Matisse-Inspired Cocktails Mark the First Tasty Collaboration Between MoMA and The Modern

The exhibit runs until September 10.

Matisse Cocktails
Photo: Natalie Black

The summer bar menu at The Modern, the two-Michelin-star restaurant at New York's Museum of Modern Art, features a first for both the restaurant and the museum: a pair of cocktails inspired by an exhibit.

The exhibit, Matisse: The Red Studio (which runs until September 10), celebrates the artist's radical — and vividly red — 1911 masterpiece. The show, an exploration of a moment in time when art shifted, uses the painting as a lens to view the artist and his time.

In the spring of 2022, a private viewing was held for Matisse's remaining family. Over dinner afterwards, the idea of a cocktail inspired by the painting was floated. The museum's curatorial staff shared the idea with Arthur Hon, The Modern's beverage manager, setting just two stipulations: the cocktail should be gin-forward and based on a classic recipe. The rest would be left up to The Modern.

Matisse Cocktails
Natalie Black

Hon pitched the idea of a Matisse-inspired drink to his bar staff. "It was the first time that we've been approached to do any sort of collaboration," says John Cooper, a former bartender at The Modern. "So it was a cool and rare opportunity." Cooper and his bar colleague Dave Ebert each took up the challenge.

Cooper started with what he loves best: a Negroni. He watched a video about MoMA's conservators discovering through radiography that Matisse had returned to a finished painting of his studio and impulsively covered much of it with Venetian Red. Inspired by that transformative move, Cooper wanted his chosen drink, a Negroni, to somehow change colors. The result is a two-step, two-glass drink: Guests are served a white Negroni alongside a smaller glass containing a red blend of Campari, Zucca Amaro, and strawberry liqueur. The guest is invited to taste each, then combine them into one glass. The two standalone cocktails merge to create a distinctive third one. It's alcoholic alchemy.

Ebert's idea was sparked by a recipe for a Blood Hound, a cocktail made with gin and fresh strawberries. A later version of the Blood Hound in "The Savoy Cocktail Book" slipped both sweet and dry vermouth into the original. In his own Matisse-inspired Blood Hound, Ebert uses Ford's Gin, a strawberry puree syrup, vermouth, and a bracing, even deeper red dose of Campari. He tops the shaken cocktail with egg-white foam, providing a canvas for a stencil (created by his bar colleague, artist M.C. Wolfe). The stencil is balanced on a coupe glass as Ebert sprinkles a tart powder of freeze-dried blackberries and raspberries, leaving the image of a crimson flower hovering atop the drink's foam layer, evoking Matisse's famous cut-outs.

When the two cocktails were shared with the MoMA curatorial staff and The Modern's bar staff to pick a winner, they were deemed equally delicious and different enough to each merit a place in the menu during the exhibition.

While there are no plans in place yet, the bar staff is eager for future collaborations with MoMA. Hon has his heart set on a cocktail project with the film department and, for his part, Cooper says, "I would love to create a cocktail based on Warhol's Gold Marilyn Monroe."

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