Le Cheval Illuminé bar as imagined by Georgette Moger-Petraske and Emanuele Balestra
The globetrotting barman Emanuele Balestra heads up the bar program at the Majestic Hotel in Cannes. Born in Gallarate, Italy, as a child of 8, Emanuele was already jumping behind the bar at his grandmother’s restaurant. His inborn passion for creating beautiful beverages first took him north, to Italy’s Grand Palace Varese in 1996. From there, he continued to earn his stripes at Hilton bars in Brussels and Glasgow before getting behind the stick aboard a luxury cruise ship chartered by the Orient-Express, sailing around Tahiti where he developed a taste and talent for Polynesian cocktails.
His next liquor-soaked adventures took him across the Atlantic, where he served as head bartender at the Trump Tower in Chicago. After a sabbatical in Italy to be with his family, he returned to his craft, having been offered a position overseeing the bars at the iconic La Mamounia hotel in Marrakech. Here, he spent four years at the hotel, tending the bars, and the gardens, which provided the quixotic herbs Emanuele used within his hauntingly memorable menus. In 2014 he moved from Morocco to Cannes, where he now lives full time and runs the bar programs and manages the gardens and beehives of the Hotel Majestic. His book, Majestic Cocktails was published in 2017.
GMP: Where would your ideal bar be?
EB: It would be in the small artist’s village of Mougin, around the late 1960s, and serve as a cocktail sanctuary for artists and their friends—Picasso and his wife Jacqueline, Salvador Dalí and Gala and Man Ray. Some of the art that hangs on the walls would be donated works from the artists. My bar, Le Cheval Illuminé, would be on a rocky hilltop, in a stone building filled with yellow and gold glass windows. Outside of the bar, I would have rattan chairs for lounging and enjoying cocktails while the sun is setting. The bar itself would be only four seats, and there would be about five banquette tables lining the room. There would be some llama wool rugs like the beautiful ones I saw in Morocco under the tables and when you first walk in. Above the bar would be a cuckoo clock with a canary that pops out every hour to indicate à l’heure d’or, the golden hour, when the aperitif offering comes out. As the bird starts to chirp, it would send a signal to a small painted pony who would appear in the middle of the room with a tray of glasses on his back, a present for everyone in the bar. The drinks come served in small cordial vessels that I’ve hand-blown called Biot glasses, topped with a slice of dried apple that acts as a cover with a decorative sprig of dried Thai basil. I want these drinks to be small so that the patrons will be able to enjoy more cocktails without getting too tipsy, especially as this offering is coming out every hour.
The drink would be a combination of Calvados, cider and sake with a very soft cooling effect on the back of the palette that comes from a Thai basil jam shaken into the cocktail. Of course in the 1960s, the preparation would be much simpler, but because of the kitchen technology we are fortunate enough to have now, the jam would be the result of vacuum cooking in a sous vide. The spirits I’m using are also from modern distillers, such as the 30&40, an aperitif from Normandy that is a blend of Calvados, pommeau and rum. Also in the cocktail is a fruit-forward sake with a strong acidity for balance, the Kuheiji Junmai Ginjo. I would call the drink the Dalí Llama—for the rugs that are laid throughout the bar, and my favorite patron, Salvador. While the drinks are relatively light and refreshing, their effect would inspire creativity and conversation, and make for a feeling of being in a dream—appropriate as the drink is named after a surrealist!
Georgette Moger-Petraske is a travel, spirits and style writer whose work has appeared in Wine Enthusiast, Departures, Imbibe and Edible magazines. Her best-selling book, Regarding Cocktails, published by Phaidon, is a liquid memoir and celebration of her late husband Sasha Petraske’s legacy in spirits and cocktails.
Don’t drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly.