As I walk into the dimly lit bar at John J. Jeffries, I’m thinking about how there’s only so much you can do with whiskey to make a new and delicious cocktail.
Twenty minutes later, I’m sipping a whiskey cocktail like a happy baby after
“It’s just so smooth,” I tell bartender Frank Fontaine.
“It’s just a whiskey sour with an egg in it,” he responded.
Fontaine’s a bartending staple in Lancaster, and has worked at several major spots. He’s been at JJJ’s for two years now, and while he’s contributed more than a few cocktails to the drink list, the one in my hand is something he can’t take responsibility for. It’s the 730 South Broom Street, a classic to the bar.
“It’s one of those that I’m not allowed to touch,” he says, adding that it’s an old family cocktail of the owners.
We chat about how Lancaster city has changed for the better in just the last 10 years, as I continue to sip and admire, sip and admire. Maybe you don’t need to do a whole lot to whiskey to make a successful cocktail. The raw, pastured egg takes the acidity of the sour and smooths it out like a silk sheet, making me rethink whether there’s even whiskey in it. On the rocks, under the intimate lighting, it’s almost like sipping a cold glass of milk before bed. Except this glass of milk will knock you off your feet and into bed, if you’re not careful.
Beyond the bar’s must-keeps, Fontaine has to create quite a bit on the fly. Contributing new cocktails every week, he says he has to continue to keep the drinks seasonal.
“We’re not a place that has strawberries year ’round. We get those for two weeks, so I have to make the most of them and do the most I can with them,” Fontaine says. “I’ll make them into shrubs or liqueurs or things like that.”
Right now, he’s messing around with fall cocktails.
“We just started getting apples and pears in, so I’m going to start working with those,” Fontaine says. “The one I’m kind of tinkering on a little bit [is called] Spice Up Your Life, with a really, really good spiced rum called Maggie’s. It’s based out of Pittsburgh. It’ll be a little bit of a play on a Dark and Stormy.”
I ask Fontaine if, while he was creating new cocktails, he ever ran into something that was already done before.
“Of course, there’s so many out there, that it’s probably been done somewhere. We’re at a point with cocktails nowadays where everything’s been made,” he says. “Aside from people who try to jump the shark by putting a ham hock in a Bloody Mary or something. When you look at every cocktail, it’s based off of something. So, it’s everybody just trying to put their little twist on it, and what works for where they are, too.”
- John J. Jeffries
300 Harrisburg Ave., Lancaster
4 p.m. to midnight, Mon. through Sat.;
4 to 11 p.m., Sun.
Know Thy Bartender
Name: Frank Fontaine
From: Venango County, PA
School: Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Years bartending: 14
TV shows: “Walking Dead,” “Orphan Black,” “anything comic book-y”
and bartending books
When not bartending: “Playing dad”
Favorite place to hang out: “On my couch,
in my home”
Former bartender at: Annie Bailey’s, Aussie
and the Fox