Most bar owners write cocktail books to draw attention to their business. But in September 2020, the bartender Natasha David sat down to finish a book filled with drink recipes from a bar that no longer existed.
The epilogue of Ms. David’s first book, “Drink Lightly” (Clarkson Potter), available on April 5, opens with a bit of an explanation: “This book was conceived long before The Event,” she wrote. (A reference, of course, to the pandemic.) “A proposal was drafted, meetings were held, a contract was signed, cocktails were being tested.”
Before Covid, Ms. David, 36, co-owned and ran Nitecap, a subterranean cocktail bar on the Lower East Side that specialized in spritzes and creative boilermakers, as well as more conventional craft cocktails.
“March of 2020 was this completely life-altering, earth-shattering month,” she said. Six months later, after restaurants shut down in New York, she was forced to close the bar and sell off its contents. But she still had a book to write while stuck in her home in Red Hook, NY, with her husband, their two small children and her mother.
In the book, which features recipes for low-alcohol and nonalcoholic cocktails, Ms. David often casts flavored wines, vermouth, sherry and other light bodied spirits as the stars of her cocktails, while typical leading players like whiskey and tequila can play a supporting role — like in the light-bodied Fair Play, with its Lillet, Suze, vermouth and splash of bourbon.
While writing a book intended to be about joy was hard at first in the face of such challenges, she ultimately met her publisher’s deadline, and, according to Ms. David, the task itself and the community she had built supported her.
“I can’t tell you how incredible it was, while I was closing the bar, how many people were rallying behind the bar, the outpouring of support from people across the world,” she said.
That overwhelming feeling of support led her to write about the connection and camaraderie that bars and shared drinks can foster, and she said the cocktail book became more joyful in the face of adversity. It certainly looks joyful, as if it were envisioned by the artist Peter Max, full of bright neon colors and bulbous 1970s-style fonts. In a chapter called “The Politics of Disco,” Ms. David equates the dance craze with equality and inclusion, ideals she hoped Nitecap embodied. (Nitecap’s most memorable design element was a small disco ball. It gets a cameo in the book.)
Drinking trends today may lean toward low- and nonalcoholic beverages, but that was less the case when the book idea was developed.
“The timing of this book is very fortuitous,” she said. “I feel very lucky that people are interested in low-ABV drinks. No judgment on people who like to get a little bit tipsy; I just don’t like to get drunk.”
There will be no Nitecap 2.0., as Ms. David said she is concentrating on her family. She hasn’t ruled out another bar, but it would have to be on her own terms. For now, the drinks in the book are the last taste patrons can get of her bartending.
recipe: Fair Play