Whether there was a memo amending the schedule or not, cocktail hour lasts a little longer now. Those with limited tastes may prove undaunted. The choice isn’t hard when you keep cranking the arm on the vodka tonic machine, but sucking on dirty coins is easy too (and tastes about the same).
For the rest of us, a good cocktail is key. Thankfully we’ve been given the gift of choice over the last year with the advent of some quality craft cocktailing in and around Detroit. The trend has even forced those who don’t specialize in such efforts to up their game and it’s given old classics new life.
Not sure where to go? Puzzled by that menu? Looking for the best of an oldie, but a goodie? Give these a try.
Here’s what you should be drinking in and around Detroit.
The Starting Five…
House Manhattan – Sugar House (Detroit)
So, we should start here…like I do…with a Manhattan.
If by now you don’t know about [the] Sugar House then you haven’t been paying attention. Part of the Slow’s block party, Sugar House is one member of the triumvirate leading the craft cocktail scene in SE Michigan (along with The Oakland and The Raven’s Club). Even if you’ve been here, if you haven’t had their take on the Manhattan then you’re about as tenured as their newly requisitioned reindeer (elk?) noggin. Rye whiskey (brand varies), Cocchi, Cynar and liberal bitters served up in a rocks glass is very good on its own. But what sets it apart is the choice of a cucumber garnish that pulls the artichoke-based Cynar to transform this standard from start to finish. *note: Not on the menu. Just ask for it.
Another round: 12 Mile Limit, Casino, Penicillin (may not be on the menu)
Last Word – Atlas Global Bistro (Detroit)
You may have heard the story, the Last Word was created right here at the Detroit Athletic Club the offering of a prohibition-era vaudevillian named Frank Fogerty. It vanished for years only to be rediscovered very recently (in Seattle, of all places). The Last Word is traditionally equal parts gin, green chartreuse, maraschino, and fresh lime and Atlas keeps it pretty straight ahead. Their choice of Bombay Sapphire as the gin is irregular and normally not one of my faves, but it works here. Add the generous peel of lime and it is quite simply the most consistent iteration of this classic that I’ve had in the city of its birth.
Another round: Ramos Gin Fizz, Mexican Radio
San Gennaro – Michael Symon’s Roast (Detroit)
‘Oh, yeah…hey, I know that place. Roast! Yeah. Happy hour, man. Great beer list, too.’ Okay, yeah, but have you taken a look at their cocktail list? Next time you’re in have a gander at the San Gennaro. The namesake of a Catholic martyr/saint, Roast brings together Bulleit Rye, Carpano Antica, Fernet Branca (!) and Cherry Heering (but no blood relics) to create a holy communion of flavor. I love my citrus, but taste this one and you’ll see why the orange twist might be superfluous this time.
Another round: Bitter End, The Turn
The Draper – The Raven’s Club (Ann Arbor)
Much like the character for which it’s named, this one is a bit of an enigma. Featured on TRC’s new spring menu, The Draper seems like it would be more comfortable as a winter cocktail. Canadian Club and Punt e Mes combine with cardamom tincture and bitters to create a cocktail that is full of flavor and, at the same time, no nonsense…also somewhat like the character. Maybe there’s something to this. I didn’t get a chance to ask Christian, the drink’s creator, but the better question might be: What’s
in The Whitman?
Another round: Ill Fashioned, The Griswald, CBGB (may not be on the menu)
Bufala Negra – The Oakland Art & Novelty Company (Ferndale)
Of course all three members of the triumvirate must reside in the starting five. Without them you’d have nothing but the taste of dirty coins in your mouth. With them you get this – Buffalo Trace Bourbon, 18yr balsamic, ginger beer, brown sugar and basil. It’s like the mojito you would order if you were sitting on a beach…in Alaska. But it’s much more comfortable to drink at The Oakland where you should probably have something neat while you’re at it and keep that fantasy warm. Their selection of fine
spirits is virtually unmatched in the area.
Another round: Rock ‘N Rye, Black Rainbow, Part & Parcel (may not be on the menu)
Warming up in the Bullpen…
Roman Holiday – Mani Osteria (Ann Arbor)
You’d be hard pressed to find many other local establishments that would serve you a drink that features vermouth and amaro let alone have the audacity to put it on the menu. Roman Holiday showcases Carpano Antica and Averna set against lemon and mint and what results is a bit like wearing paisley with plaid and nailing it effortlessly. Beware: Carpano’s chocolate notes seem to be magnetically attracted to the citrus, but you probably wouldn’t like that, would you?
Gibson – Dylan’s Raw Bar & Grille (Grosse Pointe)
Hopefully Barb is behind the bar. If she is, she can show you great example of why water can be key in cocktails. Gin, chilled and garnished with cocktail onions (Barb buys ‘em herself). It’s that simple. One of the few places you can ask for a Gibson in this town without a response that sounds something like ‘heehaw’. *note: I love vermouth, but the Gibson here has none (unless requested) and still hits dead nuts. Stay for the jazz.
House Manhattan – The Bar at 327 Braun Court (Ann Arbor)
Yeah, they’re doin’ some drinkin’ in A2 these days. And hidden away in the second story of a house in Kerrytown you can get one of these featuring Bulleit Bourbon and Dolin Rouge. 327 is down tempo and delicious. Find this place. *hint: Look for the door that says, ‘Bar’.
Mojito Especial – Vicente’s Cuban Cuisine (Detroit)
You may have had a mojito (hit or miss most places). You may have had a special mojito (hit or miss at a discount). But have you had the Mojito Especial at Vicente’s? Better than the mojitos you’ve had plus a float of Myer’s Dark Rum. Need I say more? Get it and keep enjoying it when you’re five drinks in.
Josh Bartlett lives, works and writes in Grand Circus Park. For more (or to offer to buy him a drink) follow on twitter @thejsauce