So my wife calls me and asks if I want to get a drink after work, and we decide to head over to Temple to check it out. We walk down the dimly lit black stairs to the bar, sit down, and thus begins a very bizarre experience.
The comfortable copper bar is just adequately appointed, particularly for one claiming to be cocktailian. I asked about the aforementioned bitters, and the bartender had to ask someone else to find out that they had Angostura, Peychaud's, and Stirrings blood orange. There were lots of vodkas, bourbons, and scotches on hand, of course, and single bottles of Cynar, Luxardo Maraschino, Fernet Branca, and a few other interesting things boded well. (Of course, in this town, Italian bottles behind the bar usually means you're prepared for the older guys, not that you're mixing interesting cocktails, but I digress.)
The cocktail menu is heavy on cute vodka and rum drinks, often with flavored versions or "Bacardi Silver" features, but a few old school stand-bys (Sidecar, Sazerac) and some inventions were also on the list. My wife decided to try a Caipirinha with the LeBlon cachaca, which turned out just ok. The LeBlon has a very round profile -- we asked for neat tastes and both noticed a ripe-banana flavor and feel -- that throws off the balance of the drink if you are heavy with the simple syrup or light on the lime. It was cold, due to the presence of ice in the drink itself. (More on temperature shortly.)
When I noticed that their Sazerac used Maker's Mark, I asked about available ryes. In response, I got sheer confusion. Of the four bartenders available, not a single one of them seemed to know the answer -- and two of the bartenders didn't know what rye was. It was a tremendously awkward moment, like an employee at Tiffany asking you what you meant by "platinum"; I even made a joke about being from "corporate" to check on their training in the hopes of lightening the mood and establishing something remotely like rapport. (Didn't work.)
Since Sazeracs were listed on their cocktail menu, and since I have a pretty well-developed relationship to the drink (click
), I thought, what the hell. I didn't want something too sweet, however, so I asked the bartender to substitute the Wild Turkey 101 for the Maker's Mark. He went down to the end of the bar to make the drink, so when it arrived, I asked him what he had done. Muddled the Peychaud's in sugar, rinsed the glass, 2 oz of bourbon... all steps reported dutifully. He placed it in front of me.
I then had the most disappointing cocktail I've had in years. The bourbon had way, way too much sugar in it, and it also had way, way too little Peychaud's in it. As a result, it was cloyingly sweet. The lemon twist had just been plopped into the glass; there was no lemon oil atop this beverage. He may well have rinsed the glass, but I picked up nothing. And -- shockingly -- the drink was at room temperature. It wasn't chilled at all.
I truly hope that this was a very strange aberration, a start-up fluke, but I fear it wasn't. We watched other drinks prepared before our eyes, and in the half hour we were there we both felt that there was a general lack of regard for the craft. The lack of awareness about the ingredients present (and not present) and poor balance suggests inadequate training; the warm drink suggests inadequate care.
I write this with real sadness. There remains, as far as I can tell, no real place in Providence where we can pull up a stool or chair and get, consistently, a properly made cocktail. (Well, besides my house.) I'll admit that my disappointment is heightened by high expectations -- but everything above is stone-cold accurate. Too bad that Sazerac wasn't.