This cocktail review comes courtesy of ace music intern/contributing writer Hollis Wong-Wear, who typically drinks solely for impact. Not anymore, perhaps.
Nicholson shelved his grad school plans upon sampling a Sidecar.
Watering Hole: Smith, a middle child of the Linda Derschang empire, which resides on 15th Avenue on the Hill (332 15th Ave. E., 322-9420).
The Atmosphere: A cross between an old, stately library and an after-hours gathering spot for the sophisticated hunter. There is a significant amount of taxidermy on display, and the ambiance is dark and wooden. The space is filled with long tables and the general milieu of the more elevated Capitol Hill--i.e., more refined than the Pike/Pine corridor. And we'll call the crowd "yupsters."
The Barkeep: Geoff Nicholson, who has been working at Smith for a year and a half, and previous kept bar at Marcus' Martini Heaven in Pioneer Square. From Kansas City by way of Reno, Geoff's personality is serious yet affable, with an obvious rapport with the bar regulars and a passion for the drinks he serves up.
The Drink: A Sidecar, which is roughly two ounces of Mextaxa (a Greek brandy), a dash of Cointreau, a touch of simple syrup, and a sugar rim and fresh lemon juice topped with an orange twist. "It's the drink that made me want to keep bartending," says Geoff, a Wazzu grad who was working as a barback at the W Hotel as a placeholder for graduate school ambitions. It was then, after a shift, that he auspiciously entered the Viceroy (now the Rob Roy) on 2nd and Battery and was served his first Sidecar. "It made me realize that there's more to mixing cocktails than making a vodka cran."
Merely on my second year of legal discerning drinking, I believe the last drink I ordered for myself was a vodka cran. "You girls are lucky, since this is a great time to start to learn more about cocktails," Geoff said.
While pouring the Sidecar, Geoff cited Tavern Law on 12th and Pine as a bar that embodies an almost gourmet approach to mixing drinks. "They even have premium ice over there," he tells us. Compelled, my friend orders a Bye Bye Birdie, one of Smith's seasonal specials; her drink is frothy with egg whites and has a smooth gin finish.
As for the Sidecar, it is nearly as sweet as a well-made whisky sour (my knee-jerk, gendered fallback), and I understand why this drink was the catalyst for Geoff's cocktail epiphany. It is an elegant drink, with a nuance and precision in its execution, yet not as strong or demanding as, say, a Manhattan (which I have yet to learn to appreciate).
While our palates were getting educated, Derschang herself kindly came over to introduce herself from where she was doing paperwork at the other end of the bar. "I just told her that I first had a Sidecar at the Viceroy," said Geoff to Linda.
"Ah," Linda replied. "I remember being at the Capitol Club back in 1998; the Sidecar was one of my favorite drinks." And it is here that the potential of fine drinking breezes by me: quality drinks married to quality moments and memories. While my approach to nightlife drinking has largely been utilitarian, I cradle the Sidecar and envision a reality where my young self studies and savors my beverages, not just slamming one down to go onto the next.
And much like an impassioned teacher's assistant, Geoff pulls a fat book from under the bottom shelf of liquor bottles: it is The "Art of the Bar" by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz, a textbook for the knowledgeable drinker. "That should be a great place to start," he tells me.
My education has begun.