The task was really quite simple: make restaurant Eleven Madison Park home to the very best cocktail bar in the world. The year was 2011. Will Guidara and Chef Daniel Humm had just assumed ownership of Danny Meyer’s venerable New York City restaurant. A longtime fixture behind the bar, Leo Robitschek created a new cocktail program that mirrored Humm’s elevated cuisine. Then in 2017, Eleven Madison Park was named the Best Restaurant in the World by William Reed Business Media.
As Eleven Madison Park soared to new heights in 2012, Guidara, Humm, and Robitschek established what are now the Elephant Bar and the NoMad Restaurant, both located in the NoMad Hotel in Manhattan (@TheNoMadHotel). Two years later, the space expanded and the NoMad Bar was born. In 2018, for the second year in a row, NoMad was chosen as the Best Bar in North America and one of the top five in the world, by William Reed.
Suffice to say, Robitschek knows how to make a damn good cocktail. Today he is one of the most important names in contemporary mixology, earning countless awards. Now he’s in Los Angeles, where he’s the beverage director of Giannini Bar, nestled within the historic Bank of Italy building in downtown LA. It is but one of three cocktail programs he’s overseeing at the site, inside the NoMad Hotel Los Angeles.
As soon as he arrived, Robitschek says he hit the farmer’s markets, desperate to see what the region had to offer. “I was inspired by the ingredients I was touching and tasting. I wanted to create cocktails to complement the flavors.”
Paying homage to a bar’s surroundings has long driven Robitschek’s creativity. When creating the original cocktail program at the New York NoMad, he sought inspiration from the city’s gloriously sleazy past. All the cocktails on the opening menu were named after brothels that had operated in the area.
Robitschek also draws on sensory memory for inspiration where drinks are transformative experiences, representations of periods long vanished. For instance, The Pico and Robertson (right) references his Jewish grandmother, who would bake “these special chocolate-coconut macaroons. We would sit together and eat them with coffee. I wanted a cocktail that had all these flavors. It is homage to her.”
Born in Venezuela, Robitschek’s family moved to Miami when he was 5. A few years later, he declared his intentions to move to the Big Apple. “I was 7 when I first came to the city. I said to my mom ‘one day I will live here.’” He arrived soon after graduating from the University of Miami.
Robitschek joined Eleven Madison Park almost a decade before its famous revival. “There was nobody really running the [drinks] program and the menu hadn’t changed since it opened in 1998. So I started playing around.”
When Guidara and Humm took over, Robitschek retained his independence and creative freedom. “They were supportive and allowed me to [experiment].” Happy to do so, he became head bartender, and then bar manager. Then the duo invited Robitschek to join the NoMad team. He agreed. The NoMad Hotel Bar and Restaurant opened in New York in 2012, now it also has locations in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
The Pico and Robertson
5 drops saline solution (20 percent)
1 tablespoon cold brew coffee
.5 ounces Dolin Blanc Vermouth de Chambery
.75 ounces Carpano Punt E Mes Italian vermouth
.75 ounces Yellow Chartreuse liqueur
.75 ounces coconut-infused Michter’s US1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass, add ice and stir. Pour into a rocks glass with a two-inch clear ice cube and garnish with a pinch of sea salt.