The Norton Museum of Art in Palm Beach is currently hosting an exhibition entitled “Cocktail Culture” that explores the social rituals of the cocktail hour through the lens of fashion and design. Featuring more than 150 objects, including attire, accessories, ads, decorative arts, illustrations, photography and more from the 1920s to the present, it promises to “leave you positively stirred, not shaken!”
Since the Leopard Lounge at the Chesterfield is one of the most popular cocktail bars in all of South Florida we thought this was a good excuse to do a quick profile of Michelle Gagnon, our bartender.
Michelle didn’t really plan to follow a career in bartending – it just happened that way. “When I was at college I had a friend who owned a bar and restaurant. I was helping them out one evening and one of the bartenders didn’t show up for work, so guess what…I ended up on the other side of the bar. I absolutely loved it and have been bartending ever since.”
After college she stayed in the restaurant business then opened her own establishment in in West Hampton, New York. Thirty years ago she rolled up in Palm Beach, and for the last twenty she’s been happily working at the Leopard Lounge Bar.
What has made her stay behind one bar so long? “I just love the people who hang out here, whether they are regulars or new guests. Every day is different – fresh stories, different experiences…there’s never a dull moment! Also, the people I work with are the best. Mark, my manager is great, the other bartenders, Lou, John and Candy are such a pleasure to work with. And my fiancé, Adam Austin, piano player-entertainer extraordinaire, works here regularly, so that’s wonderful too. Everyone on the team has become my extended family, so it’s not really like work at all!”
When asked what cocktail she is most regularly asked for she replies “a Cosmopolitan – but served our way…Sex in the City.” As you’ll no doubt be aware, the Cosmo was Carrie Bradshaw’s drink of choice throughout much of the series. The classic recipe includes vodka, Cointreau and lime juice, with a bit of cranberry juice and a dash of orange bitters to add an extra bit of tartness and a nice pink colour.
As for Michelle she sticks to white wine, but she has been told she makes the best Brandy Alexander ever. The traditional recipe is a mix of brandy, crème de cacao, cream and a little grated nutmeg. Michelle adds her own secret ingredient but refuses to reveal it – “I can tell you, but then I’d have to kills you” she says with a smile.
Michelle’s other claim to fame, along with the rest of the Leopard Lounge team, is being featured in a host of magazine articles and also in an A&E TV special about Palm Beach. The Chesterfield Palm Beach and Michelle also feature prominently in a hilarious new book entitled “A Year in Palm Beach” by Richard and Pamela Myers that’s described by Donald Trump as “A fun read that shows a side of Palm Beach most people never see or even hear about.”
So, if you want to experience cocktail culture make a beeline for Palm Beach – you can take in the exhibition of the same name at the Norton Museum of Art, then and experience a few Cosmopolitans and Brandy Alexanders in the company of Michelle!
Let us know your favourite cocktail and why it gives that something special?!