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November 7, 2011

Southern Comfort

With an ace bartender in the house, it’s always cocktail hour at congenial, new Italian eatery Cibo e Beve

By Nancy Staab

  • Photos and Video by Tim Redman

Savannah-bred Justin Hadaway is the rock star romantic behind the bar at Cibo e Beve—pioneering innovative sips and nostalgia-laden elixirs in the uncharted cocktail territory of Sandy Springs

Cibo e Beve bartender Justin Hadaway Cibo e Beve bartender Justin Hadaway




















Justin Hadaway, the chief mixologist at Food 101’s latest concept, the rustic-Italian eatery Cibo e Beve, is a history buff. Sure, he’s delved into Negroni, Campari and Bellinis with a twist (champagne, bitters, peach bourbon and a sugar cube dipped in local High Road Craft Bellini sorbet) for his new Italianate post. However it’s old timey, pre-Prohibition cocktails, newer vintage cocktails from the bad old ‘80s like the No Sex in the Rainbow Room drink that Madonna sampled, and especially romantic, Southern-tinged concoctions that inspire his creative juices. One look at the anecdotal, literary-minded drink menu of Cibo e Beve and it’s clear that Hadaway appreciates the history, culture and colorful lore (invented or true) behind his beverages. 

“I must have rewritten the opening cocktail menu for Cibo e Beve a thousand times, “ he says. “I wanted capital-letter, neon-sign cocktails with stories and something to latch onto—cocktails with soul.”

The interior of Cibo e Beve The interior of Cibo e Beve

The result is a charming and eclectic drink list as fun to peruse as booze.  For instance, there’s the Mark Twain libation named after the famous American author, who instructed his wife Olivia in a letter while on an international book tour: “Livy my darling, I want you to be sure to remember to have, in the bathroom, when I arrive, a bottle of Dewars Scotch whiskey, a lemon, some crushed sugar and a bottle of Angostura bitters. Ever since I have been in London I have taken in a wine glass what is called a cocktail (made with those ingredients) before breakfast, before dinner, and just before going to bed.” Who knew the creator of Huck Finn liked to tipple while in the bath tub! Or there’s the Monkey Gland—invented in the ’20s at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris and immortalized by vaudeville performer Billy Meyer, who claimed this lethal gin and absinthe potion “Made a Monkey Out of Me.” But these drinks are not just on the list for a gimmicky good story, Hadaway has vetted every one of them and tinkers with them to get them just right—often tweaking classic cocktails for subtle improvements.  

Asked about his cocktail philosophy, Hadaway professes that “Simple is always better. You don’t need Amazonian rain water to make a successful drink.” To that end, he is not a big fan of frivolous garnishes. “The garnish should be minimal and reflect the color and flavor of a drink…bacon garnished Manhattans are just gross.” And no surprise, he’s also a stickler about pure, clear ice. Hadaway experimented unsuccessfully with freezing Smart Water before leaving the task to his secret ice purveyor, who delivers it in large blocks. Naturally, Hadaway also make all his own mixtures, tinctures and syrups. Even the grenadine behind the Cibo e Beve bar is homemade.  And if garnishes are used, they are memorable like the edible honeycomb for his Pimm’s Cup or the brandy soaked gritte (French cherries).  At home, it’s even more simple. “I make my fancy cocktails here. Off work, I couldn’t be happier with a Miller High Life and a bottle of whiskey. At the most serious, I might make an Old Fashioned.”

In addition to cocktails with history or culture, Hadaway is also mesmerized by the Gothic romanticism of the Old South-- the Oak-strewn Savannah where he grew up and lived until two years ago when he relocated to Atlanta; the lost cause of the Confederacy, which inspired his off-the-menu Articles of Confederacy drink for the cocktail curious; and the mythology of New Orleans. He hasn’t visited the latter city yet, but hopes to soon for the famed 2012 Tales of the Cocktail symposium. Indeed, New Orleans is an Ur city for cocktails in many ways. Fittingly, the Sazerac, which was invented in a New Orleans apothecary, is featured on Hadaway’s current cocktail list.

But the most famous example of Hadaway’s Southern obsession is his “Georgia-in-a-glass” original recipe called Chatham County Line. It became a legend almost the minute Hadaway invented it and put it on the menu—so much so that he now limits the drink to 15-20 served on Friday and Saturday nights only.

The drink includes pecan-infused whiskey, Savannah sour wood honey syrup, St. Germaine, and a slice of a Georgia peach for garnish. But the real showstopper is the smoke-infused, hand-crafted ice cube which takes the drink from sweet to sexy and more manly. The process is sort of jerry-rigged with a smoking gun used to smoke food, some tubing that acts like an exhaust pipe, a lighter to get the thing going with some dramatic flair and saran wrap put over the mouth of the glass to seal in the smoke and let the drink sort of bake and absorb the smoky flavors until served. As the ice cube melts, the drink gradually releases its smoky aura. See the video produced by Tim Redman, below, in which Hadaway walked LuxeCrush through the legendary drink step-by-step. Hadaway says the idea to create “Georgia in a glass” came to him while nursing a hangover and eating  pancakes at Social House. “Everyone is waiting for me to follow up on that drink….” he says wistfully.

