In a work-related brainstorming session to come up with a comprehensive list of craft cocktail bars in the area, I nearly came to blows with one colleague who tried to veto my addition of Més Que.
“I don’t really think of Més Que as a cocktail bar,” he rapped in a dismissive tone.
Despite my insistence that Més Que is, in fact, one of the best craft cocktail bars in Buffalo (and among my personal top-three favorites), he would not reconsider his notion. I won’t burden you with the gory details of what ensued, but let’s just say that I don’t take kindly to unrelenting challenge when I know I’m right. I get defensive—and sassy—quickly. (It’s something I’m working on with my therapist, but that’s a topic for my personal blog “Thirty-Something and Aggressively Single.”)
My shortcomings aside, said defensiveness was not without merit. Més Que is, without a sliver of a doubt, a craft cocktail bar, and an exemplary one at that. Which is why it is so surprising to encounter people in my everyday life—people who are well-versed in the art of drinking and even people who frequently patronize Més Que in the guise of beer-quaffing soccer fans—who are woefully unaware of this fact.
I don’t use the word woefully lightly. Perusing Més Que’s extensive menu of thoughtful, original cocktails—pondering the various comforting and daring flavor profiles narrated in the drink descriptions that compose it—and then slowly savoring your selection in good company at the sun-soaked bar on a quiet weeknight is a distinct pleasure that should be afforded to every local drinking enthusiast. That Més Que does not always receive for its cocktail program the widespread recognition it deserves is equally lamentable.
At least part of the reason Més Que’s craft cocktail bar identity has remained a bit under the radar is that it has not always had a craft cocktail program. When it first opened in 2012, its focus—aside from soccer—was beer and wine. It eventually transitioned to a full bar but limited its cocktail offerings to a tightly curated menu of classics.
Then came Rachel Wright. Rachel, who was first hired by Més Que as a server three years ago, quickly leveraged her seven years of previous bartending experience to get behind the pine, hone her skills, and work her way up the ranks. She is now an active member of the Buffalo Chapter of the United States’ Bartenders Guild and a founding member of Bar Biddies, and since taking over as cocktail development and bar manager a little over a year ago, she has made it her mission to take Més Que’s cocktails to the next level.
“We had a huge overhaul of our program,” Rachel explained during a recent interview. “A lot of research and development went into it. We are kind of battling this preconceived understanding of what we are as a bar.”
The preconceived understanding she refers to is the idea that Més Que is first and foremost—exclusively, even, in the minds of some—a soccer bar. But that characterization only gets Més Que partially right. According to its website, més que means “more than” in Catalan, and the name is truly fitting in the sense that it is more than just a mecca for soccer fanatics. It is also a destination venue for cocktail connoisseurs who seek out refined, thought-provoking local drinking experiences.
Two things, in the humble opinion of this writer, elevate Més Que to the upper echelon of Buffalo’s cocktail scene. One is Wright’s zeal for experimenting with bold and unconventional flavors, and encouraging her bartenders to do the same.
“I think as a whole, our program accepts a lot of creativity and unique ideas,” she mused. “If one of my bartenders can think of it and wants to incorporate those flavors, we will make it happen, or at least attempt to. And if it fails it fails, but I think we’re pretty unique in that way.”
It’s the reason the debut of a new cocktail menu, which happens seasonally at Més Que, is an anticipated event among Wright’s devotees. On the new summer menu, that boldness manifests, among other ways, as a classic mojito invigorated with savory dill and mustard seed, and as a South America-meets-East Asia mashup called the Yama Llama. The latter coheres sake and pisco with fresh citrus juice, jalapeno, and a house-made “briny yuzu shrub” that tastes far more complex than its simple name suggests it ought. My drinking companion insightfully compared the Yama Llama to a crisp, delicate bloody mary, minus the tomato juice. I immediately understood her point, and chalk up the likeness to the salt and umami cultivated in the shrub and the heat from the pepper. Most importantly, though, the drink was more than delicious. Whereas at an average bar you might swill a drink inattentively and unthinkingly, cocktails at a bar of Més Que’s caliber provoke contemplation and conversation among friends. Not an easy feat.
The second defining characteristic of Wright’s cocktail program is the extraordinary balance exemplified in each drink—something she chalks up to the three months of work she and her staff put in to designing every new menu. According to Wright, each bartender is expected to submit three original cocktails for consideration. She then meets with them individually, and together they taste, tweak, and redevelop the recipes until they arrive at the best version of what they were hoping to achieve. The entire staff then comes together to taste the submissions and casts votes to decide what drinks go on the menu.
“Every single cocktail is extensively tested and tasted for balance. That’s what we want. Not every bar is testing their cocktails seven or eight times before they go on the menu.”
That level of dedication is palpable to the customer. Since Wright took the helm, I have learned through experience that even if a cocktail on Més Que’s menu features seemingly incongruous ingredients, or reads as if it will run overly sweet, to trust that if it made it through the rigorous vetting process, it will be elegant and rounded.
Occasionally, Wright’s insistence on balance causes fleeting consternation among first-time customers.
“I constantly get the question ‘What’s your sweet drink?’ and I don’t have an answer to that, because I don’t think we have a sweet drink. Our goal is to not have a sweet drink on the menu.”
Of course, Wright ensures all customers leave Més Que satisfied. The trick is to ask the right questions about their preferences, listen to their responses, discern what it is they are looking for in a cocktail, and then steer them in the right direction from there. A customer who asks for a sweet drink may actually be more concerned with avoiding a spirituous drink, for instance.
“It is a very specific skill to be able to listen to what someone wants and then to create a balanced cocktail from that,” Wright admits.
But it is a skill that is paying off for the small soccer bar with a big cocktail program.
“We are starting to turn the soccer fans into craft cocktail drinkers, which is really interesting to see. And awesome.”