Q&A: Garry White on cocktails at Denmark

Beth Stallings, Columbus Crave

As culinary director for a large-scale Italian chain, Garry White grew tired of 70-hour-plus work weeks. So the trained chef went back to school to finish a fine arts degree, tending bar on the side. Behind the bars of the Burgundy Room, G. Michael's and Hubbard Grille, White realized he could use his skills as a chef to craft great cocktails.

White is now the food and beverage director for soon-to-open Denmark, an orange-and-red, blond-wood craft cocktail bar on the second floor of the Yankee on High building in the Short North. At Denmark, White plans to return to what classic cocktails used to be, offering what he calls a culinary approach to the bar. Instead of soda guns and pre-packaged flavored spirits, there will be house-made bitters, tinctures and infused liquors like mixed-berry vodka, spiced pecan bourbon and a homemade aquavit-a nod to the bar's Scandinavian name.

White shares a preview of what to expect at this old-meets-new bar.

What do you mean when you say you bring a culinary approach to cocktails?

I plan on being a place that's very tied to the seasons. We want to give the cocktail the equal footing that food is given. For that reason, we are not going to do anything that's pre-flavored. We will [have flavored liquors], but it's because we've taken the time to source and put in the flavors we want.

We're almost like a farm-to-shaker concept with fresh food sourced from as much local product as possible. We're trying to make an environment where people can come in and have a really great conversation with great food and cocktails.

What's the concept behind the bar?

The drink menu is going to be eight to 10 specialty cocktails with different infusions, house-made syrups, bitters, tinctures. A lot of them are plays on classic cocktails. Then we're going to have a [classic cocktails] section that's 20 drinks strong. What we want to do is take Prohibition-style cocktails and make them the way they should be made.

Any favorite drinks?

One of my favorites is called a Black and Blue Manhattan. I'm making a blueberry shrub, then using sweet vermouth and bourbon, and then black walnut bitters. It's got great woody flavor, a slight blueberry taste, slight bit of vinegar. The Orchid is a mixed-berry vodka we're doing in-house: maraschino liquor, mixed-berry cordial and cherry-vanilla bitters. It is absolutely incredible.

What will you have beyond cocktails?

We thought, "Let's do world beers and then Ohio craft beers-cans, bottles and two drafts." For wine, we have about 40 bottles, and five to six red and white glass pours. And then we have the Secret Cellar. It's a wine shop in the basement where we'll have local cheese to go. We pulled all the old plaster, so the stone foundation is exposed. It's really cool.

What will be on the menu?

We are not full service by any means. [We'll have] bar snacks, flatbreads, a charcuterie board. Chef Dan [Varga of Explorers Club] is going to do a couple of meats for us: smoked duck, tasso ham. Holy Smoke is doing stuff for us as well. Plus rotating Ohio cheeses, a tapenade and rotating jam. There will be 12 to 15 items-small, bar-snack stuff.