Hadaway is rather retro and old school in his whole approach to bartending, He first learned the trade by slinging drinks at touristy hotels in Savannah, but it is his formative two years at Decatur tapas den Iberian Pig, under the mentorship of legendary Atlanta drinks wizard Thomas Fable Jhun, where he really perfected the art of mixology.  He says that Jhun encouraged him to stay in the business, detecting his knack for the trade, but told him he “had to forget 75% of what you know.”

In place of faux cocktail techniques, Jhun taught Hadaway his “very militant” bartender codes---“not only how to craft cocktails, but how to act, talk and walk. To keep your hands out of your pocket, to leave no tools in the sink and the basics of bartender mise-en-place,” says Hadaway.

It was during Hadaway’s tenure at Iberian Pig that the restaurant became known for ambitious drinks like the New York Robusto—a tobacco-infused bourbon concoction with vermouth, wild lavender honey and flamed orange peel--an early precursor to Chatham County Line.

In his professional dress, Hadaway often rocks a vest and tie for a “modern GQ bartender look,” adding a red and black palette and pinstripes for Italian flair. Tattooed on his arm, a portrait of his beloved grandfather, who also served as bartender while in the Navy. “I still have his bartending kit,” says Hadaway. Though Hadaway majored in psychology in college (which turns out to be a rather handy background for a bar tender who is practically paid to cater to and listen to people), bartending was an accidental career that he later decided to pursue seriously in Alanta, where he has quickly attained local rock star status.

A tattoo of Justin's grandfather, also a bartender, on his arm A tattoo of Justin's grandfather, also a bartender, on his arm

With his new post at Cibo e Beve the importance of the drink menu is embodied in the title of the restaurant itself. Significantly, the bar is the first thing that greets you upon entering this handsome, dark wood restaurant, just doors down from Food 101 in a tiny strip mall on Roswell Road. It’s a warm, neighborly place with just enough sophisticated polish to keep it interesting and a menu full of enticing small plates and wood fired pizzas that work well at the bar with Hadaway’s seasonal drink menu. Drinks also take center stage on the big screens above the bar, which run a looping two-hour reel of drinking scene highlights from famous movies—another clever Hadaway contribution to the establishment. “It stirs up bar conversation and gets people interacting.”

Several Italian-based cocktails are on the menu, a nod to the restaurant and seasoned chef Linda Harrell’s robust, Italian cooking, but Hadawy does not feel limited to Italian-centric cocktails. He says his inspirations come from cutting edge NYC cocktail dens like Employees Only and Death & Company, as well as well as poring through erudite cocktail history books by David Wondrich. Locally, he proclaims to be a fan of Eric Simpkins, H. Harper Station, Leon’s Full Service, and the crew at Holeman and Finch. In fact, Holeman and Finch is one of his favorite hangouts in his off-work hours, along with Estoria bar near Krog Street bridge “for its ‘everybody’s welcome’ vibe.” His own drinks and sous chef crew were lifted from noted Atlanta establishments like Empire State South, Iberian Pig, and Holeman and Finch. They may, like Hadaway, look at their current stint at Sandy Springs-based Cibo e Beve, as a form of pioneering new ground in a uncharted part of town in terms of cocktail innovations. But if any one can  fearlessly blaze that trail it’s Hadaway. “I thought Sandy Springs would be a tough cocktail crowd, a bit unsettled,” says Hadaway. However, since it’s opening, the bar has been regularly filled with new and repeat patrons from all parts of town, curious to sample his literary libations. Just don’t call Hadaway a mixologist. “A mixologist is someone who makes drinks, but a bartender makes drinks for people.”

Cibo e Beve, 4649 Roswell Road, 404.250.8988 or Please notes drinks are always rotating on the menu and some of the discussed drinks may not currently be on the menu. The Chatham County Line is a constant but can only be ordered on a Friday or Saturday night in limited quantities.





This brilliant canary-yellow drink features Partida Reposado tequila, St. Germain elderflower liquer, yellow chartreuse and orange bitters with a long lemon twist.






















The drink, invented by Hadaway, that put Cibo e Beve on the map. The “Georgia-in-a-glass” libation includes pecan-infused whiskey, Savannah sour wood honey syrup, St. Germaine and a slice of a Georgia peach for garnish. But the real showstopper is the smoke-infused, hand-crafted ice cube.






















This classic drink was custom created at the Cuban bar La Floridita for Ernest Hemingway. It includes white rum, fresh lime, grapefruit, Luxardo maraschino liquer and simple syrup with a lime/cherry garnish.





















This tweaked classic, a cool refresher on the summer menu, blends Pimm’s #1, cucumber, granny smith apples, sourwood honey syrup and gingerale and garnished with edible honeycomb.






















This gorgeous, layered drink that’s red on top and light on the bottom, is prepared like a traditional speakeasy sour with claret syrup, Bourbon, egg whites, fresh lemon, simple syrup and a thin layer of red wine on top.
































Warm up by the heat of the pizza oven and sip this hot toddy consisting of Laird’s 100-proof Apple Brandy, apple cider, Demerara Simply Syrup, and baked apple for flavor and garnish.



A Hadaway original, this popular drink features Fernet Branca, Mexican Coke, a candied coconut rim and an ice cube of Guinness and coriander.



Hadaway spices up this winter classic with Bacardi and Santa Theresa rum, sugar, apple cider and a house-made compound butter containing cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.