Category - reviews

Tiki Compliant: The Queen’s Park Hotel Super Cocktail
Bar Review: Rye in Louisville
Bar Review: Liberty in Seattle, WA
Gin-sperimentation: Caorunn Scottish Gin
Femme Fatale Finishing School
Bar Review: Sable in Chicago

Tiki Compliant: The Queen’s Park Hotel Super Cocktail

Queen's Park hotel Super Cocktail
The Queen’s Park Hotel Super Cocktail is actually a pre-Tiki cocktail, but it fits perfectly into the category my friend Joe Garcia calls “Tiki Compliant“. Both Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic learned their respective Tiki drink templates in the rum soaked Carribean (Don as an itinerant youth, Vic as a cold-eyed businessman doing market and product research), consuming drinks like (and perhaps including) the Queen’s Park Hotel Super Cocktail. It checks all the required boxes for me to make it compliant: rum, citrus, exotic syrups, and melded flavors. I hesitate to just pretend it is an outright Tiki drink because of its origin, and its name, which is too British.


  • 1 1/2 oz. gold Trinidadian rum (I used Mount Gay Eclipse because my Angostura 5 Rum bottle is on fumes)
  • 1/2 oz.Italian (sweet) vermouth
  • 1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 oz. fresh homemade grenadine
  • 4 dashes Angostura Bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice and shake to chill well. Strain into a cocktail glass or small Tiki vessel and garnish with some form of elaborate lime garnish.

One of the things I love about this drink is that it uses vermouth! I had not encountered a Tiki recipe that used the stuff before, and I’m glad to see that you can make a quite tasty tropical that employs it to good effect. This one will be on the menu the rest of Tiki Month, and I intend to experiment with better and better rums, as this is a Tiki cocktail that I suspect will show off the better spirits, rather than waste them.

I found this in Jeff Berry’s lastest fantastic work: Beachbum Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean. (Currently in stock from its publisher, Cocktail Kingdom) I will certainly have a full review of this book later in Tiki Month 2014, when I’ve finished most of it. Suffice it to say here that not only is it a great cocktail book, it is also a fantastic history of the Carribean as a whole, seen through the lens of the bottom of a glass.

Bar Review: Rye in Louisville

The good photos in this post can be found larger on Rye’s site.

Rye is a restaurant and bar located in Louisville, Kentucky, and while I am sure I’m not revealing any secrets to residents, people who visit Louisville should keep in mind that the corner of Market and Campbell is an outstanding location to both eat and drink.

Rye occupies a narrow, renovated, brick two-story with an attractive patio and extensive kitchen garden outside. They have their own parking, though I have no idea how sufficient it is, as our visit was late on a Sunday evening. The main floor is split into two fairly equal parts, the dining area and the bar. The barroom is huge, with high ceilings and lots of open floor space. The bar itself is a massive, light-colored, wooden surface with very heavy iron and wood stools that provide seating for 6-8 guests at each end of the bar, with a wide standing area in the center. I really like this design element in a bar as this stretch provides patrons access to the bartenders when the place is packed. The rest of the room is fairly open, with the length of the opposite wall lined with standing height shelf-tables, complete with more stools. There is plenty of light as well. The overall feel possesses that vaguely 20′s vibe that seems so de rigeur of craft bar/restaurants these days, but completely avoids the twee bits which send such decor over the edge in many instances.

We ate at the bar, and I will start with the food. To be honest, I was really paying attention only to the drinks when we arrived, so the extraordinary quality of the food caught us pleasantly off-guard. The “Coulotte Steak” was a perfect medium rare, no ordinary feat in itself for such a thick cut. And while I must admit to usually viewing any significant sauces on my beef as distractingly gilding the umami, the gorgeous one offered here complimented the meat both to the eye and to the tongue.

The triple-cooked fries we shared were exactly what french fires are supposed to look and taste like. I think we may have been the last customers of the night, and the kitchen had already started to break down the fryer when we came in and ordered. Instead of saying it was too late for the fries, or some other excuse, they set it back up and got us our deliciousness. This is called a desire to take care of the customer….

