Willa Van Nostrand of Little Bitte Cocktails
NOVEMBER 5, 2018
We want to have a drink with Willa Van Nostrand, especially if she’s the one making the drink. Mixologist, owner of Little Bitte Artisanal Cocktails, singer/ songwriter, art curator, and infusively charming company, Willa is the total package. Okay, the total dream. We Insta-stalked her beautifully curated delicious photos (not to mention that topknot of hers) for about a year before calling her up and asking her to host a workshop at Ode. We met up in Quonquont orchard, where we got to play dress up and traipse around with Willa, eating apples whilst sipping her mango margarita. Even listening to her describe a drink will make your mouth water. Here’s a little sneak “sip” of what’s in store for our “Guide to Gatherings” workshop at Ode, this Thursday, Nov. 8, from 6-8pm. Foodie-Guru Victoria Accardi will accompany Willa with cheese and sweet bites. There are a few spots still open, so give us a call or stop by the boutique to sign up! Cheers!
How did you get your start in bartending and mixology?
I grew up on a small herb farm in Massachusetts with my mom, a midwife & herbalist—and my dad, a minister & bartender. I’ve always been pretty obsessed with food, so beverage was a natural extension. I worked in a bunch of bars through my late teens and early 20s, but really found my niche living in Italy for a year when I was working with cordials and Amari like Campari, Aperol, and Fernet Branca. Even when I was working at the family dive bar, I’d bring in my own edible blossom bouquets to garnish cocktails. Folks would start requesting the drinks I made for them, and that’s how the business was born. Before I knew it, I was doing a bunch of parties and weddings and shopping for insurance. Business, how romantic!
Describe the perfect sip:
The perfect sip is clean, sumptuously tart
and leaves you wanting another sip.
The perfect sip is insatiable.
The perfect sip is usually Champagne,
generally a very dry margarita,
and most often: a flute of sparkling rosé.
On friday nights, it’s a dirty martini with fancy queen olives,
in Italy, a spritz,
a voluptuous red wine.
Cognac, forever– aged off the vine.
What’s your spirit cocktail?
If mezcal is my spirit “spirit, ” then The Division Bell is my spirit cocktail (Mezcal, fresh lime, Aperol, maraschino cherry liqueur) for its astringency, appetizing pop of color, light bitterness, and smoke. It reminds me that I’m alive and every breath, sip and bite matters.
On top of being a business owner and expert mixologist, you are a singer in a band. What’s the music/style? Who’s in your band? Where can we see you perform?
Ah, Singing! My first love. I make my own music as Willa Van Nostrand and I’m in a band “The Van Nostrand Sisters” with my Sister Glenna and her partner, Ken Linehan, who’s fabulous. There’s an ever-evolving cast of characters, but it’s most minimally the 3 of us on stage. We make folk music, I write most of the songs and the band gives them life! Lots of harmonies, and our voices do that magic sister thing that sisters can do: very sweet, goofy, upbeat, folky? Dare I say, country? We dance around a lot and wear vintage dresses and costumes. We are working on recording our album and we don’t have any shows booked currently because we’re not letting ourselves play out until we finish the album. We usually play small clubs & venues, folk festivals, friends house shows in the woods, art spaces…. You get the idea. We love playing so if you have something in mind, don’t be a stranger. Record’s almost done!
Hold on, you have an art gallery? Explain!
Yes! I own a small storefront gallery called World’s Fair Gallery at 268 Broadway in Providence. We opened in 2010 as a site-specific gallery, and now we’re at home on Broadway. We curate shows inspired by taste, gustatory and aesthetic. For each show, we pair 2D & 3D artists with folks who make ceramics or handblown glass vessels. For the opening reception of each show, we pop-up and make cocktails that were designed for the artwork and the glassware. This business model works in a way that I can travel and install art pop-ups and bars in galleries and art fairs. I am really excited about World’s Fair and can’t wait to share more artwork, beautiful vessels and beverages with the world.
Best moment from a wedding:
Last summer we worked this insanely gorgeous wedding out near the beach in Tiverton, Rhode Island. The whole thing was romantic and candlelit with colorful lanterns hanging from the trees. After we broke down the bar, we were standing around having a shift drink and we all let our hair down (you know, the ‘Bitte bun’ up-do has to come down sometime). We looked like a group of mermaids on the lawn. The groomsmen called to us from the dance floor á la Romeo up to Juliet’s window: “Angels, sweet women, where have you been? It’s time to dance!”
I melted a little, we giggled a lot, and then got out of there as quickly as we could because we knew better! We had to bail before the midsummer night’s dream enchanted us all.
I also cried last week at a cranberry bog during the bride and groom’s first dance at sunset. Does that count? I end up crying at a lot of the weddings that I work because they’re so beautiful and touching. Once you work with a couple on their wedding for a year, you can get pretty emotionally attached.
Shaken or stirred?
Stirred! It’s traditional to stir a martini. “Stir spirits with vermouth, shake juice!”
But I say, if you’re the one drinking it — do whatever you want!
If you ask me to make you a cosmo, I’ll make you a damn good cosmo.
If you ask me to shake your martini, I’ll shake the living daylights out of it.
That’s what hospitality is about.
If you could have a drink anywhere with any one person, where and with whom would that be?
I’d have a cigar and a glass of Cognac with Gertrude Stein in Paris during her Expat salon years.
What’s the “garden” element of your tagline “craft cocktails from garden to glass in New England”?
All of our edible blossoms and fresh botanicals are organically grown, local or sustainably sourced. For the first 5 years of Little Bitte, my mom and I grew all of our botanicals. Now, we source our blossoms, fruit, and herbs from about 25 local growers.
To high winds and mermaids!
What’s essential for the perfect gathering?
Making your guests feel comfortable. Good lighting, enough food and drink for your guests, and their friends you didn’t know they were bringing along.
And ice! 2-3 pounds per guest to be specific.