Lumos Bar Showcases Baijiu In a New & Exciting Way
All photos by Keith Dong.
Last March, the Chinese spirit baijiu was the centerpiece of the Pan-Asian “LuckyRice Festival” celebration. Bartender Orson Salicetti was mixing up Asian-inspired cocktails with Bombay East gin, and at press time, he mentioned he was working on a new bar concept. Well, ladies and gentlemen of the sacred bottle, that bar is here! It’s called Lumos, and it’s fantastic.
Lumos is a bar that centers around baijiu. It’s a clear spirit, typically distilled from sorghum, with the distinct, pungent flavor of a maraschino liqueur or perhaps Chartreuse. Because of that idiosyncratic taste - one with relative Western obscurity - baijiu is no doubt a challenging spirit to serve to the American market. As Beverage Director and Head Bartender at Lumos, Salicetti certainly has his work cut out for him. I swung by Lumos to try some cocktails and get a feel for the place.
Salicetti has managed to strike a unique balance between preserving the integrity of baijiu while making it accessible for a Western palate. Take the Falling South cocktaill - HKB baijiu, homemade pumpkin puree, agave nectar, 5-year old aged rum and Lumos spice elixir mix together for this mysterious, chalky concoction. Presented in a small bowl-shaped cup, if you didn’t know any better, upon first glance you might think you were about to have a fall bisque. This is a thick, intensely flavored cocktail that has the ever-popular “pumpkin spice latte” appeal without being too sweet. Credit the baijiu for that subtlety. The bitterness lingers on your palate. The texture is brave: very thick and almost pasty. I can’t imagine drinking more than one (two max) of the Falling South cocktail in a night. That being said, it’s an ambitious creation.
More conventional choices include the Asian Pear cocktail - HKB baijiu, Asian pear, maraschino liqueur, spiced elixir, sage, and lime. The maraschino liqueur and the baijiu go hand in hand here, while the combination of citrus, fruit, and spice make this drink quaffable and an easy favorite. Other cocktails on the Lumos menu include various house-infused baijius: basil,
cranberries, apricot, and cilantro all appear as infusion ingredients. Salicetti mentioned that baijiu infuses quickly, so it seems he can work on several infusions at once.
Another curious thing he pointed out is that often when new bars pop up in America that center around an eclectic spirit, the common modus operandi is for them to simply put that spirit in a bunch of classic cocktails. For instance, if a rum bar opens up, to serve rum Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, etc. Because of baijiu’s uniqueness, however, that’s more out of the question. I do get what Salicetti is saying. I can’t imagine a baijiu Sidecar, and baijiu deserves much more than tonic water or lemonade. It deserves to be worked with rather than accommodated.
With ingredients ranging from almond milk to lemongrass, and a heavy emphasis on spices and herbs, Lumos delivers an enchanting menu that will allow you to get to know baijiu without completely confusing your palate. Like Bar Goto, Lumos is helping us redefine what spirits we crave. It’s definitely worth a trip, and while I like the current selections, I’m curious to see how the menu will shapeshift over time.
90 W Houston St, New York, NY 10012