While I'm far from the martini-sipping type, I can respect the breed. Powerful types and their wanna-bes, cavorting and carrying on, stemmed glass hoisted in one hand saying loudly to the world, "Bring it on, you bastards. I have gin." The fact is, though, as the martini has become more and more popular its one true ingredient, gin, has slipped to the wayside. Instead, specialty martinis - drinks mixed with multiple ingredients, muddled fruits, and exotic infusions - have come to rule the nightlife landscape. That doesn't have to be a bad thing, though - I've had a stellar martinis at places like the Biltmore Hotel's lobby bar in Coral Gables, whose honeydew martini is cool, crisp, and strong. A lot of work goes into these beverages, which nearly require as much prep as a dinner menu selection. In some cases, these specialty drinks even eclipse the food: Fort Lauderdale beach's Trina makes specialty drinks with lavender syrup, fruit purees, and jalapeno infusions, which, according to Gail Shepherd, actually bests the restaurant's the food in terms of value and ingenuity.
Trina's been doing its high-class cocktail thing for years, but new joints are carrying on the torch as well. Take Fort Lauderdale's YOLO, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant with a bar scene lively enough to spark a fire in those dry, rainless months (in fact, the patio out front sports a fire pit, lest you forget how hot this place is). Yes, the place packs up with diners too, folks who just want to nibble on meatball sliders (fab, actually) and crackle, crunch on upscale truffled potato chips. But don't lose sight of the focus - YOLO's preppy dinner menu features 11 main plates and five sandwiches, while its specialty drink menu profers 15 selections. You do the math.
Like the aforementioned joints, YOLO goes to great lengths to make its specialty drinks, infusing liquors and using only fresh-squeezed juices and whole fruit. But is YOLO any good at what it's really doing, i.e. getting rich folk drunk enough to procreate? I'll check out a few of those signature cocktails after the jump.
Martini drinking types who can't decide between an "O"smo (YOLO's take on a cosmopolitan) and a Passiontini can opt instead for a martini flight, a metal tree housing three pairs of signature martinis. These three were less effective for me - the strawberry "caipirinha" is a mash of muddled berries, lime juice, simple syrup, and - get this - Malibu rum. The Brazilian liquor required to make a real caipirinha, cachaca, is nowhere in sight here, and it shows. It was a sweet, frothy mess that bucked the trend of YOLO using real, fresh ingredients in its drinks. Would it kill these guys to get some cachaca in house? The passiontini, with pineapple juice and a layer of raspberry Chambord on the bottom, fared better, but still lacked something to set it apart from a drink you'd order at a tiki bar on a lazy Saturday afternoon. The pink "O"smo was also just fine, the only real deviation from a normal cosmo being the use of Grey Goose Le Citron flavored vodka. Every one of these drinks left a real wanting for a decent gin martini. Did I spy some Hendrick's behind the bar? This flight gets only two out of five rented Bentleys.
Not pictured: The pineapple chili margarita, a concoction of freshly muddled pineapple chunks, Herradura tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, and slivers of spicy red jalapeno. This drink was dynamite - slightly sweet, a dose of tartness from the lime and pineapple, and a constant tickle from the heat of the jalapeno. It left a warming sensation all down your throat and into your stomach that never burned, just smoldered. Five out of six ethnic porters agree, this drink's the shiz.
Lastly, I tried a Strawberry Kiss, a potent blend of Grey Goose vodka with half-a-dozen fresh strawberries, lemon juice, a few cracks of black pepper, and balsamic vinegar. The balsamic sort of evened out the sweetness from the strawberries, while the cracked pepper gently hummed along. Best (or worst) of all, you can slug this thing down before you even realize what hit you - it's just about pure vodka, but drinks like a juice box. Beware. It gets two out of three meatball sliders, which was the precise number needed to counteract all that Jesus juice.
Quick recap for those keeping score: Definitely go for the specialty drinks like the Devil's Hammer or the pineapple chili margarita, but skip those faux martinis.
Also - tune in to New Times in a couple weeks when our own Michelle Centrone explores what it's like to be a bartender in the O Lounge for a night. No, I'm not joking. It should be hilarious.
YOLO Restaurant & O Lounge
333 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale