The Warm Glow
of a Well-Appointed Cocktail Bar
By Melo Porter ● Photography By Lauren Kearns
Pictured in images above: Christina Emma, Head Bartender at Ninety Acres
“Gentlemen, in the little moment that remains to us between the crisis and the catastrophe, we may as well drink a glass of Champagne.” -- Paul Claudel, French poet, dramatist and diplomat
I put to you that moments of celebration and joy have never been more dire, and, to many, as elusive. For those of us fortunate enough to reside in the bosom of Eden itself, Somerset County, NJ, there exists a magical place, replete with majestic trees, rolling hills, almost certainly wood nymphs and fairies, and a luminous fountain brimming over with, what else, Champagne. Ok, that may be a slight exaggeration. There is, however, a really gorgeous cocktail bar set inside a farm-to-table restaurant on a magnificent hilltop estate once home to wealthy heiress, Kate Macy Ladd. I am referring, of course, to Ninety Acres at Natirar and, once you go, you won’t want to leave. In fact, I recommend spending all your evenings drinking and eating there, but if that seems unreasonable to some, definitely go on a blustery winter evening.
Now, I’m pretty certain we spend so much time during the winter months drinking Champagne and celebrating because, otherwise, we’d be facedown in a bowl of nachos, wearing dirty sweats, our skin turning blueish gray, until the spring returns to thaw us. There’s also that thing about being with family and new beginnings, blah, blah, blah. Whatever the case, when the sun goes down and the air chills your bones, it is the warm glow of a well appointed cocktail bar, buzzing with laughter and life, that draws you in.
“The bar sets the tone for the meal. We try to create a fun, lively environment. We get very busy, so timing and service are important,” says Christina Emma, head bartender at Ninety Acres.
With the season of celebration afoot, Christina is nice enough to prepare some of her favorite Champagne cocktails for me. In my opinion, a Champagne cocktail should be light and crisp and not too fussy. You want to be able to consume at least three without going into a diabetic coma. The Sage 75, Christina’s take on the classic French 75, made with gin and Champagne, is delicate and refreshing. She uses Dorothy Parker Gin, fresh lime juice, a housemade sage honey syrup, a Cava topper and a fresh sage leaf. Most striking is the aroma of fresh sage as you sip, which grabs you by the nostrils and leads you with anticipatory glee to your meal.
Christina is all business. She can throw together a mean cocktail in less than ten seconds without breaking a sweat. She’s been with Ninety Acres since it opened nine years ago, and in that time, she has become master of her domain. We chat about some of the latest mixology trends, like smoke and globe-like ice cubes and, unimpressed, she quickly points out that taste always trumps entertainment value. I like a lot of both and, fortunately, the bar at Ninety Acres delivers.
Another standout cocktail perfect for the winter months is the Sparkling Spiced Pear made with Tito’s vodka, Contratto vermouth, pear puree, housemade fall spice syrup, lemon, Cava and a grating of fresh cinnamon. It is on the sweeter side, but not overly so. If, like me, you occasionally like your dessert before your meal, but don’t want other people to know you have very little self-control in such matters, this drink is a nice alternative to apple pie.
Oh, yes, take this moment to have a drink, high on a hill, on the cozy side of Ninety Acres gated drive. Consider where you are and what lies ahead. Be glad, if you have something to celebrate, and ask yourself if the same is true for your neighbor, your mailman, your housekeeper. Are they sipping Champagne as the storm rolls in?
Ninety Acres is located at 2 Main Street (in Natirar) Peapack, NJ. 908.901.9500 natirar.com
Mixologist Robby Seibert doubles on the sax.