When it comes to drinking, there are two kinds of people in this town: the high-end spirit drinkers and the spirit and soda folk. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with drinking whatever it is that you like. I (and most other bartenders, too) couldn’t care less about whether you are ordering a vodka and soda, a mai tai, an old-fashioned, or a mojito. All are easy to make and if you’re pleased, then we’re happy.
That said, I’ve been pouring more old-fashioneds and sazeracs lately, and the consumption of bourbon in this town makes me smile—especially when I hear the words, “Rye, please.” Likewise, I’ve noticed a higher consumption of grappas, amari, and tequila. People aren’t calling for oro tequilas as much, which speaks to a trend towards better distilled products and better drinking in general. Pat yourselves on the back, Charlottesville. You deserve it.
When you look at the nation—or the globe—as a whole, there are definite trends happening. Latin spirits are on fire, Scotch Whisky is pacing faster than producers can keep up with, and grape-based spirits, like cognac or pisco, are on the rise again. Ditto entertaining at home with punch, rye whiskey, and the introduction of Bacanora, Mezcal, and Sotol (all Mexican-produced libations) to the States.
Bartenders are creative by nature. We use the bar as a stage, and we love to please. Those are three reasons, of the countless number of reasons, why we do what we do. Here’s a trend I’d like to see more of in each and every joint in this town: Challenge us. Make us work for it. Step outside the “[fill in the blank] and soda” and help us help you. Try a brandy crusta, a sidecar, or an alamagoozlum (see Spiritspeak 101). Hit us up for a Vesper Bomb, a Lion’s Tail, or a Gin Daisy. These are all amazing drinks and are so simple to pull out of our magic hats. Pair a beer with an amazing agave distillate or whiskey. Step outside of the comfort zone that we all get trapped in. I think that you’d be surprised at what you find you like. If you’re trying to maintain your figure, try a real margarita or sling back a Collins or a Fizz.
There are a plethora of places in town that serve up some amazing drinks and cocktails. Here’s a handful you should check out.
Maya: Yes, the peanut butter drink is amazing. And they have Pappy to boot!
The Whiskey Jar: I had my doubts when it first opened, but every time I walk in this place those doubts are squashed. I love the music, the whiskies, and the gravy and fries.
Rapture: I dig it because it’s unpretentious. I can come in and get my Irish Whiskey and a great beer.
Citizen Burger Bar: Don Julio 1942. One of many great bottles behind the bar.
Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar (shameless self-plug): Look at the back bar. That’s what the inside of my head looks like. If you need to step outside of your box and venture into something brown, bitter, and stirred, then we’ve got you covered.
Alamagoozlum (n.): A cocktail containing Bols Genever, Chartreuse Yellow liqueur, Appleton Estate 12-year rum, Grand Marnier liqueur, Combier, gomme syrup, Angostura aromatic bitters, egg white, and chilled water from the dilution of the ice.—Nick Crutchfield