Every time I think I’m just going to drive by Proof + Pantry without stopping in, I am immediately reminded how serene that bar is, especially in the afternoons — even as the restaurant is closing out lunch tabs and preparing for dinner service; I can’t think of a better spot to sit and enjoy a cocktail at the completely appropriate drinking hour of 2 p.m. It's quiet, it's beautiful, and more than anything, it's a solid place to get day-drunk without being bothered.
When I veer off of Woodall Rodgers into the bar this time, though, I find the seats in the restaurant empty and the staff tending to their opening duties. Really, if you’re trying to find a little piece of serenity in this (sometimes) God-forsaken city, there’s nothing more relaxing than sitting at this sun-washed bar, especially when you’re the only person in the world they’ve got to pay attention to.
I'm initially very dismayed to find that my usual, the I’m Rich, has been taken off the menu. It feels like an affront to my lush-like demeanor. All is well once Michael Martensen explains that they took the drink off the menu after lime prices spiked all the way up to $120 (or more) per case. He reassures me that lime prices are back on the decline, and that my favorite drink will soon be back on the menu.
In the meantime, I have to make a choice. The new cocktail menu at Proof + Pantry is as strong as it has ever been, which makes deciding on a single drink — the only appropriate amount to consume before my drive in traffic home — a near impossible choice. Maybe that’s why I've stuck with the I’m Rich for so long. I take a shot in the dark, and order the Cards on the Table. I’m a sucker for a cheeky name, and even more likely to be enticed by a drink made with strawberry and cardamom-infused tequila.
The Cards on the Table is a relatively simple cocktail — just the tequila, lemon juice and agave nectar. Without the fruity and herbaceous infused tequila, it would probably just be a pretty basic tequila sour. Or maybe you’d think of it as more of a margarita. Either way, it’s not really either of those drinks. The tequila is very present up front, but that infusion keeps it from being too overpowering or sweet. Agave nectar, used in place of traditional simple syrup, provides the tiniest touch of sweetness.
And then comes the black pepper. Freshly cracked over the cocktail as its only garnish, a touch of pepper would have been the perfect way to round it all out — salty, sweet, sour, fruity, and finally, a little bit spicy. But today, the bartender is a little overzealous and sends a massive flurry of sneeze-inducing pepper over the top of my glass. Fortunately, I had the wherewithal to give the drink a stir before taking the first sip.
Also quite fortunately, the big dose of black pepper isn't too much. It does sort of sit unappetizingly at the bottom of the glass, and if you’re brave enough to take that final sip, it will probably be mostly pepper and a little iced down drink. Still, this cocktail wouldn’t be the same without this addition, even if it doesn’t really fit in with the sophisticated and clean aesthetic that defines Proof + Pantry.
What is important, though, is that this is a really stellar drink, especially if you ask the barman to go a little easy on the black pepper. If you’re lucky, he may even pour you a shot of that strawberry-cardamom tequila to taste on its own — it’s unlikely you’ve ever tasted a spirit, infused or otherwise, with such a unique and gentle flavor. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll have time to drink a second before rushing out and rejoining the real world.