Archive for the ‘bar’Category

Swank cocktails on two sides of the Ohio

Bartender mixes Remember the Maine at Mr. Lee's Lounge in Louisville

When we walked up to the plain, brick-fronted building on a residential stretch of Goss Avenue in Louisville’s Germantown, we were dubious that we’d come to the right spot. But sure enough, a tiny brass plaque announced the structure as “Mr. Lee’s.”

exterior of Mr. Lee's in LouisvilleWe opened the door and stepped through the portal of a time machine. As our vision slowly returned in the all-enveloping darkness, we found ourselves in a film-noir world. We half expected to see Nick and Nora of The Thin Man trading snappy bon mots between sips in the corner booth. The brightest spot in the place was the center of the horseshoe-shaped bar. The brass and glass and steel gleamed. The bartender’s white shirt seemed to glow. Welcome to Mr. Lee’s Lounge (935 Goss Ave., Louisville, 502-450-5368, mrleeslounge.com). The Coen brothers couldn’t have staged it better.

Every bar and every lounge is peddling a fantasy narrative—whether it’s the good-ol’-boy, shot-and-a-beer watering hole or a snazzy lounge with velvet drapes and leather banquettes. But Mr. Lee’s is the only place we know in Louisville that aims for and hits the mark of “sophisticated with just a whiff of danger.” It has a speakeasy vibe that feels like just the place where a guy might loosen his tie, unbutton his collar, roll up his sleeves and contemplate the state of the universe. That would be over a house-smoked Old Fashioned made with Buffalo Trace bourbon, smoked black tea, and bitters. It’s not all retro, though—many drinks use spirits from Copper & Kings. (See previous post.)

Be sure to visit after dark. Otherwise, it hurts your eyes to come out into the sunlight.

The Butcher at The Butcher and Brooklyn in New Albany, Indiana

A cocktail to chew on


Across the Ohio, Brooklyn and the Butcher (148 East Market St., New Albany, IN, 812-590-2646, brooklynandthebutcher.com) emphasizes small plates, big steaks, and a cocktail program that stays in touch with the urban trends. A relative newcomer (it opened in early 2016), the restaurant has become New Albany’s go-to spot for steak and tony spirits. The dining room is bright and breezy, and so is the upstairs lounge by the big windows on Market Street.

The photo here shows that upstairs lounge, where we stopped for drinks because the steakhouse restaurant side had not yet opened for dinner. The basement also contains a hideaway known as the Lantern Bar. It shares some of the speakeasy vibe of Mr. Lee’s, but plays on its cellar location with exposed brick walls, candles on the tables, and jazz on the weekends. Brooklyn and the Butcher maintains a good wine and beer list to complement its spirits, but cocktails are the focus of the beverage program.

Given the name of the place, we had to order a drink called The Butcher. (That’s it above the subhead.) Fat-washed cocktails are all the rage—or have been since the first bartender figured out how to infuse bacon into bourbon. The Butcher is a pretty sophisticated take on the science-experiment approach to cocktails. It combines fat-washed Old Forester bourbon, Malmsey Madeira, Demerara sugar, and Angostura bitters. The bar staff prepares the bourbon by infusing it with beef marrow fat for several days before chilling to separate booze and ooze. It’s a round, smooth drink with a full but not greasy mouth-feel and a sweetness quotient somewhere just north of a Manhattan. Or maybe that should be southeast, where Brooklyn is just over the bridge.

10

11 2017

Bon appétit, y’all! (At the English Grill)

Brown Hotel lobby bar

Louisville certainly has some nice new hotels, but for old-city ambience and sheer Southern comfort it’s hard to beat the Brown Hotel (335 West Broadway, Louisville, 502-583-1234, brownhotel.com). A bastion of hospitality since 1923, it’s a pillar of the New Old South. Its English Renaissance-inspired architecture has a polite reserve that reflects Louisville’s role as the epicenter of bourbon and thoroughbred racing.

