Let’s be honest, many of us didn’t get off to a good start with cocktails.
The addition of orange juice, soda or some other mixer was often a palliative mask to the mouth-wrenching, throat-scorching devil’s water we could not yet appreciate because we were too young, too cheap or too dependent on our friends’ older brother or sister, who didn’t care for quality when taking 20 bucks from their underaged sibling. The stuff usually came in a plastic bottle, and no, there wasn’t any change.
Now that we’re older our palates are better seasoned, if not refined. Ordering a glass of single-barrel Blanton’s bourbon neat whets our mouth with excitement. We’d rather sip a smoky mezcal than shoot Patrón. And nothing goes well with Jäger, especially not more Jäger.
Hastily prepared mixed drinks might seem immature because they remind us of rush week or prom. But a well-crafted cocktail can summon the sophistication and gravitas of leather-bound books and the smell of rich mahogany. You can have your cake and drink it too.
And to ensure you do, Little Rock Soirée has identified six refined, tasty local cocktails that mix perfectly with the steamy Arkansas summer. Check the slideshow above to browse these amazing drinks.
The Fold: Botanas & Bar
3501 Old Cantrell Road
The Fold in Riverdale is one of Little Rock’s hottest new restaurants. Is that damning with faint praise, like Morrilton’s coolest new jazz kitchen or Blytheville’s sexiest new dance club? Hardly. About a dozen new restaurants open daily in central Arkansas, and exactly 87 percent are Mexican. (Double-check my math.) So The Fold, a hip, modern taco joint in an old gas station, has competition. Nevertheless, discerning eaters flock to its simple, scrumptious Mexican dishes. The food, especially the ceviche, stands out, but it’s what you wash it down with that’s most memorable. You can build your own margarita with mezcal or a wide variety of tequilas — blanco, resposado, anejo, ultra anejo — or leave the alcoholic architecture to the pros and try one of their patented cocktails. Our favorite is the Sofo, a crisp blend of gin, lime juice, crushed mint and ginger beer that tastes something like a mojito with extra kick. Agave nectar, not sugar, sweetens all The Fold’s beverages, which helps them avoid the most common pitfall of other similar drinks: muy dulce.
2. Southern Comfortable
Capital Bar & Grill
111 W. Markham St.
The Capital Hotel is the type of establishment Bruce Wayne would buy. (But wait, that would mean Warren Stephens is Bat — Shh! We’ve said too much.) Its Ashley’s restaurant represents the height of culinary and design elegance, while the more laid-back Capital Bar & Grill offers a delightfully frenetic atmosphere perfect for pre-dinner drinks. I recommend the Southern Comfortable, whose pecan soda is made from the oils of the same nuts that are a CB&G signature table snack. The soda blends well with Hangar 1 spiced pear vodka, yellow chartreuse and lemon for a subtly sweet, boozy beverage with the fruit flavors not trying to cut in on the alcohol but dance alongside. A generous serving of well-textured, crushed ice so chills the drink that frost forms around its silver julep cup. The Cropduster, a powerful gin and fruity liquor drink, also works well but seems inappropriately named in a place where the staffs’ full Windsor knots are tied just so.
3. Gin Harvest
300 E. Third St., #101
Would it kill my credibility to explain how fantastic the Key Lime Pie martini tastes? Would I have to give back my man card? Okay then, let’s talk about the Gin Harvest. Served with local Rock Town Distillery’s Brandon’s Gin (much improved after early misfires), muddled basil is a fine improvement over vermouth. Lime, a splash of soda and agave syrup round out this enhanced gin martini, whose only improvement would be a cucumber garnish. (That did it. Man card revoked.)
4. Texas Two Step,
5. Pueblo Honey Swizzle
17815 Chenal Parkway
The hour-long wait to get into this place on a Friday night — worth it, promise — becomes a lot more tolerable once you’re inside and can order a cold one from the bar. You’ll need a syllabus to get through the lengthy margarita menu, so I’ll make it easy. The resposado tequila or mezcal, jalapeño Triple Sec, basil simple syrup and lime juice that make the Texas Two Step don’t require adventurous tastes to enjoy its sweet tang and hint of spice; you just have to be willing to say “Texas Two Step” in an Arkansas bar. The more feminine Pueblo Honey Swizzle, whose moniker I assume is a play on Radiohead’s first album, “Pablo Honey” — hipsters — brings a tart lemony sweetness. Sophisticated but not pretentious, just like its namesake.
Cafe Bossa Nova
2701 Kavanaugh Blvd.
Having never traveled to Brazil, I can only assume its men are all accomplished soccer players, the women bronze, statuesque supermodels and everyone drinks Caipifrutas. Not really. This cocktail, a slight variation of a Caipirinha — muddled limes, sugar and Brazilian rum — adds strawberries to create what I strongly suspect is a Brazikansan — Arkanzilian? — novelty. I don’t care. Until I’m taught how to say “fugazi” in Portuguese, I’ll enjoy my Caipifruta and “Brazilian-style” cheese bread in ignorant bliss.
Because I failed to identify a summery whiskey cocktail, maybe you can help. Go to Facebook.com/LittleRockSoiree to suggest some brown water-based drinkables we can find at local restaurants.