Patrick McClure knows cocktails. He’s been serving them up since his college bartending days at UVA, and in 2001 he began working with his brother, Andy McClure, when Andy bought The Virginian on the Corner. In the last 15 years Patrick has bounced around between the east and west coasts, working in restaurants and bars and drinking in the re-emerging cocktail culture in major metropolitan cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Last year he returned to Charlottesville and teamed up with his brother once again to open Lost Saint, the speakeasy-style cocktail bar below Tavern & Grocery in the old West Main Restaurant spot. The spirits scene has been picking up steam in bigger cities all over the country, and it seems like now’s the time to get in on it in Charlottesville.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see how advanced Charlottesville’s cocktail culture is,” Patrick McClure says. “There are a few local heroes who have been doing cocktails for years now and gaining notoriety for it.”
McClure had a vision for Lost Saint: Go back to simpler times with classic Prohibition-era cocktails using fresh, seasonal ingredients and housemade items such as tinctures, bitters and shrubs—preserved and pickled (many of which are currently macerating in jars behind the bar). Descending the stairs into the bar area is like stepping back in time, with exposed brick walls, black window covers and only a handful of tables. It’s already a popular spot and can quickly fill up, even on weeknights, but McClure wants to remain true to the small, intimate speakeasy setting. You won’t be asked for a password upon entrance or arrested by a Bureau of Prohibition agent, but if the light at the top of the stairs is turned off when you arrive, you might consider having a bite at Tavern & Grocery before trying to make your way downstairs. If the crowd in Lost Saint exceeds 30 people at any given time (which he says happens almost nightly), McClure flips the switch behind the bar, killing the light and letting the hosts know not to let anyone downstairs until someone leaves.
“If it’s totally crowded, nobody is going to have a very good experience,” McClure says. “We want people to be able to ask questions and understand the art of what we do.”
Good thing, too, because unless you’re a seasoned mixologist with a background in 1920s-style beverages, chances are you’re going to have some questions. The menu features recognizable classics like a Manhattan or a gin fizz, but the lengthy list of everyday cocktails also includes the Last Word (gin, lime juice, chartreuse and maraschino liqueur) and the Brown Derby (bourbon, grapefruit juice and honey syrup).
“After doing the beer game for a couple years at Citizen I started focusing on cocktails,” McClure says. “The industry has been experiencing a rebirth, with all these great cocktail bars popping up. It’s a really interesting time as we’re relearning all these arts that were lost to Prohibition.”
Where the real creativity comes in, though, is in the original house cocktails. Lost Saint opened in February, and McClure went with a “Christmas blockbuster movie season” theme. The specialty menu will rotate in content, theme and overall format every season, and the theater-inspired “feature presentations” will only be around for a couple more weeks. McClure says one of the most popular thus far has been the Seven Years a Baker, a Baker’s bourbon concoction with housemade lemon blueberry shrub, lemon juice, pink peppercorn tincture and tiki bitters, served in a rocks glass with a lemon peel attached by a mini clothespin.
This season’s charity cocktail—$1 is donated to UVA’s Pediatric Oncology department for each drink sold—is the Green, Airplane, Happiness, which features Tanqueray No. TEN, maraschino liqueur, lemon juice and absinthe. It’s served in a vintage-style champagne coupe, so we don’t blame you if you feel compelled to toast and wink before taking a sip, Leo-in-Great Gatsby-style.
McClure keeps his ideas and plans close to the vest, so we can’t tell you what’s on the docket for the next specialty menu. But we can tell you that fresh, spring-inspired, boozy drinks will soon make an appearance.
“Spring is one of my favorite times of the year for cocktails,” he says. “It’s all lighter and fresher and everything is in bloom on the farms. Great ingredients are coming into season almost every week, and we want to capture those fresh ingredients as they bloom.”
The lengthy cocktail menu at Lost Saint can be daunting, which co-owner and bartender Patrick McClure is the first to admit. But because the crowd won’t
exceed 30 people, he and his bartenders are more than happy to give guests the time and attention they need to help them order the perfect drink.
So, where do you start?
“Find a spot on the menu that you understand, and go from there,” he says. “Do you want something more floral, lighter, spicier, sweeter? Place yourself on the map and we’ll help you figure out what direction to head in.”
Don’t be scared of words on the cocktail menu like tincture and shrub (strawberry shrub can be found in Lost Saint’s Blessed by Thyme). Tincture means an item, such as rosemary, has been steeped in alcohol, which retains the essence of the item. And you won’t see a plant floating in your drink made with a shrub, a syrup or coridal that contains vinegar.