Straight UP: Take One

ninja turtle_05_Gianna Volpe

Hi, I’m Gianna (Hi Gianna) and I serve alcoholic beverages. I am a writer, first and foremost, but I’ve been doing the bartender thing for the better part of a decade now, so my very first series will chronicle my adventures doing, well, the bartender thing.

In honor of the theatrical release of the new Ninja Turtles feature film on August 8, I’ll be using my maiden column to tell all y’all about the Ninja Turtle Martini I mixed up this month.

Background: I began learning my craft at the Blue Fugue, an eclectic bar/venue that was moved from Pirate’s Alley in New Orleans to the college town of Columbia, Missouri, where I was helping manage a costume, magic and theatrical supply store while pursuing my degree in journalism. Though I wasn’t very girly, I seemed to have a particular gift for mixing up drinks for the ladies. “Make me ssssomething fruity,” they’d slur in sorority speak. “Jusssst make me sssssomething good.”

There are three colleges in Columbia, one of which is an all-girls liberal arts college, so I couldn’t have avoided those girl if I tried, even if my bar was almost entirely populated by gonzo journalists and crusty alternative types.

There was a fraternity bar next door and because folks tend to wander all sorts of strange places when wasted, there she would be – Mary Lou, Lizzy, Brittany, Katie, whatever – telling me to make, “I don’t know – jussssssssssssst make me something good.” I’d mindlessly throw together rum punches and electric lemonades and watch their eyes light up as they gripped their martini glasses.

“OH MY GUUUUUUUUUUUUHD,” they’d say. “IT’S SOOOOO GUUUUUUUUUHHHHD.” And that’s how I learned I had the gift – how I fell down the mixology rabbit hole. Totally involuntarily.

I would have much rather served them a beer. We had 200 different brews at the Blue Fugue and up-charged our Budweiser to punish the unimaginative souls who dared stand in front of our selection and  order a Bud, but most girls with a sorority slur don’t like to drink beer that wasn’t Natty Light served in a funnel.

Fast forward to 2014. I’m standing behind a bar halfway across the United States at Brewology, a gastropub that opened last month on Montauk Highway in Speonk. Our executive chef, Lia Fallon, formerly of Amarelle, Jedediah Hawkins and the Riverhead Project, had just juiced a whole mess of cucumbers and watermelons to use in the development of our specialty cocktail menu.  I’m handed a tupperware full of each one to to play with.

I put them in the fridge and get back to poking around. as I figure out where everything is and how everything works. Suddenly one of our busers sidles up with a plastic quart container and says, “Lia wants to see what you’ve mixed up with the cucumber juice.” This was show time, the kind of moment that makes or breaks a man.

The ice goes in first and then the cucumber juice, but what now?

Like the Who adding Pinball Wizard to their rock opera, Tommy, knowing music critic Nik Cohn is a fan of the game, I go for Hendrick’s Gin next and finally, lemonade, because that’s a favorite cocktail ingredient of my own. (Then I throw in some agave nectar for good measure.) I taste the stuff, which glows green like radioactive waste. My eyes widen. I’ve just struck sewage green gold. But what to call it? Cactus Juice and Cucumbertini describe what I’ve just created, but as suddenly as the thought pops into my head, the final decision is made.

“Nah, dude,” I say to my gathered co-workers. “I’m calling it the Ninja Turtle.” With the blessing of my two bosses, Kazi and Roger, the Ninja Turtle is born.

Last week it evolved to its final incarnation. It now includes a thin slice of muddled jalapeño to offset the sweetness of the agave nectar. And I even couple a slice of cucumber and jalapeno together on the rim to make it extra purty.

I’ve been serving that neon green martini for about two weeks now — to ladies and dudes alike — and in true turtle power fashion, the Ninja Turtle is beginning to garner a cult following. When someone starts doing excited little claps after they sip your concoction, you know you’ve done something right. “It’s so refreshing,” folks tell me with excitement. “What a great summer beverage!”

Nothing makes me happier than making my customers so excited that they clap at me or use the P-word: perfect. So yeah, ladies and gents, you are so welcome. It was the absolute pleasure of this amateur mixologizing (new verb) hero on a half shell.