The Baccarat Hotel’s Emily Collins & Amy Ogbonna on its new “Le Roi” special and more

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Le Roi

Le Roi
Le Roi

Although it is primarily known for its world-class crystals, the legendary French brand Baccarat opened its first hotel last year to immediate acclaim. A 50-story tower designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the Baccarat Hotel & Residences is home to the first Spa De La Mer. It also includes the restaurant Chevalier, as helmed by restaurant director Charles Masson — who had worked with La Grenouille — and executive chef Shea Gallante.

The Bar at the Baccarat Hotel is currently featuring a drink offering like no other, the Le Roi. Beyond being made with premium NOLET’S Reserve and Grey Goose VX, the Le Roi is served in a custom Baccarat crystal glass engraved with the exact batch number. Guests that enjoy the limited-edition beverage — priced at $375 — get to take the glass home. It will only be served as long as said glasses are still available.

Emily Collins, the lead bartender and overseer of Bar Operations for the Baccarat, spoke to Downtown about what inspired the Le Roi. Amy Ogbonna in the Baccarat’s marketing department also entertained some Q&A. The Baccarat brand is on Twitter as @Baccarat, while the hotel is on Twitter as @BaccaratHotels. The Baccarat Hotel also maintains a website at www.baccarathotels.com.

Le Roi
Le Roi

Where did the idea of the Le Roi drink come about?

Emily Collins: The Le Roi came about when I was in brainstorm mode for our Spring/Summer cocktail menu. Looking at the bar, all you see is luxury, the crystal, endless. So I thought my menu should reflect its exquisite surroundings. I knew I wanted to keep it classic, simple, and elegant. I searched around for spirits that could match up to my vision. That’s when I recalled being blown away by Nolet’s Reserve Gin. It, being the most expensive gin in the world made sense for the vision, then adding the compliment of Grey Goose VX seemed to come naturally.

Is it true that the drink is only available for a limited time, as based on the limited number of glasses available?

EC: This cocktail and concept is so beautiful that my goal is to keep it long-term…I’d like to think it is something worth remembering, especially considering the final touch of the recipe is being gifted the personalized baccarat coupe. A keepsake that can be ever present in the homes of our guests.

What is it that makes the glass so special?

EC: There is no piece of Baccarat crystal that isn’t beautiful, but one of my favorite designs is Massena. When light shines through this cocktail, it creates prism lights around it. Looking at this glass you see the craftsmanship that went into every line, every detail. I also have the coupes engraved on the bottom with New York City as we are the flagship hotel as well as batched out numbers that are unique and one of a kind.

Any idea how many glasses are left at this time?

EC: Since launching the menu in May, a few Le Rois have been purchased. Regarding the bar’s glasses, that’s a whole different story! Crystal isn’t meant for high volume, so we take our cut because we wouldn’t want to give our guests any other experience than with Baccarat crystal.

Emily Collins
Emily Collins

Le Roi aside, any other creations of the bar that you’re especially proud of?

EC: This bar has been an incredible journey to build. Selection of the special spirits that make up our 300-bottle bar, to my tender, love, and care crafted menus. Maintaining the team I have put together, while being conscious of the need for perpetual growth. I am constantly learning, changing, and being surprised by this fast-paced business.

How would you describe The Bar at The Baccarat Hotel to someone who hasn’t yet been there?

EC: This bar is truly like nothing else out there. You are surrounded by beautiful artwork at every corner you see while sipping on a cocktail or Bordeaux in a glass that has been crafted by hand. Then, you add in the cocktail program with options like the Le Roi and the humble, kind and witty bar team, you will always walk out of there planning the next time you can come back.

How do you usually keep up on new trends when comes to cocktails? Is it word of mouth? Conventions and brand ambassadors? Personal taste and inspiration?

EC: I am fortunate enough to have a large circle of contacts whether it be from ambassadors I have met here, to reps from previous positions I’ve held elsewhere or just others that have been cultivated over a 13-year career. I stay involved with all of the conventions like Tales Of The Cocktail or recently, the Paris Bar Show as I saw what the cocktail world is like worldwide. Any downtime I have, I am catching up on cocktail and bar-creation inspired books, frequenting all the incredible bars this city has to offer. I am constantly staying involved by visiting other bars to see what new trends have come about. This is where I find my inspiration.

