We Love Drinks continues our series where we look behind the bar, profiling the many people – from mixologists to bartenders, sommeliers to publicans – who make your drinks experience happen.
Elli Benchimol is never without a wine key, maybe two. Sometimes three. This can cause problems with airport security. Or, it can save the day! Either way, she laughs it off. It’s a chilly afternoon, and she thoughtfully pours me some hot tea as we sit down to talk about her background and learn about the beverage program she manages at AGAINN, downtown’s new “British Isles Bistro.”
Fellow author and photographer Samer has come along and can’t stop salivating at the wall of scotch. But we’ll get to that soon! I had previously stumbled onto AGAINN one night not having a clue that they had a brilliant cocktail program, and was instantly smitten. The bar is beautifully lined with fresh ingredients, garnishes and brown bottles, a selection of bitters, exotic tinctures of vanilla rooibos.
“Some people have added the syrups to their fish and chips by accident,” Elli smiles.
But I’m sure they would never be made to feel intimidated about such a mistake here. It’s a friendly environment, with the affectionate camaraderie between Elli and her staff immediately obvious.
Maybe that’s part of the West Coast style. Elli is a transplant from the laid-back land, someone who (like our first profile Josh Volz) was profoundly influenced by the San Francisco cocktail and wine scene. She’s part of a tradition of culinary professionals who believe that bar and kitchen should go hand in hand, and that quality is worth the wait.
“In San Francisco I learned that waiting for ten minutes for a cocktail is the true test,” Elli says, getting ready to line up some of her favorites. Samer and I lean forward like eager students.