By Natalie Migliarini, Foodable Contributor
The South is again becoming a must-visit destination for cocktail aficionados. New Orleans may never have lost its luster for well-made libations and has always been a premiere destination for great classic cocktails. But in the past, aspiring cocktail creators from smaller-scale southern cities like Charleston, Asheville, St. Louis, and Nashville have had to leave their hometown and move to the bigger metropolises to master their trade under the tutelage of established master mixologists.
The majority of those chasing the tuition only found in these cities unsurprisingly fall in love with the fast-paced lifestyle and remain there to ply their trade. Others return to their humble beginnings to the cheaper property prices and rents in order to open their own establishments and begin training aspiring bartenders themselves.
Due to those returning, we are now seeing new, hopeful bartenders being able to get an informative cocktail education without having to leave home.
Charleston, South Carolina | Prohibition
In late 2013, a popular party destination, Mercury Bar, was closed down by its owners and transformed into a Prohibition-era style venue, appropriately named Prohibition. Using house infused liquors and tinctures, Prohibition transports their patrons back to the 1920s with each sip of their chosen libation. With staff expertly trained in pre- and post-Prohibition style classic cocktails, as well as beautifully crafted house cocktails, there is no difficulty in finding the right concoction for you to enjoy. Their award-winning Itty Bitty cocktail crafted by mixologist Jim McCourt pays homage to the classic, Prohibition-era Bee’s Knees cocktail.
Asheville, North Carolina | Top of the Monk
If you have been drinking in Asheville, North Carolina, there’s a chance it was at one of Barry Bialik’s venues. His best-known venues all under the Thirsty Monk name are spread out all over Asheville and have a rotating list of tap beers. Looking to expand his empire and make use of his downtown location’s huge space, Mr. Bialik opened Top of the Monk cocktail bar on the third floor of Thirsty Monk Downtown.
Boasting a beautiful rooftop patio with mountain views and an ever-changing spirit-forward, Prohibition-era cocktail menu, Top of the Monk has been a great success. Bringing back a tradition that has been lost since the pre-Prohibition years, when you order a cocktail at Top of the Monk cocktail bar, the bartender will give you a key and number that matches with one of the vintage post office boxes lining the wall to the left of the gorgeous bar. Each of these contain a specially prepared house-made “companion bite.” That’s correct — with each cocktail you get a small appetizer. For the margarita fans out there, Top of the Monk will certainly not disappoint with their “Tomorrow Becomes Today” cocktail. Featuring Espolon Reposado Tequila and Del Maguey Mezcal as the prominent spirits, it is said to meld your days together.
Nashville, Tennessee | The Patterson House
The Patterson House in Nashville, Tennessee attributes its primary recognition to its eight different styles of twice-filtered ice molds. This doesn’t sound like the kind of thing that would grab an entire city’s attention. But when combined with a cocktail list incorporating 30 original and 20+ classic cocktails, you will taste the difference.
With perfectly smooth and spherical ice molds, your cocktail doesn’t dilute as quickly as it usually would. The Patterson House is somewhat of a hidden gem, with a very nondescript entry you could walk straight past without ever noticing the venue was there. The address is no secret but patrons are still excited when they finally find the correct doorway that leads to this beautiful establishment with its dark wood and leather banquettes along the walls surrounding the impressive 68-foot-long bar.
Considering The Patterson House’s recipe for its famous Bacon Old Fashioned — made with Benton’s Bacon Infused 4 Roses Bourbon, Maple Syrup and Coffee Pecan Bitters — it’s not difficult to see why this crafted libation has created a following.
St. Louis, Missouri | Planter’s House | Sanctuaria
Located in Lafayette Square and named in respect to the famous Planter’s Hotel, you will find this venue does an immaculate job of paying tribute. The hospitality and cocktail and cuisine style matches those of the original Planter’s Hotel.
With a list of 60 cocktails featuring 39 original Planter’s House cocktail recipes, 10 new classic cocktails (post 1990), and 11 pre-Prohibition classics, it’s difficult to decide which libation is best for you. Luckily, the team is well trained and can help with your decision with a few quick questions. The venue’s go-to drink, however, is the Planter’s House Punch, a recreated and modified version of the classic Planter’s Punch, the first recorded punch recipe in The Bon Vivant’s Companion of 1933.
Both the book and the punch were created by Jerry Thomas, who not-so-coincidentally worked a stint behind the bar at the original Planter’s Hotel around 1840. This punch recipe combines Camus VS Cognac, Plantation 5 yr Rum, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao, Grenadine, Lime, Lemon and Angostura Bitters and is served either by the glass or pitcher.
Heading over to The Grove neighborhood, Sanctuaria is beautifully decorated with 17th and 18th century art from churches all around the globe. Patio and conservatory sections are surrounded by lush gardens full of botanical and herbal ingredients that the experienced mixology team picks fresh to use in their house crafted tinctures and cocktails. The cocktail list at Sanctuaria is extensive — 150 cocktails extensive. This shouldn’t alarm you though, as the team is trained to assist you and pair you with a suitable cocktail to tantalize your taste buds. For those who frequently enjoy a good tipple, Sanctuaria offers Cocktail Club memberships with great benefits on pricing, but most importantly access to a “members only” cocktail menu. Members also get a personal notebook to keep track of savored libations and personal notes for you to glance back on. In the Show-Offs section of the cocktail list, you can’t go past the Millionaire Manhattan, stirred with Angel’s Envy Bourbon, Carpano Antica Vermouth, Angostura Bitters and Orange Bitters.
It’s great to see craft cocktails and trained mixologists returning to the Southern states and building a solid base for future generations of cocktail enthusiasts. As you may have noticed in the examples provided above, the majority of prominent cocktail bars in these states have a common theme, Prohibition-era cocktails. Venues will remain, for the foreseeable future, to be popular with mixologists and consumers alike.