Café Nordo was (and is) one of most creative and imaginative dinner theater experiences in Seattle, or anywhere else. “We attempt to engage everybody with all their senses and immerse them in a world,” says Terry Podgorski, Café Nordo’s artistic director. “We want to take them on a journey for the evening.” You could expect the unexpected; off-the-wall entertainment and equally intriguing food and beverage. In their show Violet’s Attic, for example, the dinner offerings were reworked so they appeared to be candy. That roll of “Smarties” turned out to be sea scallops sandwiched between slices of tomagoyaki (a Japanese omelet) and wasabi honeycomb, while the main course of “Salt Water Taffy” turned out to be a rolled pork loin stuffed with hazelnuts, sage, apples, cranberries, and manchego cheese.
Such innovative minds weren’t about to be stymied by a pandemic. Virtual wine tastings were an obvious move, as were champagne deliveries for New Year’s Eve. But Nordo wanted to go further. “We had always talked about how to create more experiences than just what happened inside the theater space,” Podgorski says; devising an in-home experience seemed a logical next step. The company’s latest production, Do Not Disturb, is a reinvention of their previous live show Hotel Nordo. Once your hand-delivered package has arrived, and you prepare your cocktail from the kit that’s included, you login online and step into an interactive experience that ushers you into a world of mystery—and murder.
The story starts in 1927, with a wedding party at Hotel Nordo that ended in a massacre. What lay behind this foul deed? You gather clues from the materials provided—newspaper clippings, a book jacket, letters—solving puzzles to advance the story. To further enhance the nostalgic mood, your cocktail kit has the makings of a tipple that takes you right back to the turn of the 20th century: the Aviation.
The Aviation was created by Hugo Ensslin, head bartender at New York City’s Hotel Wallick, who featured it in his 1916 book Recipes for Mixed Drinks. The potent cocktail has waxed and waned in popularity over the years, due to one obscure, exquisite ingredient. Dry gin, lemon juice, and maraschino liqueur are readily obtainable. But crème de violette liqueur? Not always that easy to find. It had all but disappeared by the 1960s, but was reborn in the first decade of the new century, as interest in craft cocktails surged.
As its name suggests, crème de violette is brandy infused with the flavor, and color, of the flower. It has a sweet taste and smell, and the added visual pleasure of turning your drink purple. “It’s got this real ethereal color to it,” Podgorski explains. “And the show is all black and white and turquoise, and then seeing this liquid violet color was really appealing. It just fit perfectly.” The instructions you’re given for making the drink even have a dash of mystery, as the crème de violette isn’t referred to by its name on your recipe card, but is instead called “Modesty and Innocence.” For a final touch, each of the recipe’s liqueurs is packaged in a medicine bottle, complete with eye dropper.
The Aviation, per Café Nordo
2 oz. dry gin
.5 oz maraschino liqueur
.75 oz fresh lemon juice
Mix and shake with ice. Pour into a coupe glass.
Add .5 oz “modesty and innocence, and watch approvingly”
Stir gently. Garnish with lemon twist.
The result is a drink that’s wonderfully flavorful, a mix of sweet (the liqueurs) and tart (the lemon juice) that’s delightfully refreshing. Note that the key to this cocktail’s success is in getting just the right balance of ingredients. Too much of either liqueur, especially the crème de violette, and your Aviation will be overly sweet, and fail to achieve lift off.
Podgorski’s preferred brand of crème de violette comes from Rothman & Winter, whose website boasts that its elixir derives “from Queen Charlotte and March violets of the Alps… without any added vanilla or fruit.”
The standard Do Not Disturb package includes a cocktail kit and desserts (meals and wine are available as add-ons) with delivery in the Seattle area. And starting the first week of February, a modified version will be available for shipping nationwide (the cocktail will be non-alcoholic, with a recipe for adding alcohol if desired), allowing non-Seattle residents the opportunity of welcoming Café Nordo into their homes. Future shows are also in the works. Who knows what drink Café Nordo will next decide is worthy of resurrection?