The real highlight however was the Berskshire Pork Chop my wife had. Delicious, but what struck me was that it was every bit as moist and tender as my steak. That is something you just don’t see with modern pigs. I understand that Rye buys their pigs whole and cuts them on site, so our chops had likely still been part of a whole pig that morning.

Rye Pig
They do other interesting things with pig, too.

All in all, chef William Morris knows what he’s doing, as you can see from all the time I’ve spent on the food in a bar review.

Our bartender was Ben Greer, and he took great care of us, even when I lingered over dinner on a Sunday night where he might otherwise have gotten home at a reasonable hour. Thanks, Ben.

The back bar at Rye is not one of those showy craft bar walls with the bewildering floor to ceiling selection of bottles you will never get around to trying. It being Kentucky, they simply spread out their excellent, sizable collection of whiskeys all the way down the back shelf. It didn’t surprise me that they had a truly impressive selection of ryes, in addition to all those lovely bourbons. The rest of their more than sufficient inventory is tucked away, leaving a neat, uncluttered arena.
Rye Backbar
The cocktail menu holds two pages of a variety of originals, as well as a page of suggested classics. The offerings tend toward the strong and aromatic, but there are enough lighter efforts to keep any responsible drinker happy. Among the real standouts is their Santa Anita, which is made with Cerrano-infused tequila, a bouquet of citruses and cilantro, and Hellfire Bitters. We were warned it was spicy, and it was. But lordy was it delicious, and seriously refreshing, too. Even if you aren’t usually a fan of spicy cocktails, I recommend giving this one a try.

Of course, you also learn a lot about a bar staff by going off the menu, and the slightly modified Whiskey Sour, complete with Peychaud’s-garished froth, was just as delicious.

Rye features fresh juices and house-made syrups, of course, but these days that could just mean the kitchen boils up some simple every Thursday. Not here. Any time I can have a fifteen minute conversation on the making and application of bar syrups, I a) am in cocktail geek heaven, and b) can tell there is going to be all manner of clever and interesting flavor offerings for the clientele. (Beyond those I personally sampled, that is)

To wrap up, I’ll come back to where I started. If you live in Louisville and haven’t tried Rye, why on Earth are you waiting for me to tell you to get down there? And if you plan to visit Louisville, I don’t think you’ll go wrong making an evening of it at Rye. They’re on Open Table, so set up your date. They are also on Twitter @RyeOnMarket, and their feed is active and full of information and good pictures.

Oh, and a quick thank you and shout out to Lindsey Johnson (@LiveTheLushLife on Twitter), who sent me to Rye, and who has been a wealth of knowledge about all sorts of places to perch, in Louisville and elsewhere.

Bar Review: Liberty in Seattle, WA

I had a chance to visit Seattle this Summer with my family. Since we had the kids with us, I didn’t get a chance to do a real detailed exploration of this, one of America’s premier cocktail towns, but I made sure to have enough time to hit a few highlights, and to get a feel for the general cocktail environment in town.

For a variety of reasons, I will lead with a review of Liberty, at 517 15th Ave. E. (@LibertyLovesYou on Twitter) Liberty is the love child of cocktail warriors Andrew Friedman and Keith Waldbauer. Andrew started Liberty in 2006, with Keith joining him later, so that makes this a very well-established and long-lived high-end bar. I’ve known, or at least “internet known”, Keith since I started blogging, as his now fallow Moving at the Speed of Life was one of the first cocktail blogs I read and among the first such blogs written by a working pro.

