Space Age Whiz Kids …

In recent years, there has been a small trend toward the opening of what are often called “brewcades” (or beercades, or barcades). Bars that prominently feature video games (often vintage ones) as the primary feature (aside from the craft beer taps).

 

The beginning of the genre actually goes back a decade or so, but – as is typical in the Midwest – has only reached Ohio in the past three or four years. 16 Bit, the first of which opened in Columbus in 2013, followed closely by Cleveland and Cincinnati, takes an upscale approach with a broad range of high-end and boutique whiskeys and bourbons as well as a sleek, well-designed décor. The establishment does not offer food, but the games are free as long as you are drinking. (Seems legit.)

 

One of the newer chains came to Austin Landing last November. Bar 145 is a more “Joe Six-Pack” vibe, and adds regular live music to the mix. Technically, the section with the arcade is dubbed “Reset” and is a “bar-within-a-bar” … although the separation is really just in the owners’ minds, ads far as it matters to the patrons. Games are also free to play. The food is hyped as “upscale gastro-pub” fare. But since this author tries to focus on the culture of the bar, I will leave it to the reader to decide how they achieve.

 

As Arlo Guthrie might say, however, “I’m not here to talk about that.”

 

I’m here to talk about the place that is executing perfectly their vision of the brewcade. DK Effect. (As in – one assumes – Donkey Kong, not Dunning-Kruger.)

 

DK Effect opened this summer on East Third Street, across from the very popular Taqueria Mixteca. A “neighborhood bar” vibe complements perfectly the great combination of retro (some would say ancient) games, side-by-side with more recent options the Millennials will find familiar.

 

Put simply – “I love this bar.”

 

The bar itself has embedded video screens which offer free play of “emulated” games such as Pac Man and Galaga. The selection of taps is impressive (30, I believe?), and the prices are VERY reasonable. Original cocktails inspired by video games are clever, if tending a bit too much toward “they are all too sweet”. (Possibly popular with the audience, I will admit.)

 

With each drink you order, you are handed a soufflé cup filled with tokens … encouraging you to leave the bar stool and explore the arcade. This is brilliant. Even for people with little interest, the motivation of “well, they handed us these tokens so we might as well go use them” is actually a BETTER plan than just offering free play on the machines. It promotes “flow” and social interaction, and gently nudges the whole place toward a lively atmosphere.

 

DK Effect offers pizza by-the-slice which is brought in by Pizza Factory. They also do “Taco Tuesday” featuring the aforementioned Taqueria. Periodic visits from food trucks, such as S&S Meathouse rounds-out the offerings. Again, I think it is a wise choice to keep their focus on the drinks, the games, and the vibe.

 

Owners Tony Clark and Kimberly Green are engaged, present, and make great ambassadors for the brand. They clearly had a dream for this place, and they are executing it flawlessly. I will be back, and highly recommend a visit, for Space Age Whiz Kids of all ages.

Swinging hammers …

So, this is happening.
 

 
The construction (or more accurately DEstruction) has begun on the new Watermark. What you are looking at will become our new lounge, designed to seat 20 at the U-shaped bar, and another 20 at large community tables as well as a casual soft-seating area.
 
Watermark will offer local draft beer, a curated wine list, excellent craft cocktails, as well as a bar menu featuring small plates and our very first burger. Cocktail classes and other special events are planned.
 
Watch this space.

Springtime is for new things, right?

Aside from planning for the new bar at Watermark, a new menu at the current space always means new cocktails.
  
Being out in Vegas provided some inspiration, along with the usual deadline-induced productivity. I have been exploring two new (to my pantry) ingredients of late: honey and sorghum. (Note, in order to make them “mix-friendly” both of these are rendered into syrup before they find their way into the speed rail.)
  
I usually prefer to add sweetness to a drink when it also adds flavor. Pure simple syrup is something I rarely add to any drink, unless a guest specifically requests a drink be more sweeterer. Honey and sorghum both offer distinctive and often complementary layers to a cocktail.
  
My first venture for this menu is to put a Lithuanian spin on the familiar Moscow Mule. Honey is a very common element in Lithuanian cooking and flavor profiles, in general. In fact, if there is a ‘national spirit’ of Lithuania, it is undoubtedly Krupnikas – a honey- and spice-infused liqueur that is most often made at home. These guys are now distilling it in North Carolina, and I am going to make inquiries about getting it here in Ohio.
  
Ever since we were inspired by Ed Lee’s inspiration, I have fallen in love with sorghum. Rumor has it he literally made his staff throw out all of the sugar & honey in his restaurant after discovering it. The mellower cousin of molasses, it has an intoxicatingly dark and inviting flavor that just draws you in. Chef has put it in butter (amazing) and other creations, and once you taste it raw on your finger you will see why it NEEDS to be in your drink. You can simply mix some with Bourbon on the rocks, and prepare to be delighted.
  
I have discovered (to my admitted surprise) that the flavors do not blend well with lemon. Lemon juice is such a stand-by in the craft of the cocktail, it is always somewhat jarring to realize it simply “doesn’t go” in this or that drink. Feel free to share stories or ideas with this miracle ingredient.

Maybe I will get to meet Jon Taffer …

So, I’m off to the NCB (Night Club & Bar) Show in Vegas. This is the biggest trade show for the industry (distinct from more high-brow and narrowly-focused affairs such as ‘Tales of the Cocktail’ in New Orleans).

