Magazine / People

Alumnus Max Goldberg keeps the art of classic cocktails alive in Nashville

“The art of cocktails was lost” during Prohibition, says Max Goldberg, pictured left, who is bringing that art back with his Nashville bar the Patterson House. Photo courtesy of Max Goldberg

If you were a kid in the late 1800s and early 1900s, you lived in a heady time: Coca-Cola, cotton candy, Life Savers and Popsicles all were invented during that era. But adults, arguably, had it even better.

Until Prohibition, “Americans were the best cocktail makers in the world. People from all over the world came to America to learn how to make cocktails,” says Max Goldberg (BSBA ’05), who co-owns the Patterson House — a pre-Prohibition-style cocktail bar in Nashville — with his brother Benjamin. When federal laws clamped down on the sale and consumption of alcohol in the 1920s, drinking went underground, Goldberg says.

“Basically, the cocktail became nothing more than a spirit and a mixing agent combined together as fast as possible, to get people as drunk as possible, in case a raid occurred. The art of cocktails was lost,” Goldberg laments. But now he’s among the pioneers in a wave of cocktail-revival bars washing across the nation.

The Goldberg brothers opened the Patterson House in 2009 and began collecting accolades almost immediately — including being named No. 12 on GQ’s list of the top 25 places in the country to drink. The Goldbergs’ holding company, Strategic Hospitality, owns and operates six other restaurants and bars, some with an equally historical bent — like Merchant’s, which operates in a building that formerly served as a brothel, an ammunitions parlor and a hotel — so it’s not surprising that the Patterson House is widely acclaimed for its authenticity.

Start with the building. Constructed in 1899, it retains its original fireplace and some of the walls. The rest has been renovated, but you’d never know it. The wallpaper, leathers, chandeliers and dark woods evoke the period and lend “an incredible kind of speakeasy vibe,” Goldberg says. And the 68-foot-long bar gives patrons a clear view of the bartenders who are handcrafting their drinks.

That, after all, is the real focus. “Everything is carefully measured out with eyedroppers,” Goldberg explains. “We use eight different kinds of ice because as the ice melts it changes the water content, which will change the flavor profile as well.” The staff also squeezes its own juices daily and makes its own bitters. And to learn how to combine it all properly, Patterson House mixologists go through 120 hours of training. They develop some of their own libations, but many of the recipes come from Strategic Hospitality’s partner, Alchemy Consulting, whose founders were the original bartenders at New York’s Milk & Honey, one of the first cocktail artistry bars in the country.

“Using recipes that existed before, they take the classic components and create their own riff on classic cocktails,” Goldberg says. Those might include a Sazerac — generally acknowledged to be the first cocktail ever served — or a Dark & Stormy, made with blackstrap rum and ginger. Goldberg says the latter drink owes its origins to rough nights on the open seas. “Sailors would have ginger to settle their stomachs on dark, stormy nights, and rum to help pass the time.”

Though it’s possible to get a more modern-day tipple at the Patterson House, the bartenders have their limits.

“If you want a beer or a Jack Daniels on the rocks, we’re happy to serve it, but we’re never going to give you a vodka and Red Bull,” Goldberg says. “People put their trust in our hands.”



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