Ever wondered where our Picante came from?
This is the story of how one left-field cocktail out of Soho Beach House Miami became the signature drink at our bars around the world
Tuesday 5 April 2022 By Thomas Barrie
‘Created by Chris Ojeda at Soho House, West Hollywood, USA, this “House Tonic” is the best-selling cocktail across all the Soho Houses around the world, and also has become a popular contemporary classic served in other bars.’ – Picante de la Casa from Difford’s Guide for Discerning Drinkers.
In 2012, bartenders and managers from across Soho House’s portfolio of restaurants and Houses congregated in London for a two-week summit to standardise the bar set-ups, equipment, glassware and – most importantly – signature cocktails that would come to define the group for the coming decade. Among the contenders for house cocktail was a homemade concoction native to Soho Beach House Miami: a bomb of spice, heat and tequila with a heady list of slightly esoteric ingredients known as the ‘Margarita Picante’.
At the time of the conference, Soho House Global Beverage Director, Tom Kerr, was the bar manager at Cafe Boheme in London, and one of the 17-odd bartenders invited to take part in the conversation around the future of the cocktail menus.
‘All the bar managers around the world got together in London for two weeks,’ says Kerr. ‘And in that time, we decided what our standards were, so every Soho House you went to you got the same classic cocktails – it made everything very consistent. We all went out, did our research in London, drank at different bars, stole menus, got ideas of drinks, and came back with all those ideas. We decided to pick four drinks, which went on every single menu to define what our drinks ethos was. One of those chosen was the Margarita Picante.’
Dreamt up by Soho Beach House Miami’s former beverage manager, Chris Hudnall, and already hugely popular in the city, the Margarita Picante had a reputation that preceded it among the other managers. But there was also a downside: it was too complex to be made quickly and at scale.
‘It had the likes of cucumber juice, tequila, hot sauce – all these crazy ingredients in it,’ explains Kerr. ‘It was on the first menu when we opened Miami; the drink got more and more popular, people loved it, but it’s pretty hard to make, because there are so many ingredients. The bartenders didn’t really like making it as there’s so much going on.
‘The beverage programme needed to be understood no matter where we took it in the world: if we took it to Asia, the Middle East, anywhere, we needed to make sure that we were very classic, that we didn’t have anything too crazy. We had to think about how quickly we could make our drinks and how scalable they were.’
It was Chris Ojeda, a bar manager from Soho House LA who had worked at another LA establishment called The Varnish, who provided a solution.
‘He came up with the idea of cutting down the cucumber and hot sauce, and actually making just a spicy Margarita, which we now know as the Picante de la Casa – the “spicy of the House”,’ says Kerr.
In its first few years on the Soho House menu, the Picante sold well in the USA, where tequila was a well-regarded and popular spirit; in the UK and mainland Europe, it took longer to catch on, as travellers gradually spread drinking habits between different countries and Soho House outposts.
‘In North America, it sold a lot; in the UK it didn’t sell so much, because not many people liked tequila,’ explains Kerr. ‘I don’t think they were really into spicy Margaritas, and it was only after two years that people started to drink it. It’s now become a massive cult thing at Soho House – I think the fact that it was on every single menu globally helped.
‘A lot of people travel and bring back their drinking trends, and vice versa,’ adds Kerr. ‘Gin in the UK was huge [in the 2010s] – we sold so many gin and tonics, so many gin cocktails, but in the States, we didn’t sell many because it wasn’t seen as a popular spirit there. The US influences the UK, the UK influences the US, and Europe falls in between – they have their own very strong cultures and drinking styles.’
Today, the Picante remains the most ordered drink at Soho House bars around the world by a considerable margin.
‘Soho House has always been a huge tequila-drinking venue in the US; that culture has caught on in the UK Houses as well,’ says Kerr. ‘Tequila, mezcal and agave spirits have become trendy and very on brand. And tequila is a happy spirit; it’s fun. It’s a bit of an upper, it makes you party, and our Houses reflect that. People either have it as shots, or in the Picante, the Margarita, or a Paloma – all these drinks are light, refreshing, and easy to drink. That’s how it lends itself so easily to Soho House.’
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