  

With the impending launch of Watermark, I am hoping to boost my knowledge a bit in some practical ways, such as design and systems. But – naturally – this will also be an opportunity to chat with fellow cocktail slingers and swap recipes and ideas. Look for photos and updates on the Instagram feed!

In which your humble barman tries beer cocktails …


I have listened to the pundits (such as they are in this industry) proclaiming they were coming to a bar near you. Beer cocktails. But aside from the ‘beer margaritas’ friends & family insist on making at every sports-related party, I had yet to encounter them in the wild. (No, I don’t count traditional items such as a Snakebite or Shandy.)
  
When a local watering hole completed a recent re-brand, re-model, and re-launch, I decided to stop in and check out the new vibe. On an unrelated note, the new décor is very well done, and I am impressed. A vast improvement over the original incarnation. I opened the menu, and on the first page, I saw not a few, but nineteen – yes, NINETEEN – versions of ‘beer cocktails’. I considered it a sign that the cocktail gods were imploring me to take this journey of discovery.
  
For the uninitiated, the general concept of a ‘beer cocktail’ involves a beer or cider (often something craft or local), the addition of some sort of mixer (often fruit juices), and sometimes a primary spirit as well. The results – as you might imagine – can be all over the map.
  
I sampled three.
  
As a general observation, I would say that for the most part these drinks lacked balance, and tended toward too sweet. I will allow that for many palates, this is not automatically a bad thing, as the worldwide proliferation and popularity of cloying concoctions clearly conveys. (My alliterative skills on display.) The presence of too much fruit juice, or sweet liqueurs, pushed these drinks into ‘one-note’ territory.
  
One of them, however, opened the door a crack, and indicated there may be some promise for the genre. A blend of a white ale, a reasonable amount of St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, and a dash of bitters (they did not indicate which kind), it was citrusy on the nose and front, with a pleasant floral flavor following. Slightly bitter at the finish, there was enough complexity, subtlety, and balance for me to conclude that such a thing as a ‘good beer cocktail’ may indeed exist!
  
A couple of housekeeping notes. First, from a purely economic standpoint, these drinks are a great value. Priced at (or sometimes below) the cost of a typical craft pint, the addition of primary spirits and other ingredients, coupled with the fact that they are all served in full (14-oz) beer glasses, means a lot of product for your dollar. Should you find a version you enjoy, then you are looking at a great addition to your regular rotation.
Second, they are relatively large drinks, and with the addition of primary spirits and liqueurs, consumers should keep in-mind that they can speed consumption, while possibly ‘fooling’ the patron via the similarity to a relatively low-alcohol pint of beer.
  
As always, caveat emptor and YMMV. Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences.

Work the quads with your squad …

So, this is happening.
 

Dayton OK’s mobile alcohol establishments
  
I’m still trying to decide how I feel about the idea. Certainly in the right environment (and weather) this seems like a light-hearted and colorful way to add a bit of additional character to an entertainment district or tourist area.
  
Although apparently it is another in the long line of “amazing franchise opportunities” out there, color me somewhat skeptical that it will make for a viable business model in Ohio. Anyone for the Pedal Pub in January?  Anyone?
  
Most of them seem to be serving beer, but most likely the product depends on both the local liquor permits as well as the economics of the individual owner. I guess for me the prospect of having to work out (even a little) while I am also drinking is enough to tip the scales against the idea. I like to keep my feet on the bar rail. If anyone has tried one of these out, let me know!
 

Menu Essentials, First Installment

Whether you are a serious tiki enthusiast, or your experience extends no further than Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, in this humble barman’s opinion, no standard cocktail menu is complete without at least one authentic Tiki Drink.
  
I have long been a fan of the genre, and my interest extends back to a chance visit to a tiki-themed bar in Columbus, Ohio, where I had my first encounter with a properly-made Zombie – to this day one of my all-time favorite drinks.
  
The history of the tiki craze, which had its heyday in the 1940’s and 50’s, begins (and ends?) with the venerable and colorful Don The Beachcomber. If you aspire to be a true cocktail pro, this is 101-level stuff.

Trader Vic (Bergeron) of course holds his own place in the tiki pantheon, notwithstanding pop-culture references from Warren Zevon. But time and trends may have deprived us all of the great (and true) tiki drinks, were it not for the efforts of Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, and his dogged research. Again, required reading.
  
If you haven’t yet experienced the Zombie, the Mai Tai, the Swizzle, and others do yourself a favor and find them. But review the correct recipes first, and don’t be afraid to ask your bartender how he/she makes them. The most unfortunate fact is that tiki drinks are some of the most commonly bastardized (and ruined) drinks you will find, partly due to uncommon ingredients, and also due to the laziness of many drink programs.
  
The fun is in the hunt!

Battle looms …

In about a month, Dayton’s own Buckeye Vodka will be hosting its Fourth Annual Battle. Rumor has it the competition will continue to come into it’s own, and there should be a great field of competitors. Of course, yours truly will be there … our entry cocktail being a closely-guarded secret, of course.
  
This competition is a drink recipe contest … naturally there are many other types of competition (speed, flair, etc.). When original drinks are the focus, it brings to the fore one of my personal favorite subjects:

 

 

A good drink is a well-balanced drink … whether it is a beer, wine, spirit, or cocktail. As Mr. Myagi says: “lesson not just for karate only – lesson for whole life.”  Oh, Pat, where are you when we need you?
  
A respectful bow to all the worthy competitors. Be like water.