Skip navigation

Independents find cocktails are sweet way to end a meal


A rising number of restaurants are extending the range of their cocktail menus by adding drinks that serve as liquid desserts.

Colleen Kennelly, manager of Lola's in Seattle, finds that customers who might pass on a dessert are more than willing to order a drink as an after-dinner treat. The Tom Douglas-operated restaurant has extended its dessert menu with such drinks as the Espresso-Tini and the Lola "Buca," a riff on the after-dinner staple of a sambuca. 

The drinks are priced at $8 each, on a menu where conventional desserts are priced from $9 to $10.

"It's easier to justify something like this instead of a rich chocolate tart," Kennelly said. "Having this might seem easier to have, even if there are as many calories."

"I tend to eat that way," said Katie Doherty, director of operations for Tavistock Restaurants LLC, which manages six Napa Valley Grille restaurants. "I may not have a big bowl of cobbler, but I will have another drink, and I'm not a coffee drinker."

That personal preference led Doherty to develop several of the restaurants' Dessert Libations, which have bolstered per-person sales. "If you're looking at groups, you tend to see the 'I'll have a dessert, what are you going to get?' situations. Some people like to have something in front of them, and that's when we tend to get that sale. It helps the check average."

Doherty developed the Brandy Alexander Milkshake, which is made by blending brandy with Italian gelato. "We can't take it off, and when we do, they ask for it," she said.

Doherty said the Brandy Alexander Milkshake definitely has become a reason people visit the Napa Valley Grille in Yountville, Calif., in the heart of California's famed Napa Valley wine-producing area.

The restaurant also is known for The Spanish Mocha, another Dessert Libation option. Developed first by the kitchen as a drinkable chocolate candy, the drink's current incarnation features espresso, French chocolate, a citrus-vanilla Spanish liqueur and crème chantilly. Doherty eventually placed the drink on the brunch menu, and it found a new audience that appreciated its coffee flavor as much as its semblance to a chocolate.

Other places featuring dessert cocktails attribute their popularity in part to the softer nature of the drinks. After a full meal, patrons "don't necessarily want wine or brandy or anything strong like that," said Gretchen Geisness, general manager of Palace Kitchen, another Tom Douglas restaurant in Seattle.

The restaurant's Pineapple Upside Down Cake and Grasshopper cocktails are served like a martini but are perceived as having much less of a kick.

The ingredients in drinkable desserts aren't limited to spirits or liqueurs. At The Chocolate Room in Brooklyn, the wife-and-husband team of Naomi Josepher and Jon Payson features The Dark Chocolate Stout Float, a scoop of house-made vanilla bourbon ice cream served with a dark stout made by a local brewer. The beer is not made with chocolate, but with chocolate malt, and it has complex chocolate-like flavors.

"It's a big seller; people are interested in it," Josepher said. "It's really different. The sweet ice cream and the bitterness of the beer is an intriguing combination."

The Chocolate Room also serves other "chocolate" beers, but Naomi says, "We don't suggest a scoop of ice cream for those."

The distinctive chocolate stout is available from the local brewer only from the beginning of fall until spring, if the supply lasts that long. The Chocolate Room plans events around the release of the beer where guests can meet the brewmaster responsible for creating the beer and also providing a special menu, cementing a relationship and reputation.

Schnack's, another Brooklyn eatery, is known for its signature beer milkshake, which also uses a dark stout blended with ice cream to create an adult dessert drink.


"It needs to be a very dark stout; we particularly favor chicory stout or Indian brown ale," said Harry Hawk, manager of Schnack's. The milkshake is less sweet than a regular milkshake and comes only with vanilla or chocolate ice cream since the beer gives the drink a coffee- or espresso-like flavor. 

"It's something customers need to sample, but once they sample it, we sell a few," said Hawk. "But people talk to people about it. It becomes a conversation starter. It doesn't sound super appetizing, but it wins the day. We sell a fair amount of it."

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.