If we were true barflies, it would be hard to pry us out of the Brown’s elegant sepia-toned lobby bar. The room opens at 3 p.m. and by late afternoon it begins to fill with Louisville’s business elite. As befits one of the city’s finest and most storied bars, it even has a bourbon steward. On our last stay, it was Troy Ritchie, and he definitely knew his way around the deep bourbon list.

We usually drink spirits neat or on the rocks, but cocktail history runs deep at the Brown and we couldn’t resist. The bartenders make the Brown Manhattan with two parts bourbon to one part Dolin Rouge Vermouth de Chambéry, which is more aromatic and less sugary than most vermouths. They use both orange and Angostura bitters (and a house-cured cherry) to produce a drink with precison and finesse. FYI, the bar also makes a mean Old Fashioned, Louisville’s official drink said to be invented in 1881 at the esteemed Pendennis Club.

English Grill captures art of dining


Dustin Willett with duck dish at English Grill in Brown HotelWe may not have the connections to rub elbows at the Pendennis Club, but the refined elegance of the Brown Hotel’s English Grill suited us just fine for dinner. The dark oak paneling, the equestrian paintings, and the leaded glass windows are all original to the hotel’s opening in 1923. But the kitchen is as contemporary as the room is traditional.

Chef de cuisine Dustin Willett is a graduate of Culinard in Birmingham, Alabama, with stints in New Orleans and in the Washington, D.C. branch of the Four Seasons on his resume. He describes his cooking as modern Southern cuisine with international flavors. “I like to look at things in a modern way,” he says. That’s Willett above on the left, presenting a delicious plate of sliced roasted duck breast accompanied by duck confit in an endive leaf garnished with watermelon radish.

Hot Brown in Brown Hotel's English GrillOf course, you can find a superb all-American steak on the menu. The prime ribeye Delmonico is served with asparagus, roasted garlic aioli, and killer fries sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. The most homegrown dish of all—it never leaves the menu—is the Hot Brown, invented here in 1926. To quote the menu, it consists of “roasted turkey breast and toast points with Mornay sauce pecorino Romano cheese, baked golden brown, finished with bacon and tomatoes.” It’s shown here. To read the background story and get the recipe, see this post.

Sweet conclusion


Making Bananas Foster at Brown Hotel's English GrillAs befits a special-occasion dining venue, the English Grill even does dessert with panache. The staff prepares the venerable Bananas Foster tableside. But this isn’t the original Bananas Foster created at Brennan’s in New Orleans in 1951. No-siree-bob. It would be heresy in Louisville to use any brown spirit other than bourbon. The steps are pretty much the same for so-called Bananas Foster Kentucky Style. Caramelize some brown sugar and cinnamon in a generous pool of butter, add banana liqueur, some Four Roses bourbon, and squeezes of lemon and orange. Cook until the alcohol burns off. Add freshly peeled bananas and cook until warm. Then pour on more Four Roses and tilt the pan until the alcohol catches fire with a snazzy blue flame. Once the flame dies, serve with vanilla ice cream.

Doyle shows Irish hospitality, sip by sip in London

The Bloomsbury Club Bar in a Doyle hotel in London
Nothing says “welcome” like a good hotel bar. I certainly found that to be the case at the three Doyle hotels (www.doylecollection.com) in London. (That’s the Bloomsbury Club Bar above.) The family-owned collection launched in Dublin in 1964 and made its first foray into the British capital twenty years later.

The Marylebone


The Marylebone (47 Welbeck Street, +44 20 7486 6600) was the first Doyle property in London, but a recent renovation has given it the most contemporary design of the three hotels. The clean lines and bright, warm colors strike a perfect balance between modern style and good old-fashioned comfort. The Marylebone’s 108 Bar has an entrance right off the sidewalk. It’s just a short walk from Marylebone High Street, the main shopping drag of this stylish urban village. With a long, curving bar, lots of comfortable seating, big windows, 108 Bar feels like a rather fancy version of a proper Irish local.