Liberty and its owners take great care to characterize it as “just a neighborhood bar”, rather than some Fancy Dan Craft Bar.
This is a load of bull fritters.
I insist that this is a fabulous, high-end bar. From the back wall (pictured above) full of a head-spinning array of ingredients headlined by a magnificent but not over the top selection of whisk(e)ys, to the menu filled with a great selection of classics and modern creations, to each and every drink that I saw placed before me or any other customer, Liberty is a cocktail lover’s dream. This is place with drinks like the Point of No Return, which simply lists fire among its ingredients. (If you visit Liberty, be sure to try one. It’s both delicious and a lot of fun to watch being made.)
There is also an excellent balance between the types of drinks on the menu. Andrew and Keith offer not just a wide variety of spirit bases and flavor profiles, but also what I’ll call “levels” of drinks. Many craft palaces I enter have menus of naught but ridiculously baroque concoctions that will be awesome to talk about with one’s fellow geeks at Tales of the Cocktail, but are too bitter, complex, or simply weird for anyone else. There are drinks here for the snob who isn’t “on duty” that evening, and the “training wheels” offerings still have something of interest to be learned from.

That said, Liberty also really is a neighborhood joint. Liberty’s location is one of the things that really strikes me about it. It is is located on a fairly modest stretch of retail shopping in a quiet residential neighborhood, rather than in the restaurant, tourist, or entertainment districts where most “serious” craft bars dwell.
Tourists like me are an anomaly in Liberty, and businessmen drinking here are likely doing so on their own dime, rather than an expense account. As a result, the prices are almost shockingly modest for such offerings.
To satisfy the Licensing Gods’ demand for food service, not to mention that of any reasonable drinker’s stomach, Liberty has the elegant and tasty solution of devoting about five feet of its bar to a sushi counter, with one or two cutters as demand warrants.

The place has that well-used feel of many older bars, the kind that have been open forever, have seen weddings and wakes, sometimes for the same customer, yet never ever feel run-down, through the sheer force of the love and responsibility of its proprietors. The seating is comfortable, both at the bar and around the room. The bar itself is moderately sized and fits in visually, rather than dominating the space like some altar to the Gods of Fernet and Angostura. There is even a large back room for meetings and private parties, but which is essentially invisible to the regular clientele.

Your average oblivious Jack and Coke drinker could make of Liberty his Third Place happily for years and never care or even realize that he was spending his time in a temple of high-end concoctions.

And this last point, the seamless melding of tavern and cocktail palace is what makes Liberty so interesting to me and, so important to the craft movement.

Craft cocktails as an industry have had a fascinating decade-plus of growth now, and are in a different stage of development in nearly every city in America. When you travel like I do all over the country killing people, you can move forward and backward through the whole history of the craft, using airline or auto as your time machine.
Many locales still have yet to see the first blush of our passion; the only “lime” in bars still has with the word “Rose’s” writ upon the bottle. Other cities have merely discovered the joys, and the commercial possibilities, of fresh or more exotic ingredients. Many, like my own Columbus, have a few restaurants and bars that are making a try at true high-end drinks. And cities like Seattle or New York have reached the point where the craft bars are a well-understood phenomenon, and most high-end restaurants have reached the point of having to offer competitive programs of their own.

But like any movement that is reaching maturity, at least in some markets, there is now a lot of angst about where to go from here. Because the simple facts are, craft cocktails made with exotic syrups, or oddball bitters, or cinnamon smoke, are not for everyone. And even among those who do enjoy them, they are unprepared to drink them all the time. There are very real limits to speed of growth and profitability in the craft movement.

This is why bars like Liberty, and Anvil in Houston, and to some extent Passenger or Bourbon in Washington, DC, are so significant, and why I admire them so much. These are places that serve all drinkers well, not just our specific clientele. The aforementioned Mr. Jack and Coke can happily hang out there with his buddy Mr. Vieux Carre. And Mr. Sazerac can find the opportunity to hit on Miss Greyhound here. (Mr. Grey Goose Martini, don’t waste your time hitting on Miss Knob Creek Old-Fashioned. It’s not going to end well for you.)

Bar like Liberty are where previously undiscovered reserves of cocktail lovers (as opposed to cocktail drinkers) will be uncovered. The easy atmosphere provides no barrier to entry for the uninitiated (quite the contrary), but the magnificent offerings are the sort that can open doors and minds. If you visit Seattle, take the time one evening to cab your way to Liberty and settle in for a great evening. If you live there, this is the kind of place you take your uninitiated friends when they are resisting being initiated….

