There seems to be consensus (or everyone's reading the same source material) that the Moscow Mule saved vodka from becoming a Cold War casualty. Who wants to drink Commie booze? As the story goes, Jack Morgan, who owned the Cock 'n' Bull bar on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, was trying to get rid of his stock of Smirnoff when he came up with the combo of vodka, ginger beer and lime. He called it a Mule and served it in a copper mug.
When Matt Hoyt and Tim Mays opened Starlite (3175 India St. in Middletown) seven years ago, they were looking for a signature cocktail, Mays says. Kate MacWilliamson, Starlite's founding bar manager, had "recently had [a Mule] in Fresno or Bakersfield," Hoyt recalls, and suggested they give it a try. Starlite's version departs from the original with a dash of Angostura bitters. Hoyt did some research and decided Starlite needed to serve its drink in copper mugs, too. Finding the right mug was a challenge—and keeping the mugs from leaving the restaurant has been an even bigger one. At one point, the menu had a note at the bottom, asking folks to stop stealing the mugs. Now there's a link on Starlite's website, directing people to paykocimports.com to buy their own damn mug.
Last week, Starlite celebrated its seventh birthday with (among other things) $7 deals on the Starlite Mule and Kentucky Colonel, a take on the Mule with Buffalo Trace bourbon, ginger beer, lemon juice and house-made cherry vanilla bitters, also served in a copper mug.
Alerting you to drink specials a week late ain't cool, and I'm sorry. In exchange, here's a tip: Starlite serves a fantastic off-menu tequila-based version of the Mule called the Faux Zebra (tequila, ginger beer, lime and chocolate mole bitters). It's delicious.
Last week, Starlite also rolled out a few new drinks, a collaboration between bar manager Dmitri Dziensuwski and longtime bartender Jack Reynolds, who've both been with Starlite since the beginning. Starlite's always had great cocktails, but these news ones up the ante. There's the smoky, bittersweet Pola Negri (mezcal, Cherry Herring, Carpano Antica, sour orange and thyme syrup) and the well-rounded Strawberry Fjords (No. 3 London Dry Gin, Linie Aquavit, Bertina Elderflower liqueur and strawberry puree). Prefer something sweet? Try the Sierra Madre (Cielo Rojo Bacanora, Dolin Genepy, Luxardo Maraschino, prickly pear puree and lime juice). If those first two ingredients are unfamiliar, Genepy is a sweet herbal liqueur, and Bacanora is an agave spirit that falls somewhere between tequila and mezcal.
If you like a spirit-forward cocktail, order The First Third. This one's my fave (with the Pola Negri a close second), made with Buffalo Trace bourbon, Cynar, La Bota De Fino sherry, lemon and garnished with a Castelvetrano olive.
But, there's still nothing like the Starlite Mule:
· 2 ounces Rain vodka
· 1/2 ounce lime juice
· Large dash of Angostura bitters
· Ginger beer (Starlite recommends Cock N' Bull)
Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled copper mug. Garnish with a lime wheel.