Mixologist Engji Shana at the 108 Bar in The Marylebone, a Doyle hotel in London

This being London, however, the mixologists are immersed in the city’s cocktail culture. Engji Shana (above) mixed me The Marylebone, the hotel’s signature champagne cocktail. It’s a very modern twist in the Chambord Kir Royale.

THE MARYLEBONE


20ml vodka infused with elderflower
90ml champagne
10ml Chambord
raspberries
flower

Pour vodka into champagne flute. Float champagne on top by drizzling down the twists of a bar spoon. Add Chambord. Garnish with raspberries and a flower.

The Bloomsbury


By contrast, the lower level Bloomsbury Club Bar at the Bloomsbury Hotel (16-22 Great Russell Street, +44 20 7347 1000) is dark and seductive. It’s a far cry from the building’s early beginnings as the YWCA Central Club, with 86 bedrooms for young ladies, a concert hall, library, two restaurants, and a gymnasium.

The Central Club was formally opened in 1932 by the Duchess of York, the late Queen Elizabeth (the current queen’s mother). Described as the Club’s Patron, she returned to celebrate the Golden Jubilee in 1982. The naming of the bar recalls the building’s early years. Mixologist Brian Calleja (below) has a soft spot for the old fashioned Gin and Milk Punch, which he told me was the favorite of the Queen Mother. It is a traditional restorative dating back to the 18th century. The double straining is important because it removes the curds from the milk. Some mixologists also add lemon juice.

Mixologist Brian Calleja of the Bloomsbury Club Bar at the Bloomsbury, a Doyle property in London

GIN AND MILK PUNCH


50ml Haymans Old Tom Gin
10 ml sugar syrup
50 ml full fat milk

Put ice in a cocktail shaker. Add ingredients and shake well. Double strain. Pour into a saucer cocktail glass. Garnish with grated nutmeg.

The Kensington


Classic Victorian townhouse architecture gives The Kensington hotel (109-113 Queen’s Gate, +44 20 7589 6300) a traditional, clubby feel. It’s just right after a day sampling the royal trappings of the neighborhood—from Kensington Gardens and Kensington Palace (home of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge) to the Victoria & Albert Museum and Royal Albert Hall.

The K Bar nestles between the drawing rooms where breakfast and afternoon tea are served and the Town House restaurant. The space sets itself apart with wood-paneled walls, low lighting, and a smoky blue glass ceiling. It’s a place to settle in a for a drink and good conversation. Like The Marylebone, The Kensington has its own signature champagne cocktail. Mixologist Mantas Ignatavicius (below) served it to me.

Mixologist Mantas Ignatavicius of the K Bra in The Kensington, a Doyle hotel in London

THE KENSINGTON CHAMPAGNE COCKTAIL

sugar cube
rhubarb bitters
10 ml Calvados
Perrier Jouët Grand Brut

Place napkin over a champagne flute. Set sugar cube on napkin and drip bitters onto it until saturated. Drop cube onto bottom of glass and add Calvados. Top off with Perrier Jouët Grand Brut.

Jawbox Gin embodies the spirit of Belfast

Gerry White and his Jawbox Gin
Gerry White has spent his career in the bar trade and has been manager of the John Hewitt (thejohnhewitt.com) for the last 12 years. He has pulled many a pint of Guinness and poured countless shots of Black Bush. “But the only spirit I’ve ever enjoyed,” he says, “is gin.”

He is, in fact, passionate about gin—and about his native city of Belfast. For several years he had been mulling over a project to create his own gin. He even had the taste profile he was seeking in his head. “Two and a half years ago, I told myself I’ll kick myself if I didn’t try,” he recalls, taking a seat at our table at the John Hewitt to relate the story.