Gin-sperimentation: Caorunn Scottish Gin

It’s pronounced “ka-roon“. Caorunn is a new gin from that hot bed of white liquor production… Scotland? Produced at the Balmenach whisky distillery in the Speyside region, Caorunn is a small-batch gin with a uniquely Scottish character, a gorgeous bottle, and fascinating flavors. Given the nature of this blog and my own significantly Scot heritage, I am compelled at this point to ask Mike Myers for his opinion on Scottish gin:

Caorunn does not distill its base grain neutral spirit at Balmenach, since pot-distilled barley is not exactly a great base for gin. The Scot element comes from the water (of course) and the unique blend of botanicals, including five unusual ones which they identify as “Celtic botanicals“. Heather, Dandelion, and Bog Myrtle all are sharply evocative of Highland landscapes. Coul Blush Apples are an early 19th century hybrid, recently rediscovered. The final element is Rowan Berry, which the maker describes as “the very soul of Caorunn.” Rowan berries are traditionally used in a variety of Celtic herbal medicines, and seen as a powerful source of mystical good fortune. Also, they are popular eating and commonly used to make or flavor brandies, though I’ve never seen such here in the US.
The traditional botanicals are juniper, coriander, angelica, cassia, and lemon and orange peels.

The infusion of the alcohol into gin is what is performed at Balmenach and is performed in the above pictured 1920′s made copper berry chamber. The botanicals are spread out on the wide trays you see, then the chamber is filled with the alcohol vapor over a long period to infuse them into the gin. This contraption was originally designed for extracting essential oils used in the manufacture of perfume. It is a pretty uncommon device for distilling gin.

The spirit resulting from these unique as the processes and ingredients is pretty special in its own right. Caorunn is bright and very clean in flavor, and has for me the rather odd effect of smelling lightly sweet while tasting fairly dry. The apple in particular seems evident in the nose and less so in the mouth. It is certainly no Tanqueray, but I think it is closer in character to a London Dry than it is to the hard to define “New American” gins.

I like this gin. A lot. But it is not a gin you can deploy indiscriminately in all cocktails. Its real strength is in combination with other herbal flavors. To that end it is a simply magnificent Martini gin. It is difficult to describe why this gin goes so very, very well with vermouth, but it does. I don’t go with the whole olive thing, so I cannot attest to how things will go if you like to dirty up the waters. On their extensive and beautifully illustrated recipe page, they recommend garnishing a martini with a slice of apple, which I have not tried, but will next time I get my hands on some really good ones.

I’m into my second bottle of Caorunn, largely because it’s about the only thing I’m making Martinis with any more. When I find a particular brand that seems perfect in a particular drink I make regularly, I tend to just dedicate it to that particular purpose. But of course, as with all gins I had to try Caorunn in the Greatest Cocktail Ever Mixed™. I actually tried this first, and it almost made me give up on Caorunn from the start. I think the product has a Kryptonite, and it is indeed green: The Lime. There is some chemical interaction happening between the two that triggers a very slight but notable acridity in the mix. If you peruse the brand’s recipe page, you won’t see lime listed at all in the excellent Search by Ingredient feature.

So, no Pegus, no Rickeys, no lime with your Caorunn. It seems to go quite nicely with other citruses, however, and some whose taste I trust say it works particularly well with grapefruit. Rather than get frustrated with this weirdness, I just chalk it up to the marvelous opportunity for experimentation cocktails offer.

Caorunn is not yet available all over the US, so I am happy indeed that Ohio is among the first states where it is distributed. I’m guessing that it will be appearing in lots more markets before too long, so if it isn’t in your local store right now, keep looking. In the meantime, it is available from several online retailers such as DrinkupNY.

