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Category Archives: Places

winter-solstice-at-juniper-61Wauwatosa, WI – February 14, 2017

St. Valentines Day found me at Juniper 61 in Wauwatosa for dinner with a friend (thank you City Tins – Restaurant Edition!).  Dinner was delicious (and was again tonight), but I knew the food would be delicious.  I also knew that I would get a great cocktail, and I was not disappointed.

I tried the Winter Solstice from the specialty cocktail menu.  With Knob Creek bourbon as it’s base I figured it had to be good.  What caught my eye, though, were the fruity, sweet additions:  Bird Dog Peach whiskey, the pear flavored Mathilde Poire and a float of Mathilde Cassis.  Soda water is the last ingredient, adding a bit of fizz and helping cut the sweet factor.

Overall a very refreshing and light bourbon cocktail.  It does verge on being too sweet for me (a dash or two bitters would probably take care of that), but I could drink a couple of these, no problem.  The bourbon is definitely there at the base, and the peach flavor is in the forefront (much like some of the peach liqueur and bourbon drinks I’ve played with in the past).  The pear and cassis provide depth.  In fact, I’d enjoy this on a warm summer day and think this should be the Summer Solstice rather than the Winter Solstice!

Cheers!

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Gloom LifterRockford, IL – December 2, 2014

Business recently took me to Rockford, IL and there I discovered Alchemy.  It’s part craft beer, part craft cocktails and part craft pizza.  While I enjoyed the pizza I had, I really enjoyed the cocktails!

First was the Gloom Lifter.  It starts with Tullamore Dew as the base, but what really caught my eye was the egg whites.  It also has lemon juice, raspberries and flamed bitters in the mix.  Served in an elegant coupe this was a very well balanced and proportioned cocktail.  Cinnamon and cardamom on the nose the cocktail was light, slightly sweet and smokey.  I was a little disappointed that there was no spiciness in the taste, but it was overall an excellent cocktail and will be sure to lift the gloom of winter!

The second cocktail I enjoyed was the Cold & Heavy Snow.  Using Milagro silver tequila as its base I was drawn to it with the house made ginger beer.  Finishing off the cocktail is lime juice, cider and cinnamon.  I really enjoyed the this cocktail – the ginger beer was spicy and well made and the cider and cinnamon added a bit of holiday cheer.  Another winner.

If your travels take you to Rockford, Alchemy is worth a stop!

Broken Down Golf CartOrlando, FL – January 30, 2013

Late January and I found myself at a trade show in Orlando.  Orlando is as about exciting for trade shows as, well, let’s just say it wasn’t Vegas (sight of last year’s trade show).  I mean, the bars actually close!  On the flip side, I did actually get some golf in on this trip, which is always nice considering golf in January is a non starter in Wisconsin.

Sooo, late one night, as the bartenders were shutting down the hotel bar I found myself with two of my peers and staring at the green goo you see to the left.  We had just watched someone else order a Broken Down Golf Cart, and one of us (not me!) decided it would be a good idea if we had a round of them as well before calling it a night.  Being the team player I am, of course I went along for the ride.

Broken Down Golf Cart

  • 1/2 oz Amaretto
  • 1/2 oz Midori
  • dash lime juice

Combine the ingredients in a shaker with ice.  Strain into a shooter glass and down it in one shot.

Despite the green swamp water appearance, this actually is a decent shooter.  The melon of the Midori plays well with the almond of the Amaretto.  It has a good beat and I can dance to it, so I’d give it an 8.

Cheers!

 

Minneapolis, MN – August 18, 2012

Recently Gwen and I found ourselves in Minneapolis for a weekend for a back to school shopping expedition to the Mall of America – but that’s another story.  The good news is that we were able to meet up with my good friend Ashish and his wife Lori for cocktails.  Ashish had picked out the Marvel Bar, and it was a winner!

The Marvel bar has a definite urban hipster vibe, from the low leather seating to the cool funk, jazz and electronica playing in the background.  On this Friday night the crowd cut across all age groups and was mostly dressed to impress.  However, the star of the show were the many craft cocktails on the menu, chock full of homemade ingredients.  Be prepared to wait as these drinks aren’t just sloshed into a shaker and then poured.  They do take some time to put together.

My favorite of the night was the Lincoln County.  Consisting of charcoal filtered Antica Formula vermouth, Campari and Cabin Still bourbon, this was an incredibly complex and amazing cocktail.  The Antica Formula is an Italian red vermouth that is deeper and richer than most sweet vermouths.  With the added charcoal flavor this was the dominant flavor, followed by the herbal bitterness of the Campari.  I was not familar with Cabin Still bourbon, but it did provide an excellent, if not economical base for the cocktail.  I thoroughly enjoyed this sipper and look forward to having it again!

All in all the Marvel bar stacked up well to its excellent press clippings and the praise the Ashish had heeped on it.  A definite must stop place when you’re in Minneapolis!

Cheers!

Lincoln, NE – August 8, 2012

Another trip to the heartland (it’s pretty easy to see why Springsteen went to Nebraska to record “Nebraska”) and another opportunity to sample what Lincoln offers – which is a lot!

I had the evening by myself.  I’d walked by Dish on my earlier visits and decided to try it out this time.  I was there on a Wednesday night, and it was fairly quiet, which suited me as I pulled up a seat at the bar.

I was greeted by Teresa behind the bar and quickly learned that she had the cocktail mixing chops to go with the excellent selection of liquor and liqueurs behind the bar.  She made me a two speciality cocktails, with a Scapa single malt whiskey sandwiched in between, and all were excellent.

The first cocktail was their riff on a Manhattan that featured orange and allspice infused Maker’s Mark, just a splash of sweet vermouth and Agnostura bitters.  I had it on the rocks and enjoyed it.  Normally, I would consider infusing Maker’s with anything to be heresay, but this worked well.  Frankly, as I shared with Teresa, it was very similar in taste to a Twilight Lounge favorite, which is just to add a dash of orange bitters to rye whiskey on the rocks.

My second drink of the evening was the very straight forward Scapa with just a single ice cube.   I could almost taste the salt spray on my lips as I sipped this for the first time.  It wasn’t as smokey as I usually like in a single malt, but it was delightfully smooth with a hint of vanilla (which would have made the perfect after dinner scotch for me this night).  

 The last cocktail effort of the night was a blend of Hendrick gin and Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur with a bit of lemon.  I nice way to finish the evening.

The off menu dinner and dessert specials that she suggested were also spot on.  The shrimp and scallps were perfectly grilled and served with jasmine rice, spinach and a pepper pesto type creation.  The portion size was just right.  Dessert was an amazing homemade vanilla ice cream on top of a pecan chocolate brownie with rasberries, black cherries and an incredible Bailey’s Irish Cream sauce.  It was awesome!

I”m looking forward to my next trip to Lincoln — Thanks Teresa!

Madison, WI – July 12, 2012

I found myself in Madison, WI for an evening recently – and for the first time in my various travels around the midwest.  Being just 90 miles from home was different, but I still managed to hunt down a good cocktail lounge to while away my evening.  The Opus Lounge was my target for the evening.

After reading a few of the Yelp reviews and seeing the menu when I first arrived I was concerned that this would be a menu driven cocktail lounge lacking any real creativity.  Boy, was I wrong, and am I ever glad I was!

The decor is urban chic with a soundtrack to match that ranged from hip hop to acid jazz and many alternative formats in between.  As I scanned the booze behind the bar I saw what I thought were too many flavored vodkas, but then, who doesn’t have too many flavored vodkas these days?  The menu was also full of what sound like fruity, girly drinks and, my pet peeve, is called a martini menu (a martini is a cocktail, and this was a cocktail menu!).  

Fortunately, Marilyn, the bartender on duty, came to the rescue and patiently demonstrated that she and Opus have real cocktail chops.  I ended up sampling three of the menu items, the Dill Collins, an interesting riff on the classic Tom Collins which was very refreshing on a warm summer evening.  This cocktail featured Death’s Door gin over muddled cucumber, dill, lemon and a sugar cube.  Club soda and ice finish off this drink.  It was delicious – the dill was just barely there and added a nice dimension to the drink.

 
Next was the Royal Highness featuring Plantation rum, cassis, bolivar bitters, lime, Domaine de Canton and egg white among its ingredients.  Yes, I said egg white, and when a bar is mixing cocktails with egg white they get my full attention!  This drink evoked visions of tiki torches and tropical beaches for me.  There was a slight coconut flavor, which I could not figure out for the life of me since this drink had none in it.  It did have a smooth, creamy texture courtesy of the egg white and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
 
The third menu item was the Pimm’d Up Bondurant.  Only the second cocktail I’ve seen anywhere using the venerable Pimm’s No. 1 and it was delicious.  This is basically a Pimm’s sour with Domaine de Canton in it.  The ginger of the Canton played off the Pimm’s perfectly.  This sipper was served up in a cocktail glass, but would have worked equally as well in a collins glass on the rocks.
I finished the night with an off menu drink from Marilyn that featured Laphroiag scotch, ginger and lemon flavors.  Again, a homerun that has me wishing I had written down the recipe – but unfortunately, didn’t.  

Bottom line is that if you’re looking for good cocktails in Madison, look no further than Opus Lounge.

Lincoln, NE – March 14, 2012

During my last trip to Lincoln I found several nice places that made up for my disappointment with Marz.  However, hands down, the best of the bunch is the Bourbon Theater.  I can assure you the next time and every time I’m in Lincoln I’ll be stopping by to see Luke Edson!

The Bourbon Theater is an interesting venue – a music club (the night I was there featured a DJ playing house, very loudly) along with an amazingingly well stocked bar and the very talented Luke Edson behind the bar.

For openers, I enjoyed that fact that Luke spent a few minutes chatting with me to find out what I like in a drink.  After our conversation he made me his twist on a Rob Roy.   Featuring Skye scotch along with Dubonnet, orange bitters and an orange twist, this was an amazing cocktail – and better than the original Rob Roy.  This wonderful smokey scotch with the orange flavors was very cohesive and well done. 

The next drink Luke made for me was the Mont Blanc, an original of his.  Here it is.

  Mont Blanc

  • 1-1/2 oz St. Remy brandy (or better)
  • 3/4 oz Bianco vermouth
  • 1/4 oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur
  • 1/4 – 1/3 oz Averna

In my notes at the time I wrote “OMG amazing!”  It’s like a boozy dessert.  Vanilla notes, a hint of cherry and an almost creamy texture.  This is, without a doubt, one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had. 

By the way, if you want to make this at home (and I will be!) you will need the use Bianco vermouth, not dry vermouth.  Bianco is a sweetened white vermouth and using dry will not yeild the same result at all!

Cheers!

Lincoln, NE – March 13, 2012

I feel like I could have just as easily titled this post Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  I’ll explain in time, but that’s what my two separate experiences at Marz in Lincoln, NE have been like.

My first visit was last August, and the notes and pictures are still in my Blackberry, just waiting to get published.  So, with a return trip to Lincoln this week I was really looking forward to visiting Marz again and having a some great cocktails and food.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Marz is located in downtown Lincoln and has an incredible hip and cool vibe.  With 20 something foot ceilings, a very long bar lines one side and cozy velour covered half circle booths run down the other side.  With a space age decor and a comfy lounge area at the rear, and a very nifty acid jazz, chill electronic soundtrack going, I liked it as soon as I walked in the door.

During my first visit I had an ongoing conversation with the bartender who was very knowledgeable and into her craft.  She started me with a Smokey Vesper since a James Bond flick was running on the TV over the bar.  For my second drink I had the Martian Sunrise (pictured above), which features Cuervo, pineapple and pomegranate juices in a riff on the Tequila Sunrise.  A strong drink with plenty of punch from the tequila it settled in nicely once some of the ice started to melt.  Interestingly enough I also got a taste of banana from this one, and wasn’t sure if it was from the drink or the banana split I had for desert!

Along with my drinks I had a dinner of the homemade mac and cheese, which was good, very good.  All in all, my visit there last August was quite impressive.  So when I arrived in Lincoln last night I was very much looking forward to eating and drinking there again.

Boy, what a difference 7 months makes!  The atmosphere was just as hip, and given that it was in the 70’s, the outside patio was full when I arrived around 9pm.  Unfortunately, that’s about where the goodness ended and mediocrity took over.  I asked the bartender what he makes that’s unique and his.  His answer was pretty much a blank look and then mumbling something about their Manhattan’s being good.  OK, so he’s not really a bartender into cocktails.  I ordered a Sidecar Named Desire from the menu.  Consisting of Raynar VSOP cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice I was surprised when it was served with a sugared rim that had been wetted with a lime wedge.  The first two sips were overwhelmingly lime and that was spoiling the drink – not to mention that anything resembling a sidecar has no business being served in a sugared rim.

At about this time the second bartender (whose best feature, I learned, was her breasts spilling out of the top of her sundress) came over to ask how it was.  I started to ask her about the sugared rim and her answer was that the bourbon – which prompted me to correct her to brandy, she didn’t even know what was in the thing – made it strong and so they thought it should be sweetened.  I told her the lime on the rim was too much so she offered to pour into a fresh glass, which I gladly accepted.  As we continued talking I tried to point out that a cocktail like this is supposed to be strong.  Her final answer was “I just do what they tell me to do.”  So, two lifeless bartenders on duty.

