The Watering Hole: Golden Beetle, 1744 N.W. Market St., 706-2977, BALLARD
The Atmosphere: Golden Beetle feels like a neighborhood bistro. Owner Maria Hines is in the process of painting the blue walls an eggshell color. Well, actually, the lighting is pretty dim inside the restaurant, so it could have been more of a custard color for all I know. Regardless, the lighting in the place makes everything warm and pretty, so the color of the walls is secondary. A group of us arrived as soon as they opened at 5pm on a Tuesday night. We weren't the only ones. There was a line of people vying for a seat in the bar for happy hour. Within two hours, almost all of the wooden tables and chairs in the place were occupied.
The Barkeep: Maria Hines, the chef/owner of Golden Beetle. Why the hell was she bartending?"It's like playing in the kitchen with a completely different set of ingredients," says Hines, who has always liked making cocktails, even at home. "Once I owned this bar I thought it would be fun to play behind it as much as I possibly could. This gives me a great opportunity." Hines started tending bar once a week on November 8th, so this was only the second time she'd been behind the bar. You can now find her tending every Tuesday from now until the end of the year, with the exception of November 29th when she'll be in Washington, DC to team up with Tom Colicchio. According to her PR firm the two will go up against Ming Tsai and Holly Smith "to cook a healthy meal for a family of four for $10 - all part of the Partnership for Healthier America Summit." I guess we'll let her off the hook.
Hines was joined by bar manager, Andy McClellan. "I'm just kind of letting her do her thing. She's got her note cards and everything going on. She's become a student. She's picked up a lot of stuff."
Would he hire her?
"No," says McClellan
"Seriously?," asks Hines. "Maybe bar back, yeah?"
"Sure. Yeah. Absolutely," McClellan quickly responds to his paycheck-signer, adding, "I think she's good. She's getting the basics down. She knows how to make a good drink. There's definitely a little bit of a learning curve as far as bartending in-and-of itself. She's going to get it, you know, but I love her enthusiasm for wanting to get back here and give it a shot. That's something I really admire about her, for sure. It's fun to work with her in this environment."
Hines says she likes the challenge, "It's fun to have such a steep learning curve again."
The Drink: Hines created two cocktails on the menu the night we went: The Kalymnos and Cap'n Manhattan Crunch. She picked the former to make for us that night, named after a rock climbing trip she took where the thyme was abundant. "Typical of a cook behind the bar, I basically made a salad in a glass. It's cucumber (infused gin), yogurt, and thyme honey and a little bit of lime juice." She finished off the drink by misting it with orange blossom oil.
After hearing Hines describe the Cap'n Crunch drink, I ordered one of those, too. It's a creamy, sweeter drink made by placing fried hominy in a glass and pouring bourbon milk over it. It's like an adult cereal--perfectly boozy and a total wake-me-up.
The Verdict: The Kalymnos had a nice body and a wonderful taste. Skepticism ensued when Hines mentioned the yogurt, but it added the perfect amount of balance and creaminess. The result was a refreshing, super clean, tangy drink with a little touch of sweetness. I'm traditionally not a bourbon drinker, but I preferred the Cap'n Manhattan Crunch over The Kalymnos purely because it was fun to drink (it came with a spoon). It really did taste like bourbon cream over a crunchy bar snack. Both drinks were perfectly balanced.
Cap'n Manhattan Crunch
As for her future owning a bar someday Hines says, "That'd be a lot of fun. At some point I think it would be fun to own a bar, but I have more ideas than I have time."