Do you have a favorite item on the menu of the Grand Salon or Chevalier?

EC: I’m a sucker for simplicity. Two of my favorites items on the food menu are the Spicy Tuna Bowl and Duck Pastrami Sliders because not only are they delicious by themselves, but the pairing that I can put together on a broad spectrum whether it be a gin — like Nolet’s, because of the Saffron flavors — or even a vodka cocktail, with the Grey Goose VX — because it’s a combination of vodka and cognac…

Is there an average sort of guest at The Baccarat Hotel?

Amy Ogbonna: Baccarat has a mixed clientele. Of course we have consistent regulars where luxury is second nature to them, but what I love is that our bar brings everyone in. We have been able to beautifully create an environment that is not pretentious yet welcoming to those who want to experience something extremely special.

Amy Ogbonna
Amy Ogbonna

You’re a hotel with hundreds of years of history that’s known for its luxury, yet expectations of luxury have especially changed in recent years. How do you know whether something is appropriate to your brand?

AO: When I’m looking to bring in any products, I first try to stay true to our French roots as a foundation, then I look at the quality of the product and finally how it would fit or be welcomed by our guests. We have some of the most expensive and special spirits behind the bar that we are honored to carry yet we also have incredible products that give the bartenders a chance to create new cocktails that suit each’s guest’s desires.

How did the New York location become the flagship of the hotel?

AO: Baccarat Hotel New York is the first and only Baccarat Hotel currently in operation and thus serves as the flagship. We plan to open other properties in the Metropolitan area and in resort cities throughout the world in the years to come. This location fully encompasses the dedication to perfect craft and heritage that is so deeply rooted in Baccarat’s history, and we hope all future iterations can do the same.

What can you tell me about the hotel beyond the bar? Any amenities of note?

AO: Baccarat Hotel New York is so much more than our lively and opulent bar scene. We have incredible rooms and suites that feel like you’ve stepped into a private Parisian residences. We are also home to the world’s first Spa de La Mer. Guests, residents and the public can book a number of different facials, body treatments and massages, as well as our exclusive Baccarat La Mer facial that uses crystal elements to relax and purify the skin.

Are there any special events or promotions coming up for The Bar otherwise?

EC: Currently we do not have any promotional events scheduled in The Bar, but we are looking to add some live entertainment to our Sunday evenings. Be on the lookout for some weekend programming starting in the early fall.

Beyond the bar, are there any exciting events or promotions coming up for The Baccarat Hotel in New York? Does the art exhibited change over the course of the year?

AO: We typically do something exciting in our Grand Salon over major holidays, whether it be a themed Afternoon Tea activation or a lively brunch. On Jul. 14 we are partnering with Ladurée for Bastille Day Afternoon Tea in the Grand Salon. For the rest of the summer, we are offering special rates in our rooms & suites. The paintings and sculptures throughout the hotel are permanent. However, we have two rare Baccarat vases on display in a large vitrine in our Grand Salon that will rotate on a bi-annual basis. The two vases are the last of 500 “Harcourt Grand Genre” vases.

When not busy with the hotel, how do you like to spend your free time?

EC: In my free time, I try to take care of myself with a yoga class or a good run in the park. With the volume we do at the expectation level I have set, our bodies can take a toll. So I try to maintain my strength when I’m not there. When I’m not doing this, my boyfriend and I try to catch a Broadway show or go to a Yankee game. But mostly, after a 60+ hour week, I’d rather just be on the couch with my cats watching Grey’s Anatomy…with a bottle of wine of course, for “research.”

Finally, any last words for the kids?

EC: This business has made an incredible shift over the years. It is not just a shot and beer gig anymore; there is so much education and knowledge that is needed in this world just as much as any other degree. In New York, being a bartender, you are always asked what you really do as most are artists or pursing another degree but be proud of what you do…This profession is a wholesome and rewarding career that I feel honored and proud to be a part of.