Laura Newman knows how to deftly dominate behind the bar. But even the first woman winner of the United States Bartenders Guild World Class Competition was shaken by COVID-19.
She felt daunted by the immense effort of running her own spot, Queen’s Park and keeping it operating while the city of Birmingham, Ala. ordered non-essential businesses closed in mid-March.
“We originally weren’t going to stay open,” Newman says, “but our staff member Chris, who’s a veteran, was like, ‘adapt and overcome; we’re going to figure this out.’”
The order to close came on a Monday when Queen’s Park is already closed for their weekly staff meetings. But this meeting went very differently than any had before. Newman and her fiancé-business partner, Larry Townley, faced the same agonizing decision countless restaurant and bar owners were facing around the nation.
“We really weren’t sure what to do, and we asked the staff if they wanted to try to stay open in some capacity and by the end everyone was in tears,” Newman says. “After everyone left I turned off the lights and cried behind the bar. It was very emotional. But we stayed closed Tuesday and then were up operating on Wednesday the way we still are now.”
Newman’s new operation is one of ingenuity. Alabama has some rather strict serving laws, so Queen’s Park can’t sell their Tiki cocktails pre-mixed to-go. Instead, they’re offering curbside pickup of individual and large-batch kits for some of their signature drinks, along with glassware and branded merchandise. And they’re in the process of ramping up production to broaden their selection.
The impressive effort is keeping Queen’s Park afloat, but Newman and Townley are concerned about the impact on their personal lives. “My team is rad and I’m grateful for them, but it’s still us doing our best under pretty impossible circumstances. If you’re a small business owner, you legally can’t get paid by the business. So while the bar is breaking even, we are not making any money. Between that and the possibility that we may have to postpone our wedding in August, it’s all pretty stressful.”
Still, the world-class bartender leans into her industry background and continues to serve “southern hospitality in these troubling times” any way she can. That includes sharing recipes for a few of her signature drinks so you can shake them up for your own Shelter in Place Tiki Party for one or two as you stay safe and stay home.
2 oz vodka (Newman prefers Tito’s)
.75 oz lime juice
.75 oz passionfruit syrup (recipe below)
.5 oz vanilla syrup (recipe below)
sparkling rosé, to top
Combine everything but the sparkling rosé in a cocktail shaker with ice; shake well and strain into a coupe. Either top with sparkling rosé or serve in a sidecar or shot glass on the side. Garnish with a lime wheel.
Passion Fruit Syrup
Yield: 1 qt
2 cups passionfruit juice
2 cups sugar
.75 tspn citric acid
Combine sugar and passion fruit juice over medium/low heat until dissolved. Remove from heat and add citric acid, stir to dissolve
Yield: 1 qt
4 cups granulated sugar
4 cups water
⅔ vanilla bean
Cut vanilla beans in half, lengthwise; use the dull side of a knife to remove seeds. Combine sugar, water, vanilla bean pods and seeds over medium/high heat until dissolved. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour before fine straining.
Mexican Firing Squad
1.5 oz tequila (Newman uses blanco, “but you do you with your quarantine home bar.”)
.5 oz mezcal (if you don’t have mezcal, add an additional .5 oz of tequila)
.75 oz lime juice
.375 oz agave syrup (recipe below)
.375 oz grenadine (recipe below)
4 dashes Angostura Bitters
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice; shake well and strain into iced rocks glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.
Yield: .875 qt
1.5 cups agave nectar
1.5 cups water
Stir over medium/high heat until emulsified.
3 cups granulated sugar
3 cups pomegranate juice
1 tsp pomegranate molasses
Peel of 1 orange
Combine all ingredients over medium/low heat; stir to dissolve. Strain to remove solids.