Welcome to the bar lull, the time when thirsty, hard-working citizens’ insidious New Year’s resolutions interfere with my ability to ply them with high-quality wares.
Is your humble bar correspondent succumbing to such self-deception? No, no false resolutions for me. Instead, I am using the New Year to explore some new-to-me places—perhaps making a questionable decision or two along the way.
My first stop of the evening was an early dinner at Rooster and the Pig (356 S. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs). I would be lying if I said that I was going there for cocktails and not for the food, and this brings up an important issue: There are great restaurants all over the country without a full liquor license. I imagine that for every over-ambitious restaurant popping up with a confused menu and an unnecessarily overwrought craft-cocktail program, there are 10 places without a full liquor license making focused and passionate cuisine—and it is always interesting to see what bartenders can do with wine, sake, lillet, etc., when forced to compromise.
Bartender Trish mixed me a Green Lantern—a tasty mix of cilantro, cucumber, lime and what chef/owner Tai referred to as “gin-ish,” a 20-proof non-distilled gin. Boozy? Well, no, but it was oh-so refreshing. It went down smooth, like an agua fresca or a green smoothie, hold the kale. The freshness complemented the flavors of plate after plate of Vietnamese-American cuisine and accompanying sriracha. This seems like it could also be a great non-alcoholic drink—perhaps for you “resolution” people. If you are looking for boozy, they clued me in about some exciting plans for the near future, so stay tuned.
Belly full, I went to meet some friends at the Dråughtsman (1501 N. Palm Canyon Drive). I was anxiously waiting for this place to open—like everyone else, it seems. Unlike everyone else, it seems, I waited to check it out. (I hate waiting for bar seats, as you might know.) Despite my gluttony at Rooster and the Pig, Paul and Robbie behind the bar convinced me to try some “off the menu” pretzel bites with ale-cheese sauce—who could say no to that? Thinking I required Irish whiskey, because I often require Irish whiskey, I ordered the Delorean. This is a mixture of Powers whiskey, lemon, house Irish cream, Guinness syrup and sarsaparilla bitters. It came out with spices grated on top—looking quite like a dessert cocktail or eggnog. The looks were deceiving, however, because the flavor was bright, with citrus as the main note, whiskey coming through, and the cream just adding a little mouth-feel. It drinks like a whiskey sour with an Irish-American twist.
Knowing this was a Chad Austin menu (best known as the drink engineer of Bootlegger Tiki), I went for a rum drink next. The Tubular Dude is Banks 7 rum, Cynar 70, pineapple gomme syrup and tiki bitters served over a large ice cube. It’s part tiki old-fashioned, part stripped-down Jungle Bird—a 1970’s tiki classic from the Aviary Bar in Kuala Lumpur that features Campari and pineapple, also one of my favorites. If you are looking for a sweet and sour tiki drink, look elsewhere; this one is for an amaro fan, a Negroni lover. Don’t fret if you don’t like bitter; it looks like they have options on the menu for all kinds of palates, and a really nice back bar to boot!
I finished the evening at a nearby dive bar, not to be named by (possibly tongue-in-cheek) request. Some kind soul with a Prince Valiant haircut bought the bar a round, in between muttering to himself and watching TV. Two 21-year-olds celebrated their new legal tippling with Flaming Dr. Peppers and Incredible Hulks (Hennessy and Hpnotiq … yeah, I started my bartending career in a nightclub) amongst other drinks with which I am not so familiar.
Here’s a poorly kept secret: Craft bartenders don’t always drink craft. When I see a round of sugary, hangover-inducing booze-bombs appear and think about the year gone by, I often say: “To hell with it; give me one of those!” I ask the bartender what’s in it, he says: “Alcohol!” Fair enough!
I put a ’90s hip-hop song on the jukebox. One of the guys says, “You like this music? You must be my mom’s age!”
Cut to the next day. My head was in a proverbial vice, and I walked the rainy streets of Palm Springs in search of a remedy. I pulled up a table for one at Farm (6 La Plaza), where the rain, chansons d’amour and rustic ambience transported me away from downtown Palm Springs and last night’s follies. I ordered a Bloody Mary—advertised on the menu as the best in town, with jalapeño-infused vodka, house-made hot sauce and bacon.
An aside about the Bloody Mary: Nearly every time I order one, I wish I’d ordered something else. At best, I like the first one and order a second, and I generally regret the second one. Why? Well, most of them are horrid. The mix has sat too long, congealing the horseradish and tomato into an astringent gel, with the vodka drawing those offensive flavors out and delivering them straight to the palate. The tabasco sauce turns the whole thing to a vinegary mess, garnished with a pale stick of what was at one point celery, limply hanging over the side of the glass. I made my living for a period hawking Bloody Marys to hungover tourists, so I am a tough critic. Still, it is one of the most popular cocktails around, so I would be remiss to ignore it.
After all that, I must say … this was a darned tasty Bloody Mary! The jalapeño was subtle; the tomato juice was thin, not pasty. The horseradish, if there (the server wasn’t sure, but I thought I tasted a tiny bit), wasn’t overbearing, and the hot sauce wasn’t just vinegar. The drink tasted super fresh and light, rare for the species. Only complaint: Bacon should stay dry and never go into the drink. Nobody wants soggy bacon.
So … is it the best in town? Let’s go find out!
Just kidding … I know better than to push my luck. Instead, I am going to make myself my a Oaxacan Brunch, a great way to get rid of that leftover sage (and hangover) from the holidays.
• 2 ounces of mezcal
• 1 ounce of lime juice
• 1 ounce of simple syrup (1:1 sugar and water)
• 1 egg white
• Fresh sage
Muddle several leaves of sage into the simple syrup in the small tin of a metal shaker (the back of a spoon works nicely), and add the rest of the ingredients. Shake without ice, and then with ice. Pour on the rocks, and garnish with a sage leaf. Enjoy with an omelet … and Happy (Belated) New Year!