So, without the lime and sugar on the rim it was drinkable, but unremarkable.  It was a bit disjointed and needed, most likely, some work on the proportions of Cointreau and lemon juice, and also, most likely, a dash of bitters.

As for my dinner, I ordered the cleverly named Moons of Pluto which were described as provolone risotto balls served with marinara sauce.  It failed to mention that they were breaded and deep fried, which was disappointing.  The risotto and cheese was good, and I would have enjoyed the balls if they hadn’t been deep fried and just drizzled with a bit of olive oil instead.  As for the marinara, it had the consistency and flavor of slightly thinned out tomato paste.  Again, disappointing.

Finally, as way of adding insult to injury, there was only one dessert item available, a honey lavender creme brulee.  I normally may have gone for it, but was dismayed by only having that one choice and passed instead.

All in all I was very disappointed by the second visit.  When back in Lincoln down the road I may try it again in the hoped of finding the good Marz is back.

Cheers?

Milwaukee, WI – March 7, 2012

So I’m sitting at the bar and I hear, in this low, almost whispering voice, “Nice pants.”  I look around and there’s no one within ear shot, so I shrug it off and take another sip of my drink.  But then I hear the voice again, “Great looking haircut.”  Again, I look around and nothing.  I try to shrug it off, but when a few minutes later the voice asks “Have you lost weight?” I call the bartender over.

“Brett, I keep hearing this voice saying things like “nice pants” and “great haircut”.  What gives, are you screwing with me?”

Brett looks me right in the eye and tells me, “It’s the peanuts, they’re complimentary.”

One of the nice things about Bryant’s (South 9th and Lapham, Milwaukee) is that you don’t have to worry about either random hours or complimentary nuts distracting your taste buds from the cocktails.  Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had occasion to stop by and enjoy these two outstanding creations by Emily.

First is the Glamour Shot, pictured above.  When Emily asked what I was in the mood for I quickly answered gin, but that I didn’t want something run of the mill or a classic.  So, out came the Plymouth gin, Domaine de Canton liqueur, Cynar liqueur, bar syrup and lemon juice.  An interesting combination I thought, between the ginger Canton and the bitter Cynar, with is derived from, among other things, artichoke.  The result was a terrific cocktail that leads with the ginger of the Canton then quickly follows with a slightly bitter bite.  The bar syrup and lemon juice round out the drink and give it balance so that it’s boozy, but in a mellow way.  An excellent offering from Emily.

The second drink is her Milwaukee Manhattan.  This drink was designed for a contest that Emily had entered (and, incidently, won) for the best variation on the classic Manhattan.  Featuring Bulliet rye whiskey with the usual sweet and dry vermouths (making this on perfect) and both Agnostura and Peychauds bitters, the twist is the addition of Luxardo Maraschino liqueur (which I love!).  Again, a very well constructed cocktail that tasted incredible.  The cherry from the Luxardo was out in front on this one, with the sweet vermouth, bitters and rye filling in behind it.  This is a complex cocktail, with layers of flavors to be discovered.  Again, kudos to Emily for a job well done.

Cheers!

Las Vegas, NV – February 23, 2013

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a trade show in Las Vegas week before last.  It was a fun and busy 4 nights between the show, customers, peers.  Of course, I did find time to have a little fun as well, like the night I ended up at the Foundation Bar at the top of the Mandalay Bay hotel.

I did have one interesting cocktail while I was there.  This was an original creation of one of the bartenders at the Eyecandy Lounge, located right on the casino floor at Mandalay Bay.  It was a rare quiet moment at the bar and we were able to chat a bit.  He calls this the Sunshine Sour, and it’s kinda’ a mash up of the tequila sunrise and a whiskey sour. 

It starts with Finlandia grapefruit vodka.  If you know me you know that I am not a fan of flavored vodkas.  However, I’ve had the Finlandia grapefruit before and it is very, very good and one of the few flavored vodkas that I do like.  Added to the Finlandia is orange juice, sour mix and a splash of Aperol.  The use of Aperol really caught my eye since you don’t see too many bartenders playing around with it.  It added a nice, bitter undertone to all the sweet in the drink and really rounded it out.  I enjoyed this one thoroughly and am going to try to recreate it here at the Twilight Lounge.  All I need to do is get the vodka and Aperol!

Cheers!