it hit that dreamy mix of cold, bitter-sweetness, not too heavy in either direction.
Donna is also known for their lip-smacking cocktails on tap. I love a milk punch, which happened to be one of their drinks on tap. It arrived at the table—clear. But milk is white, I thought. However, due to a curdling process, Oertel tells me, the drink’s main ingredient appears incognito. The Plantation Pineapple Rum and Smith & Cross Rum interact with the milk and suck out all the fat content, slowly, over days, and eventually you’re left with a magical clear milk punch, finished with Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, Cacao Chai Tea and grapefruit. Delicious.
If you get back from Thanksgiving and need a place to drink, due to Post Traumatic Holiday Eating Stress, make your outing as stress-free as possible with Donna’s drinking map, and imbibe your way to recovery. If, impossibly, you still have a healthy appetite remaining, get some of Donna’s little tacos, too, which pack savory punches of chicken, pork shoulder, root vegetable, shrimp, and basa fish. Actually, these tasty snacks deserve a story of their own—but we don’t want to overtax you; we know you’ve had a very hard day. Just sit back, point at the little pictures, and drink up.
Donna, Sun-Thurs, 5pm – 1am. Fri. & Sat., 5pm – 3am. 27 Broadway, Brooklyn.