Femme Fatale Finishing School

Your Turn, Ladies

Let’s face it, speaking from experience, I can say it’s good to be a Man.
One of the great things about being a guy is in the field of indulging yourself in Badassery. Our popular culture is awash in badass guys, and our country is equally awash in businesses who want to let regular guys get in on the fun.
Whether it is flying a Russian MiG fighter, attending baseball fantasy camps, manning the rigging in a Tall Ship, or these friggin’ idiots, the world is filled with opportunities for men to indulge their self-image.
Even real life superstars give it a shot, as with the program where the Navy SEALs drag off our top Olympic swimmers and give them a look at what REAL training in the water is like. (Actually, they don’t. The Olympians can’t take what the SEALs dish out to real trainees.)

But when women want to lay out money for recreational escape, what is mostly on offer? Culinary camp? The spa? Pottery weekends?

In case you haven’t noticed, popular culture is increasingly embracing the concept of the female badass.

Miss Romanoff doesn’t do cupcake class.

Enter Femme Fatale Finishing School in Central Ohio. Femme Fatale is your one-stop shop for a taste of all the best aspects of being an International Woman of Mystery. What’s great about being Jane Bond? Shooting guns for a start. They have that covered. Hand to hand combat. Check. Skilled gambling, car chases, and the art of seduction? Check, check, and check. And of course, neither self-image nor public persona is complete without knowing to the core how to drink a cocktail better than everyone around you.

Femme Fatale Finishing School is owned Peg McCort, a mother, businesswoman, and fitness enthusiast, and Jason Holt, a personal trainer and Krav Maga instructor. Together, they had an idea for a series of experiences for women looking for ways to be more adventurous, exciting, and assertive without sacrificing any femininity. Over the year they spent developing the concept, it grew into the metaphor they now use. The name really says it all.

FFFS doesn’t do “classes”, they offer “Missions”. The names of these Missions, such as Loaded Guns, tell as much about the attitude as they do the subject matter.

Combat Ready, for instance, embodies in its name the difference from more prosaic offerings such as How Not to be a Victim, or simply Self-Defense. The kind of training Combat Ready introduces participants to has a more assertive mind-set than, “just kick him in the knee and run away classes,” as Peg describes them. Combat Ready is more about the concept of taking the gun or knife away as a means of ending the conversation.

Not that a session of Combat Ready is going to give a woman the ability to safely do that. The point is to show participants that it is possible, that learning to actually do it can be fun, and give them the contacts to pursue these skills in the future. Most of FFFS’s missions are like this. The Missions are about having fun and expanding the horizons of what you can do. The advantage over things like Fantasy Baseball Camp is that the activities Femme Fatale introduces are one that real people can actually participate in and use when the adventure is done.

Their two biggest mission specialties so far are Loaded Guns and Seduce.

Loaded Guns 1 and 2 are firearms experiences. Loaded Guns 1 is an introduction to guns, primarily aimed at women who either have never touched a gun or otherwise feel uncomfortable around them. It starts with range and safety instruction at Black Wing Shooting Center (they are negotiating adding other venues in the area), then an extended period out in the range, shooting with handguns. They start with .22s and eventually work all participants up to 9mms and .45s. They finish up with more discussion and a light party.
Loaded Guns 1
Personally, I’m a big believer that adults, and even most older kids, should at least be familiar with firearms, know their real safety issues, and simply have some experience with what happens when a gun goes off nearby. Peg talks eloquently about the therapeutic and empowering value shooting a firearm for the first time can have for women. For some women, just doing it once will be enough to scratch the itch, others may find it to be a great pastime and go on to try recreational shooting, or even take a concealed carry class. (I intend to take a concealed carry class myself for the legal, safety, and skills training. I doubt I’ll actually carry.)
For many, it is simply a fear to eradicate forever. Jason told me, “we have lots of women come in who are scared to death when they walk out on the range and we put a gun in their hands for the first time. I had one lady who was literally in tears at being expected to fire a little .22. but by the end of the session, we practically had to pry the .45 out of her hand. She wouldn’t even swap back to the .22.”

This brings up something important about what they are doing with FFFS. When men do an adventure experience, we have ways of psyching each other up to get on that animal, or jump off that thing… ways that are neither pleasant nor particularly effective with normal women. These folks work very hard and very carefully to recognize the different motivational techniques you need to not only succeed and but make it fun for female clients to take that leap. Whatever the leap may be.

