Plus his signature crystal-clear, okra-stamped ice cubes
CM: Tell us about your experience as a mixologist?
JB: In 2012, I was hired as a bartender for Demi Monde in New York with the guys from Death & Co. That was really my hands-on training, and it was better than learning from a book. In 2018, I went to Mumbai and opened Miss T that got nominated as the best bar in India. Two years later, I was back in the US, and I had gone to Fort Myers when the space for Coterie became available; by December 1, 2020, I was signing papers to open in Charleston.
CM: Why Indian-American fusion?
JB: Charleston was not always ready for different types of cuisine, but when I was back in town last September helping open Neon Tiger, I saw the success of Jackrabbit Filly and other spots. A friend’s fiancée suggested Indian, and I saw there was no Indian food that wasn’t old style and buffet. Executive chef Viraj Borkar and I wanted a different, modern version with big flavors, but we also wanted it clean and approachable and have a little bit of Charleston spin.
CM: What kinds of flavor profiles complement an Indian menu?
JB: I have a fairly long background in wine, and it helps in seeing how food pairs with cocktails. We make the Carlita, a margarita variation named for Carlota, the last empress of Mexico. The drink has aged tequila, Citron Sauvage, and a dash of cardamom that really bring in the flavors.
CM: Let’s talk temperature. Some say the body cools down when you eat spicy foods like curries. Do your drinks work to cool down or to heat up?
JB: None of our food is all that spicy—we thought that would be better with the Charleston palate. With the cocktails, I find what often works in hot environments is a daiquiri—the clean tartness with a nice dry finish. It gives you the feeling of refreshment, even if it doesn’t actually cool you down.
CM: How are you showing fusion on your drink menu?
JB: One example is the Society Street, a Charleston-inspired Manhattan named after the street I used to live on. I did it for a few places I’ve worked—in New York, Hong Kong, and India. It’s predominantly Bourbon with some Cognac for a French influence, vermouth, a little bit of Crème de Peche for Southern peaches, and then bitters.
CM: Tell us about the cool ice cube we keep hearing about.
JB: We have a process I perfected in India that gives us huge slabs of dense, clear ice. We cut them down into blocks to put in cocktails and use an ice stamp so that the ice has the Coterie logo that includes an okra flower. It goes with the whole theme of bringing things together because okra is a huge thing in both Southern and Indian cuisines.
CM: What was it like to open a new place during the pandemic?
JB: Time will tell if I was smart or foolish. My idea is that we are hopefully coming out of it, but we also have an outdoor patio, so if there’s a resurgence, we could get away with that. We have a small crew, and we’re considering shedding an extra night just to make sure people are getting enough rest.
Additional photographs: Courtesy of (book) Simon & Schuster & (wine key) Laguiole