“Belfast is a big industrial city. I wanted a gin with a big blast of juniper,” he says, “followed by the heat of pepper and then a clean lemon flavor.” He joined forces with Echlinville Distillery (echlinville.com) in Newtownards. Launched in 2013, Echlinville was the first new licensed distillery in Northern Ireland in more than 125 years. Moreover, the founders shared White’s passion for quality products that would reflect their place of origin.

Spirit, show thyself!

Jawbox Gin bottleOn the 15th try, the distillers finally realized the flavors White had been carrying in his head. Jawbox Gin was born. It’s distilled from malted barley grown on land owned by the distillers and other family members. Among the botanicals White added was Belfast heather, which produces an earthy, herbaceous note. White chose the stubby, rounded bottle because it reminds him of Victorian medicine bottles. The label is likewise styled to emulate a heritage marque.

He had a little fun with the name. “A communal wash area with a big sink used to be called a jawbox,” he explains. “People would stand around it and tell stories while they washed up. That’s also what people do in pubs. They meet and tell stories.”

Mixing it up

03-jawbox-and-ginger-ale Jawbox launched in February 2016 and has been well received in a fairly crowded field. It’s smooth enough to enjoy as a sipping gin. The heat and spiciness also pair well with ginger ale, a product that White says was invented in Belfast. He combines a shot of Jawbox with Fever Tree ginger ale to taste and adds a squeeze of lime. The sparks of ginger hit the palate first, followed by the complex herbal notes of the gin. The flavor finishes with a pucker of lime.

Other bartenders have been more creative. Muriel’s (see previous post) adds a small piece of molasses honeycomb candy to a glass of gin and ginger ale. Hargadons (www.hargadons.com) in Sligo goes them one better by adding a small piece of natural bee’s honeycomb. “It’s stunning,” says White.

Chefs are also putting the product to good use. Michael Deane (www.michaeldeane.co.uk) has featured citrus and gin cured trout on his various menus. Niall McKenna of James Street South (jamesstreetsouth.co.uk) has used it to cure salmon.

White hopes to find U.S. and E.U. distributors for Jawbox, but for now you will have to pick it up in Northern Ireland. It’s for sale in Belfast at all three Marks & Spencer locations (marksandspencer.com) and most good liquor shops.

14

12 2016

Pub crawl reveals Cathedral Quarter riches

The Guinness Creation mural in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
After falling on hard times, Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter has been enjoying boom years of late. The district is named for St. Anne’s, a grand structure of the Church of Ireland though not technically a cathedral since it is not a bishop’s seat. The church anchors the 18th century warehouse district north of the city center. The “cathedral” was erected 1899-1903 as an expression of Belfast’s industrial wealth and power at the cusp of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Historic Guinness sign in Belfast's Cathedral QuarterThese days the Cathedral Quarter is an area more for fun than the backbreaking labor of teamsters and longshoremen. Its atmospheric warren of narrow streets, alleys, cul-de-sacs, and byways is studded with small shops and pubs. Ancient city walls are splashed with colorful murals (like the Dali-esque Guinness Creation above) and old signage (like the Guinness placard at right) has been preserved as part of Northern Ireland’s cultural heritage. As a result, the Cathedral Quarter has emerged as one of the liveliest parts of Belfast for nightlife. Here are some of the congenial gems where it’s easy to while away an evening with a pint or two.

The Dirty Onion

Peat fire at Dirty Onion in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
Belfast’s oldest timber-framed building was constructed around 1750 as a warehouse. It held bonded spirits from 1921 to 1991. Literally tens of thousands of Jameson whiskey cases passed through “Stack N.” A fair bit is still consumed at The Dirty Onion, which now occupies the old warehouse space. The bar also hosts live traditional music every night and two afternoons a week. Its upstairs sister, Yardbird, serves rotisserie chicken. But on a cold damp night, nothing beats pulling up a chair and a pint to a downstairs fireplace (above). The bar burns traditional peat turf. Its smoke is as sweet as a sip of Scotch whisky.
The Dirty Onion, 3 Hill Street, 28 9024 3712, www.thedirtyonion.com