Loaded Guns 2 is more pure adventure for women who have already experienced the introduction. It gives them the chance to experience firing serious weapons such as assault rifles, carbines and a machine gun or two, I believe.

At the other end of the spectrum, but just as Bondian a skill if you think about it, is FFFS’s other most popular series of missions, Seduce. Seduce is about learning to control and enhance your sensuality through movement and dance. They start out with just how to walk and move on to a variety of dance ideas. Yes, they include an introduction to dancing with a pole, but Peg goes to pains to explain that they are not teaching stripping, or the kind of dancing strippers do. It’s about asserting your femininity. To me, it’s about a perfectly acceptable way to keep one’s rightful share of power in a relationship. And it certainly fits with the spy movie-esque theme of the business. If 007 didn’t know how to Seduce a variety of women, he’d have been in an unmarked grave a long time ago!

While most Femme Fatal Finishing School Missions are just a couple of hours, they are beginning to do some longer, more involved events as well. A great example is the upcoming Ride the Edge special mission. Held at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, one of those tracks where the Indy cars get to turn right every so often, this full day mission will involve training the women on spin-outs, evasive driving, pursuit driving, and a high-speed run. Oh, and there also will be the opportunity to drive around the track at speed, shooting pistols out the window of the moving cars at targets by the side of the track….

Will someone tell me why the hell this company only allows female customers?

At least for right now, the mixology missions are mostly piggy-backed on other missions, after the activity is over for obvious reasons. They make a pleasant and enjoyable wind-down from the excitement and a great way to enjoy the more relaxed elements of being an international mystery woman.

All missions have different pricing, but a few examples are: Loaded Guns 1 at $100 and Loaded Guns 2 at $150; Seduce 1 at $75; and Ride the Edge is obviously pricier at $650. While larger groups can reserve an entire mission to themselves, most missions are made up of individual women and groups of a couple of friends each. The company’s website is here, and this is their Facebook page. The fabulous broad that is the PeguWife will be trying a mission or two, but I’d love to hear from any of you out there who give being a badass a whirl!

Bar Review: Sable in Chicago

Over the Martin Luther King Holiday, I took my family to Chicago for the long weekend.

Wait… What?
You voluntarily went to Chicago… in January

Because I have a nine year-old daughter, who absolutely had to have one of these:

She had saved up her money (a lot of money), so we took her to Chicago to the American Girl Doll store to buy the doll, and do the Experience, including brunch in the store’s restaurant.

We’d have done dinner instead, but I hear the cocktail program there is terrible….

This, however, left me with a powerful thirst each evening. Fortune smiled upon me in this in the shape of Sable Kitchen & Bar. I’ve written before of my fondness for the Kimpton chain of boutiquey hotels. We chose one of their Chicago offerings, the Palomar, because it has a pool, only to find from my “legion” of cocktail geek twitter correspondents that adjoining its lobby was one of the most highly recommended bars in the city!

I was surprised to such a nice hotel bar, Bambara, in the Hotel Marlowe in Boston. I was amazed to find not just an above and beyond hotel bar, but an absolute top-shelf craft bar in the Palomar. Really. It rocks.

Sable is a restaurant as well. And a delicious one. Chef Heather Terhune (@HeatherTerhune) runs a smooth and elegant operation. The menu is an eclectic mix of range of dishes from sides such as duck fat french fries and all sorts of game entrees, to things like sweet corn creme brulee and bacon jam with toasted baguette points. They offer fried chicken on waffles for both dinner and weekend breakfast. Most of the larger dishes are offered in half-portions to facilitate a Tapas-like sharing experience.

And it is all really very good, though I’ll admit that while the bacon jam was as tasty as I expected, it had more of a novelty appeal for me. Still, you know if you go, you’ll order it, because, well, bacon jam.

Terhune is a contestant in the current season of Top Chef. I don’t watch the show myself, but I was told by some fellow guests that she is being given the “villain’s cut” by the show’s editors… poor girl. But that probably means she’ll be around til the end. Regardless, I don’t care. I’d eat at Sable often if I lived anywhere near.

