From Stage to Sip: How the Broadway Cocktail Was Born | Playbill

Special Features From Stage to Sip: How the Broadway Cocktail Was Born

Behind Sweet Hospitality Group, which introduced the souvenir cup and the show-themed cocktails to Broadway. Plus, show-inspired drink recipes you can enjoy at home!

& Juliet and New Amsterdam Theatre souvenir cups Heather Gershonowitz

Sally Bowles is not the only "Toast of Mayfair" in town. She is also a captivating Cabaret-themed cocktail that you can toast with! Welcome theatre enthusiasts and cocktail kings and queens to the world of Broadway by the glass, where your favorite theatrical characters, front-runner songs, and raucous one-liners are turned into a creatively curated ensemble of cocktails. 

From grooving to the music at Beautiful: The Carole King Musical with an "Earth Movin' Mojito" in hand, to sipping a boozy "Cup of Tea" whilst getting to know The King and I, Broadway cocktails have gained mass popularity. The company that started it all has stories and recipes to share—so "get in, losers!" Because with Broadway cocktails, you can wear pink on Wednesdays like the plastics in Mean Girls the musical, but you can also drink pink too!

Sweet Hospitality Group is the company behind many of the custom souvenir cups and show-themed cocktails that you see on Broadway. "Everything we do is meant to enhance the experience of the show and draw you into the atmosphere from the bar," says SHG's Director of Marketing & Business Affairs, Michael De Mono. He is the mixology brain of the operation who designs the cocktail menus for every theatre SHG works with. He spends hours reading scripts and listening to cast albums to transport himself into the world of the show. From using regionally inspired ingredients to choosing clever names inspired by standout lines or lyrics, every show's cast of cocktails is thoughtfully created to capture its essence. 

"Storytelling in general is important to us," he says. "As often as possible, our drinks not only expand on the story of the show, but they tell their own story as well."

SHG was the first company to capture Broadway in a glass. After they successfully introduced the souvenir show cup for The Lion King, Julie Rose—the founder and CEO of SHG— brought the team together to brainstorm new ways to elevate the theatre experience beyond providing snacks and beverages. At that time, Lincoln Center Theater—which the hospitality company has partnered with since 1986—was housing the world premiere of Susan Stroman and John Weidman's Tony Award-winning show Contact

Kindled from a suggestion made by the manager at Lincoln Center, SHG created three cocktails named after the three elegant women of Contact. They thought their drinks would spark a little extra excitement for theatre-goers. They had no idea their show-themed beverages would set the Great White Way ablaze. 

The three lady libations gained critical acclaim and set off a trend that spread like wildfire, not only in theatres across Broadway, but throughout the country. Show-themed cocktails are now a ubiquitous part of the theatrical experience and it's partially thanks to SHG.

SHG is partnered with a number of theatres across New York City that feature the company's original cocktails. You can currently try their show-themed creations at 11 Broadway theatres—including at & JulietAladdin, and the upcoming Days of Wine and Roses—and at a variety of Off-Broadway theatres.

De Mono—who has a diverse background in theatre, design, concessions, and customer service—started working as a manager at SHG in 2008. Combining his eye for design and passion for mixology, he eventually took over the beverage program. "What I ultimately ended up doing here is kind of an amalgamation of everything I love," he says.

Michael De Mono, Peej Mele, and Dan Propati of Sweet Hospitality Group Heather Gershonowitz

Director of Operations Dan Proprati likewise has a background in theatre, but as an actor first. Holding a BFA in Musical Theatre and an MFA in Classical Acting from the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art, Propati performed in New York and on tour—regionally and in the UK—before joining SHG in 2013. 

"Originally, it was just a job that I could work in the evenings and in the afternoons so that I had my mornings to audition," he says. Propati started at the company as a coat check attendant at the American Airlines Theatre, but quickly moved up the ranks as a bartender and lead manager. Now, Propati is responsible for the successful operation of concessions and events at all the SHG venues.

Seasoned bartender and SHG's Media Coordinator Peej Mele is also an actor. While he agrees that having mornings free is definitely a major perk of the job, the greatest joy for him is getting to witness audiences excitedly holding (and photographing) their show cups. "One of my favorite things is when it's someone's first Broadway show—because I remember mine—and seeing that they're going to remember it forever," he says. "[SHG] can do that for them as much as anyone on stage can—we have an active part in that memory for them that they will carry with them forever."

