The Watering Hole: The Grizzled Wizard, 2317 N. 45th St. WALLINGFORD
The Atmosphere: After being chased around Wallingford by a blue Subaru Impreza in what semed to be a really lame adaptation of The Fast and the Furious, I arrived at The Grizzled Wizard thirsty and excited to see what a bar like this could have in store. Despite what the name might imply, there are no pale-faced kids playing Magic: The Gathering in this bar. The space could be called a dive, but the cleanliness and attention to detail don't give off the typical vibe. And with a cooler full of Olympia tall boys, fresh juices for mixer, a plentiful jukebox and a multicade console with 48 free classic arcade games, some might call the place heaven instead.
The Barkeep: Fresh off a vacation to the San Juan Islands, co-owner and everyday-looking guy Joe Couden opened the bar three and a half months ago--on St. Patrick's Day, of all days to open a bar--and until that point was a chef around the city for nearly 14 years.The Drink: Couden has been doing plenty of experimentation behind the bar, developing a pulled pork sandwich shot and a Hawaiian pizza shot, and he's working on a lutefisk shot using Swedish Fish-infused vodka. But when asked what he drinks, the barkeep headed straight for the classic: an old-fashioned. As could be expected, he gave it a slight twist by going the "liquid" route and leaving out muddled ingredients, giving it "the same profile without all the weird stuff that gets caught in your mustache and/or teeth." Couden's preferred base, (ri)1--pronounced rye one--is a top shelf liquor that perfectly contrasts with the bar and holds its own in the drink without overpowering the flavor of the bitters.
The Verdict: After tasting to make sure it was right, Couden handed it over--and it definitely was. Undeniably strong but equally smooth, the (ri)1 made for a great starting block to accentuate the layers of the cocktail. But that may be more description than the drink really needs; the Grizzled Wizard isn't big, upscale, or especially "classy." But none of those things matter because the drinks are good and strong, and as far as friendly bartenders and arcade games go it's hard to beat.