Playing with Fire

Head to L'Ecole to witness a red-hot cocktail innovation

The bartender at L'Ecole pulls an 18-inch-long metal rod from its holster; its tip glows cherry red. The attached temperature gauge reads 1100° as he plunges the rod into a glass filled with the makings of a Manhattan. A hissing spume of bubbles instantly forms around the rod, and a foot-high flame shoots out of the glass.

Clearly, this isn't your average Manhattan. And its creator isn't your average bartender: He's Dave Arnold, the French Culinary Institute's technology guru and mad-science mixologist. After two years of trial and error (and exploding glassware), he's unveiled his latest invention, the Red Hot Poker, which he uses at the FCI's L'Ecole restaurant to turn regular cocktails into pyrotechnic displays of bar flair.

Arnold's overgrown soldering iron is actually a modernized version of a very old bar tool: the loggerhead. "In the 17th and 18th centuries, bars would heat drinks with a red-hot poker they kept in the fireplace," he says. "Remember that scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark? It's like that, minus the torture." But charging a cocktail with intense heat doesn't just warm it up; it also caramelizes the sugars within, creating an entirely new flavor profile.

Right now, L'Ecole is serving two cocktails ($12 each) made with Arnold's invention: the Red Hot Manhattan (see above) and the Red Hot Ale, a beer-and-cognac-based nod to Dickens-era warm drinks. Stop by the bar to see the Red Hot Poker at work—just don't get too close.

L'Ecole, 462 Broadway (between Broome and Grand sts.); 212-219-3300 or frenchculinary.com