I remember the first tomato water cocktail I ever had. (You can too, right? It’s a common life event we all experience.) It was at Spoonbar in Healdsburg, California, where Scott Beattie, known for his ultra-seasonal cocktails, was manning the bar. The drink was called The Upstairs Neighbor and it included vodka, fresh heirloom tomato water, multi-colored basil leaves and fresh cherry tomatoes. It was nothing like a Bloody Mary. It was bright and balanced and sweet and savory and herbaceous and, though it is cliche to say, summer in a glass. This was way back around 2010. Now, nearly a decade later, those summery, fresh tomato flavors are finally making their way across the country, with bartenders using tomatoes in new, palate-awakening ways.
Over the past few months, tomatoes have started cropping up on new and notable cocktail menus all over spring-deprived New York City. At Nitecap, tomato mingled with Pimm’s No. 1 and pickled watermelon in the Fantastic Voyage. At The Pool Lounge they star in and are displayed prominently on the rim of the Tomato Cocktail. At the recently opened Bar Freud, they’re muddled into tequila to make the smoking Waiting Room (recipe below). Albert Trummer, the man behind Bar Freud’s theatrical cocktails, says that tomatoes give cocktails a unique flavor, “a little acid, a little tart and even a little sweet.” This fascination with tomatoes isn’t limited to NYC; Dallas bartender Alex Fletcher of Trick Pony also expounds on the tomato’s intriguing flavor. “When used correctly, tomatoes add this killer umami element that I just love in cocktails,” he says. “It’s this pleasant and savory flavor that you can’t quite identify, but it makes you keep coming back for more.” He uses fresh tomatoes in his take on an Oyster Shooter, as well as pickled in a smash with celery gin, citrus and honey.