But the bar….

The room is on a corner of the hotel, with solid glass walls on two sides of the very large space. The decor is modern, all dark leather and wood with metal accents. The bar itself is huge, about 40 feet long, with a massive liquor wall behind, boasting an impressive selection of all manner of spirits, rather than the 73 identical bottles of Grey Goose you find behind too many bars.
The bar has a design element that I’ve not really seen before and which works very well. Most of the bar is dark wood, and fronted by large, comfortable bar stools. But two segments of the bar, about 6-7 feet long each, are glowing blocks of white marble. There is no seating here and these spaces are for patron standing, rather than server access. For all its high-end nature, Sable is not an intimate environment. It is a hotel property after all, and well situated in downtown Chicago, so I’m imaging it is packed to the gills with power ties after regular workdays. It was plenty full every night we were there on a holiday weekend. (Yes, I had at least one drink there every night. Shut up.)
Crowds suck especially hard for a cocktail geek, as once the seats at the bar fill up, it is ordinarily impossible to interact with the bartenders without looming over or squeezing between other patrons. If they will put up with you trying. These blocks of standing room only at Sable’s bar go a long way to fixing this. Yes, they can fill up too, but people who are standing are more likely to make room happily, and the crowd in these segments naturally turns over much faster. The bottom line is, even on a busy night, you can still get to the bar staff.

And at Sable, getting to the bar staff is well worth the effort. Lead Dog Mike Ryan (@gastronautmike), who is currently sporting a lot more hair than in his picture on Sable’s website, is a star. A former chef, I’m guessing he just liked people too much to stay in the kitchen. Mike has a terrific resume, including Violet Hour; can carry on a cocktail geek conversation with the best of them; mixes drinks with care, craft, and style, while somehow also being swift; and has allegedly read this blog before. So what more can I say? Oh yeah, he also has what I consider the most important quality in any manager, bar or otherwise: He attracts good people.

Mike Ryan, now with 250% more hair.

I drank there every night, but Friday night Sable was the only place I drank. I spent a couple of hours bellied up to one of those glowing marble sections of the bar, trying to find the limits of former Pittsburgh bartending fixture, Fred Sarkis (@FredSarkis), and failing. This is how the Official Illustrator of the Cocktailosphere™ told me on Twitter to recognize Fred: “Reddish mustache, powerful build, probably wearing a vest. Moving swiftly & smoothly, making shakers beg for mercy.” Accurate but incomplete, as Fred has added a gigantic bartender’s beard since Pittsburgh.
I felt like being a pain in the ass, as usual, so I just kept describing elements I wanted in my drink and letting Fred decide what to make me. Everything he returned to me was not only essentially what I asked for, it was good too. He made me an Old-Fashioned with yellow chartreuse and cinnamon syrup that was particularly good.

I blush to say that I can’t remember the name of the bartender who served me Sunday before an early bedtime, but he too knew his drinks and his drink talk.

The cocktail menu is lovely, as you can see in the picture above, with a thick cover and page after page of about half original cocktails and a listing of spirits. The word “vodka” appears but twice. And while they put a certain cocktail on the menu, they have the puckish balls to refer to it by its proper name, the Kangaroo. The menu is also liberally sprinkled with a variety of excellent quotes of cocktail jokes and aphorisms. Many of these I had not read before, which is saying something. I was able to resist stealing one only because it is available online.

Sable is a wonderful cocktail bar, earning a spot in the overall top echelon of bars I’ve been to around the country. It bests a number I can think of with far wider reputations. It isn’t intimate, but the noise level is reasonable, and the crowd surprisingly manageable due to the innovative bar layout. There are no crazy high-end Ice Programs or Soda Programs, but I could perceive nary a corner cut either. Most importantly, should your fancy extend beyond the menu, the staff has the inventory and tools, and moreover the knowledge and inclination, to take you there. If you live in Chicago, you really need to explore Sable for yourself. And if you travel to the city, Sable alone is enough to put the Palomar on your short list of places to stay.

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