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Pineapple, a spiky outsider, now a regular at the bar

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    An Our Lady of the Harbor cocktail, made with Irish whiskey, green Chartreuse, pineapple and lime, in Washington on March 6. The cocktail world is rediscovering pineapple juice, which was largely sidelined to the tiki bar.

On the cocktail stage, lemon and lime juice have long owned the starring roles as mixers. Orange juice frequently takes a supporting part. And grapefruit catches a cameo from time to time.

Pineapple juice has played another circuit altogether. You’d occasionally encounter it in quasi-classic cocktails like the Algonquin (rye, dry vermouth) and the Mary Pickford (gin, maraschino liqueur, grenadine). But mainly it found steady work at tiki bars, where it had a home in everything from the Blue Hawaii to the Painkiller.

Recently, however, the juice has branched out. At cocktail bars of every variety, it’s a rare menu that doesn’t have at least one drink using pineapple juice, which the bartenders press themselves.

Take the newly opened Freehand hotel in New York City’s Flatiron district. The bar in the hotel’s restaurant, Simon & the Whale, serves the Long Line, a drink made with gin; yellow Chartreuse; Bonal, an aperitif from France; and pineapple juice. One flight up, at Studio, there are two pineapple cocktails, the vodka-based Buddha’s Palm and the Cel-Rays of Thyme, a drink with tequila and mezcal. And in the hotel’s George Washington Bar, the Sweep the Leg contains the Japanese spirit shochu, clarified pineapple-Thai-basil juice and lime.

“I think pineapple has grown in popularity as a cocktail ingredient due to the naturally occurring balance of acidity and sweetness in the fruit,” said Ben Rojo, bar manager at the George Washington.

“Also,” said Damon Boelte, “it froths up.” Boelte, another pineapple fan, is an owner of Grand Army, a bar in Brooklyn. “It gives this airy lightness to the drink. It’s airy, but not watery.”

The fruit, which is just now coming into season, is a regular presence at the Washington, D.C., bar 2 Birds 1 Stone. And while the bar director, Adam Bernbach, appreciates pineapple’s soft mouth feel and versatility (he mixes it with everything from scotch to gin), he also thinks it works a little psychological magic on customers.

“It takes a lot of the seriousness away, in terms of how a drink’s perceived,” he said. “There’s a warmth to it, in terms of how people react to it. Pineapple is just fun.”

For Sarah Morrissey, the bar manager at Frenchette in Tribeca, that fun can be transporting. “You could be sitting in a dark bar in New York in the dead of winter and order a pineapple heavy cocktail, and it truly takes you somewhere else,” said Morrissey, who loves the fruit so much that her nickname is Little Piña Girl.

Pineapple juice wasn’t completely ignored during the early years of the cocktail revival. The innovative bartenders Audrey Saunders and Marco Dionysos, for instance, used it in signature drinks like the Tantris Sidecar and the Chartreuse Swizzle.

But two recent developments have helped push the ingredient into wider use: One is the resurrection of the tiki bar aesthetic, and its absorption into the wider cocktail culture. The other is the rising popularity of tequila and mezcal, agave spirits that get along swimmingly with pineapple.

“There’s definitely an affinity,” said Jim Kearns of the Greenwich Village bar Slowly Shirley, where pineapple lives in several drinks. “You get those tropical notes off tequila and mezcal pretty readily, and pineapple falls right into that.”

All the bars said their pineapple drinks were popular. But with whom, exactly? According to Kearns, everyone. “Very few people seem to be pineapple-averse,” he said. “It’s a real crowd-pleaser.”

At Leyenda in Brooklyn, John Hofer, a health care professional from Connecticut, said he enjoyed pineapple juice by itself, “but I drink pineapple vodka, too.” He had just ordered a Brooklyn Burro, a kind of pineapple Dark and Stormy. “I work down in Florida, and there’s a place I go regularly that makes a Moscow Mule with pineapple, and it’s the best Moscow Mule you’ve ever had.”

Harvard & Stone in Los Angeles has begun serving agave-pineapple drinks. But the bar manager, Aaron Polsky, didn’t have to tell customers the combination was a good one. “Saturday night, you get the tequila-and-pineapple people,” he said. “They order it like a screwdriver.”

OUR LADY OF THE HARBOR

By 2 Birds 1 Stone, New York

  • 1 1/2 ounces blended Irish whiskey, preferably Teeling Small Batch Whiskey
  • 1/2 ounce green Chartreuse
  • 3/4 ounce lime juice
  • 3/4 ounce pineapple syrup (mix equal parts pineapple juice and sugar until sugar dissolves)
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Pineapple wedge, for garnish

Combine all liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake.

Strain into a double old-fashioned glass over a large ice cube, or ice cubes. Garnish with the pineapple wedge. Yields one drink.

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