Where Michael Martensen goes, good drinks follow. We first enjoyed his libations at The Cedars Social and have since been sipping way too many fancy drinks at Proof + Pantry. Last week, Martensen and his collaborators at Misery Loves Company opened the doors to Madrina, their “French-Mex” concept in Highland Park, chef-ed by Julio Peraza. With that opening, of course, came some pretty excellent cocktails.
In drawing up the cocktail menu for Madrina, Martensen sought out natural connections between both France's and Mexico’s longstanding drinking traditions. In addition to the comprehensive cocktail menu divided into “French Inspired” and “Mexican Inspired” sections, Madrina offers a long and extensive list of spirits that fit both countries: brandy, tequila and mezcal. The cocktails, though, are really where it’s at, unless you’ve got a particular hankering for fine Armagnac or obscure, sippable mezcal.
The French side of the cocktail menu is heavily influenced by traditional Tiki cocktails, whose roots lie in French Polynesia. This inspiration is perhaps most on display in the pepita mai tai, a cocktail Martensen says is “everything Madrina is supposed to be.” A blend of white and aged rhum agricole mixed with orange cordial and lime juice forms the foundation of the cocktail, but its real star is a pumpkin seed-infused orgeat, a sweet and earthy syrup traditionally made with almonds. The addition of pepita adds a unique and earthy quality to the cocktail, which is decidedly something you’d like to be sipping on a beach in Martinique next to a charming monsieur.
Also taking a hat-tip from tiki is the First Kiss, a pisco-based cocktail that dates all the way back to Don the Beachcomber, credited with opening the country’s first tiki bar and inventing the mai tai. Pisco is certainly a South American spirit, but it is still a grape-based brandy, which makes it a particularly perfect fit for Madrina. Mixed with a floral honey-cream, Hamilton pot still rum and a dash or two of bitters, the resulting cocktail is punchy and bright with a smooth finish. The garnish, yet another nod to tiki culture's use of Morse code for "victory,” is three dots of bitters and a mint leaf “dash.”
On the Mexican-inspired side of the menu, tequila and mezcal are dominant. A chelada, made with house-spiced umami mix, is the lone cocktail that doesn’t include an agave-based spirit. The Wild Mind is a particular star on the menu, one that is perfect as we transition into fall. Here, grapefruit mingles with smoky Del Maguey Vida mezcal and an incredible creme de cacao made by California’s Tempus Fugit Spirits. If you’ve ever had terrible, cheap creme de cacao, this intensely flavored liqueur is a totally different experience. Sort of like comparing a Hershey bar to fine French or Belgian chocolate.
With nearly 20 cocktails on the menu, you would think that at least one would be a little bit of an afterthought, but not here. Each of the cocktails is made with house-made ingredients, infused syrups (and sirop, for the Francophiles) and oleo-saccharums, even if the flavor profiles of cocktails like the Jack Rose and Born Sinner (a sort of Paloma) are a little more straightforward and familiar. Either way, you should belly up to this beautifully styled bar as soon as possible and sip as many $10-12 cocktails as your budget will allow. Even if it’s only one, the drive will certainly be worth it.