We’re back in New Jersey, back at a bar across the Hudson River from Manhattan, where the frantic energy of the Financial District is far enough away to be seen, but not heard. This time we’re at Piggyback Bar, the casual, bar-centric sister to Manhattan restaurant Pig and Khao. General Manager Ben Schmitt wants everyone to know that Jersey City is worth the commute.
“I live in Brooklyn, and when they asked me to GM at a place in New Jersey, I almost laughed,” he says, smiling. “But my commute, door to door, is 30 minutes. That’s better than a lot of people who live and work within New York City.”
We can’t argue with that. We got from buzzy, frenetic lower Manhattan to charming, breezy Jersey City in under ten minutes.
For Ben, that transition is personal. He lasted six months working in finance after college before he gave it all up and went back to the restaurant industry. We ask him if his parents were disappointed.
“Nah, they owned a diner at the time,” he says. “They understood that the suit life wasn’t for me.”
But for those in that suit life, Piggyback provides. Being so close to Manhattan, and so close to Jersey City’s business district, this bar caters to those eager to unwind after work. This is when Ben’s days making one-and-ones and pouring shots come in handy.
“People want to get drunk, and I don’t blame them,” Ben says. “Sometimes, this bar feels like two different places: during happy hour, it’s beer and shots and straight liquor. But when the night goes on, and people sit down for dinner, that’s when we make all of our cocktails.” His face lights up when he says this. Although as GM he oversees far more than the bar at Piggyback, cocktails are his passion. Which brings us to why we’re here.
“I wanted to play with the citrus-forward notes of the Brockmans, so I thought of doing a riff on a ‘Gin and Juice,’” Ben says, clacking his tins together and beginning to shake. Our interest is piqued. “But I didn’t want to do just gin…and juice. Instead, I made a syrup with a lot of Thai basil and orange rinds.”
He sprays the interior of a chilled coupe with green Chartreuse, then double strains his cocktail in front of us. It’s a fantastic color, like the inside of a fresh honeydew, and the herb bouquet from the Chartreuse and the Thai Basil is enticing. The drink is juicy, a touch vegetal, and just tart enough. Just plain gin and juice it is not, but the reference is clear. In a nod to its inspiration, Ben has called this drink, “Mind on My Money.”
Mind on My Money
by Ben Schmitt
- 1.5 oz/45 ml Brockmans Gin
- .5 oz/15 ml Aperol
- .75 oz/22 ml thai basil/orange rind syrup
- .75 oz/22 ml lime juice
- Green Chartreuse rinse
- Spray inside of chilled coupe with an atomizer of green Chartreuse, or, chill a coupe with ice and a dash of Chartreuse
- Add rest of ingredients into tin.
- Shake vigourously.
- Double-strain into chilled coupe.
- Garnish with a candied orange rind, a Thai basil leaf, or both.
And for a break from the chaos of Manhattan, train, boat, or automobile it over to Piggyback Bar in Jersey City. It’s worth it, promise.