cocktailPieHole checks in with area bartenders, including Heather Vena and Robb McMahon of Murphy’s Tavern in Rumson, on good libations for either side of dinner. (Photo by Jim Willis. Click to enlarge)


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Valentine’s Day falling on a  Friday gives couples on the Green license to linger a little longer tonight, perhaps bookending dinner with a cocktail or two.

PieHole surveyed a few area mixologists for Valentine’s Day lessons on love and libration.

Heather Vena of Murphy’s in Rumson says a cocktail before and after dinner suits her just fine, but if she had to limit it to just one, it would be a before-dinner cocktail.

“I’d recommend a cocktail that we’re serving called the Witch’s Kiss,” she says. “It’s not only tasty, but it’s so aromatic. I love making this cocktail.”

The cinnamon-infused tequila-based cocktail was inspired by a drink she had at legendary New York speakeasy, PDT (Please Don’t Tell).

“Men and women both like this cocktail, but if I had to lean one way or the other, women seem to be ordering it more,” she says. Vena says a good bet for a more masculine cocktail is an Old Fashioned.

And she adds the following warning to would-be Romeos: “A classic ‘no-no’ is when the woman runs to the bathroom to lean over the bar and say, ‘quick, give me a shot before she comes back.’” So, you’ve been warned.

John McGinnis, sommelier at David Burke Fromagerie, suggests a glass of something pink and bubbly to start the night.

“I’m a big fan of brut rose as a way to start,” he says. “If you get a good quality rose champagne, I don’t think it gets much better than that.”

McGinnis says women may love it because it’s pink, but it’s fine for a guy, too. “It’s still pinot noir – that’s where it gets its color from. You don’t have to be macho and drink bourbon.”

McGinnis notes that the Fromagerie bar will have brut rose by the glass.

Lauren Mass, bartender at Jamian’s in Red Bank, makes one of the most reliable Manhattans in town. She tells PieHole that her preference would be for before-dinner cocktails with maybe an after-dinner espresso or a dessert martini at the end of the night.

Mass tells PieHole she came up with a cocktail for Valentine’s Day called the Juniper Crush. It includes Hendrick’s gin,  muddled lemons and strawberries and a splash of St. Germain topped with champagne. It’s based on drink she serves all year that’s usually finished with club soda. “But for Valentine’s Day, we’ll add some sexy champagne and strawberries,” she says.

“It’s flirty and delicious, but neither feminine nor masculine,” so a couple can order the same cocktail, says Mass.

From her post behind the bar at Jamian’s, Mass has no doubt seen her share of dates getting off on the wrong foot, but says the biggest red flag for her is a guy who comes up to the bar with his date and says, “Give me two of your cheapest beers and a round of Red Headed Sluts.”

“That, on a Valentine’s Day date” says Mass, “would be a huge red flag for me.”