The job does come with its challenges. SHG's bartenders have to be skilled multitaskers to work charismatically and quickly under the tight time constraints of the theatre. "At intermission, a thousand people need drinks in 15 minutes...that's what makes the whole operation different from a regular bar," says Mele. 

Bartending for SHG was Mele's first job in New York City. Now, 12 years into working for the company, Mele still remembers the rush of his day job. "We can do all of it and still be smiling and making nights terrific. And doing good math, and moving things around. And hearing someone say 'I'd like the wine,' and you just give it to them—your eyes and ears are everywhere," he adds. 

A way that the company has been able to successfully serve thousands of patrons in just 15 minutes is through making batch cocktails. Every one of SHG's cocktails can be made with a liquor and pre-made mix that has everything else in it—to ensure everyone has their drinks in hand in time for Act Two. The service the company provides is fast, but the quality products SHG uses in their mixes are not. De Mono uses premium spirits, craft bitters, flavorings and syrups in his recipes, and tries to buy local as much as possible.

Peej Mele prepares Aladdin's featured cocktail "Whole New World" Heather Gershonowitz

And according to Mele, SHG's Broadway cocktails pack a punch! "Sometimes you go somewhere with novelty drinks, and you're like, 'Oh, I can probably have nine of's just gonna be juice,'" he says. "NO. These are real're gonna have alcohol." 

At the same time, SHG is also expanding their horizons into the world of mocktails for those who do not consume alcohol but still want to partake in the Broadway cocktail experience. "The biggest demand we've had recently was for Mean Girls...people were really into the drinks named after the show, and we had people under 21 who wanted to join in on the fun," says De Mono. "Fun is the number one goal!"

The SHG team has a lot of fun creating all the Broadway cocktails over the years, but there are a few that individually live rent free in their memories. "I could drink a 'Kinky Bubbles' all day long," says Mele. "I worked at Kinky Boots for five years, and it was Prosecco and Kinky Liquor on top. Boy, that was just like daytime juice—I loved it!" 

Propati has a few favorites, but ultimately narrows it down to "The Heir Apparent" from A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder. "That was my first manager gig, so that's got a special place for me," he says.

De Mono does not have a favorite cocktail. "For me, what stands out is the menus that I really enjoy putting together and was proud of—something where there's a really good theme that we can play with," he says. Some of the lead mixologist's favorite show menus include & Juliet, Aladdin, and Act of God because they gave him so much freedom to create.

At the end of the day, SHG wants their cocktails to make you to feel like you are a part of the show. "Once you enter the're in it," says Mele. "And we're happy to have you."

Below, take a look at three SHG Broadway cocktail recipes that you can try at home (perhaps this week for Thanksgiving). Bottoms up!

New Amsterdam Theatre's back bar Heather Gershonowitz

Whole New World (Aladdin)

2 oz Rye Whiskey
1 ⁄ 2 oz Walnut or Hazelnut Liqueur 1 oz lemon juice
1 oz honey syrup
2 dashes cinnamon-fig bitters Ginger ale
Lemon twist (for garnish)

  1. Combine all ingredients except ginger ale in a shaker tin filled with ice.
  2. Shake until well chilled.
  3. Strain into a highball glass filled with ice.
  4. Top with ginger ale to fill and stir.
  5. Garnish with a lemon twist.

My Fire (& Juliet)

2 oz tequila
1 ⁄ 2 oz Campari
1 1 ⁄ 2 oz fresh lime juice
3 ⁄ 4 oz agave syrup
2-3 dashes smoked chili bitters
Chili slice or lime wedge (for garnish)

  1. Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin filled with ice.
  2. Shake until well chilled.
  3. Strain into a cocktail glass filled with ice.
  4. Garnish with chili slice or lime.

Rosé-Colored Glasses (Days of Wine and Roses)

4 oz rosé wine
3 ⁄ 4 oz ginger liqueur
1 ⁄ 2 oz lemon juice
1 ⁄ 2 oz simple syrup
4 fresh raspberries (plus more for garnish) 1 sprig of mint
1 ⁄ 4 tsp rose water

  1. Combine all ingredients except wine in a shaker tin filled with ice.
  2. Shake until well chilled.
  3. Add rosé and stir to combine.
  4. Strain into a large wine glass.
  5. Garnish with additional raspberries.

Photos: Sweet Hospitality Group's Broadway-Themed Cocktails

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