The Duke of York

Duke of York in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
There’s been a pub at the site of the Duke of York since the mid-18th century, and the collection of antique mirrors, hotel furniture, and woodwork inside attests that the current pub has outlasted many another business in the neighborhood. It’s located on Commercial Court, which is protected by the Commissioners of Public Works under the National Monuments Act. The Duke has an impressive collection of more than 100 Irish whiskeys, many of which ceased production decades ago. For all the high spirits, it’s a bar for the well-behaved. An inscription on the half rail of the exterior sets the tone. It reads, “Come in soberly, drink moderately, depart quietly and come again.”
The Duke of York, 7-11 Commercial Court, 28 9024 1062, dukeofyorkbelfast.com

Muriel’s Cafe Bar

Muriel's Cafe and Bar in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
Located in a former millinery, Muriel’s exudes a certain feminine charm with its ironic displays of bygone women’s fashions and its ever so twee downstairs stage set. (Upstairs is more in line with the masculine, wood-paneled bars of the rest of the neighborhood.) Known as much for its coffee, pastries, afternoon tea, and Sunday brunch as for its alcoholic libations, Muriel’s injects a spritz of whimsy into the historic streets of the Cathedral Quarter.
Muriel’s Cafe Bar, 12-14 Church Lane, 28 9033 2445

Harp Bar

Muriel's Harp Bar in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
The back of the Harp shares the Commercial Court alley with the Duke of York. The pub is nearly as decorous and glamorous, with tufted red leather banquettes in one room, red velvet chairs, and Victorian antiques all about. Glass display cases behind the bar hold a stunning collection of Irish whiskeys, although the rare tipples are not for sale. The building used to be the headquarters and bonded warehouse of The Old Bushmills Distillery Company. Black Bush is the whiskey of choice.
Harp Bar, 35 Hill Street, 28 9032 9923, www.harpbarbelfast.com

John Hewitt

The John Hewitt in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
The John Hewitt has the demeanor of a pub that’s seen at least a century of Belfast imbibers. But the handsome spot only opened in December 1999. It’s a cash generator for the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre. It was named for the late poet, socialist, and community activist who founded the Centre in 1983. With such a sterling left wing pedigree, the bar is hugely popular with poets, musicians, journalists, and artists. The John Hewitt also hosts events for Belfast arts festivals and programs live music most nights. (Wednesday nights are usually devoted to charity fundraisers.)
The John Hewitt, 51 Donegall Street, 28 9023 3768, thejohnhewitt.com

Bert’s Jazz Bar

Bert's Jazz Bar at the Merchant Hotel in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
The Merchant Hotel spearheaded the Cathedral Quarter revival when it opened a decade ago. Its fine, polished bar off the lobby remains the model of an Edwardian whiskey bar. But much of the action has shifted in recent years to Bert’s, located downstairs with a separate street entrance. It’s Belfast’s only dedicated jazz bar, programming live music every night from 9 p.m. The bar specializes in Jazz Age cocktails and the kitchen features affordable French bistro fare.
16 Skipper Street, 28 9026 2713, themerchanthotel.com

Sunflower Public House

Exterior of The Sunflower in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
The security cage at the entrance to this disarmingly charming pub on the corner of Kent and Union streets is a remnant of the 1980s, when the Troubles kept everyone wary. Now it’s just a bit of social history that predates half the student and backpacker clientele who flock in for traditional music sessions—or for Gypsy Swing or Hot Jazz on Thursdays. On Tuesday nights, a somewhat more seasoned crowd of ukelele players gathers for a jam. Pipers come on Wednesdays.
Sunflower Public House, 65 Union Street, 028 9023 2474, www.sunflowerbelfast.com
Ukelele jam at The Sunflower in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter

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12 2016