Nearly a decade ago, Amie Ward started playing roller derby in Baltimore. Her first team was called "Female Trouble," a nod to John Waters' 1974 dark comedy of the same name.
"I kind of just went off the rails and became totally obsessed with him since then," Ward said.
That obsession recently crept into her work. Ward, the beverage director of R. House's R. Bar, and her bartending team recently debuted their spring cocktail menu — 14 original drinks, all inspired by Waters, Baltimore's most famous transgressive filmmaker and author.
There's the Divine Martini, an ode — made with Beefeater gin and the Italian liqueur Strega — to the unforgettable character actor seen in Waters' "Pink Flamingos" and "Hairspray." Hatchet Face, which uses Old Forester bourbon and hibiscus honey syrup, is a tribute to a "Cry-Baby" character.
The hardest part wasn't creating the recipes, but naming them, Ward said.
"I thought it was such a cool theme, but then I also realized we'd get super, super cheeky when it comes to the naming," she said. Other options on the menu include Trash Trio and Wanda's Spritz.
These sorts of whimsical challenges — creating new cocktails with seasonal ingredients, while sticking to a theme — continue to guide Ward's approach at R. Bar. In the past, the bar has done menus based on Edgar Allan Poe and "Home Alone."
On the current menu, visitors will see ingredients like Stall 11 carrot juice and oat milk from Ground and Griddled. One of Ward's goals is to connect the bar to R. House's food stalls more effectively, she said.
"We kind of had no real identity," Ward said. "Coming from a chef-driven place like Aggio [the now-closed restaurant where Ward previously worked], I wanted to make sure we still had that kind of impetus without having a chef necessarily related to us."
The rotating menus also encourage other bartenders to explore new flavors and hone technique, Ward said. She came up with four of the John Waters cocktails, and let her staff come up with the rest. Ward assigns specific spirits to bartenders, but allows them the freedom to construct the drinks and figure out how they tie into the theme.
"I'm always there as a resource, but they're doing the research and homework on their own, which is really cool," Ward said.
Ward couldn't pick just one cocktail as her current favorite. She's torn between Shock Value and the Suspicious Scotty Barnhill. The former turned out to be an unintentional dessert drink, which combines spirits like Jägermeister and grapefruit liqueur with Little Baby's Vanilla Coconut Clove ice cream. The Scotty Barnhill features carrot juice and celery syrup, along with Barr Hill Gin and the Greek liqueur Mastiha.
These are not common cocktail ingredients, which is partially the point, Ward said.
"They're so far out there, but so delicious," she said.
Ward, whose favorite Waters movies are "Serial Mom" and "Cry-Baby," said the theme was "one of the most challenging menus I've ever worked with," which makes its execution more satisfying. The only way it could get better, she said, would be if Waters, the "Pope of Trash," got to see it for himself.
"I love it, paying homage to him," Ward said. "If he happened to walk into the bar, I'd probably be beside myself."
If you go
R. Bar is located inside R. House, 301 W. 29th St., Remington. Cocktails cost $9-$11. The John Waters menu will be available until late June. Call 443-347-3570 or go to r.housebaltimore.com.
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