Standard Pour, Uptown's newest cocktail den, brought to you by Brian McCullough of Smoke and pop-up bar fame and the team behind Sfuzzi, opened last week in the old Lotus space at 2900 Mckinney Avenue.
The patio was packed on a breezy Wednesday night, and inside was at about three-quarters capacity at 8 p.m. -- not bad for a place that just opened. We managed to grab a couple stools and squeeze in at the far end of the distressed wooden bar. The interior has a rustic, aged feel, like the bar has been there forever -- a far cry from the bottle service club with pseudo-Zen décor that the building used to house.
Faded brick walls and dark wood floors set the scene, with tufted brown leather sofas and wrought-iron light fixtures lending to the old library feel. Tall shelves behind the bar are stacked with bottles of premium and obscure liquors -- not a DeKuyper product in sight -- up to the ceiling, with a rolling ladder so bartenders can pluck bottles from the highest shelves. (I'd hate to climb that thing after a few drinks.)
The menu is housed in a floppy brown leather booklet, its dozen or so pages looking like they rolled off a turn-of-the-century printing press. The first few pages are dedicated to food, but I skipped past those, hungering only to increase my blood alcohol level.
Cocktails are divided into several categories, including The Founding Fathers (classics like the Manhattan, Old-Fashioned, Americano, Vieux Carre), Mules (a mule is a drink made with ginger beer and citrus juice, e.g. the Moscow Mule, and served in a traditional copper mug), Absinthes, Sours, Tikis, Champagne Cocktails, and Shots, including a Jameson with pickle back and a Dude, Sweet Chocolate-infused Rumpleminze.
I started off with the One-Eyed Jack, at the recommendation of McCullough himself. The drink consists of Applejack, Cocchi di Torino vermouth, Angostura bitters, lemon juice, and a brown sugar simple syrup (why didn't I think of that?). It's perfectly balanced, with the tartness of apple and lemon sweetened up with the hint of molasses from the brown sugar, while the bitter notes keep it grounded.
In my efforts to develop a taste for more serious drinks, I've steered away from champagne cocktails as of late, feeling that they're often on the menu just as a concession to ladies that can't handle a "real" cocktail. Standard Pour, though, has some inspired offerings in the category, including the Life & Death. I watched intently as the Australian dreamboat of a bartender spritzed a flute with a light misting of absinthe, then poured gin, lemon juice and Aperol over a sugar cube.
The mixture was shaken and added into the absinthe-scented glass, then topped off with bubbly. The Aperol (an Italian aperitif very similar to Campari, but lower in alcohol) gave it a lovely coral hue and a slight bitter edge, while the absinthe was present more in aroma than taste--a Good Thing, as Martha would say, as I find its strong licorice notes can often overtake the other, more subtle nuances of a cocktail. This is a Champagne drink with balls.
"Do you have anything not made with gin?" I overheard a girl ask the bartender. She was dumbfounded to hear that there was only one real vodka drink on the menu, and switched to pinot noir instead. This got me wondering: Will Standard Pour's cocktail menu go over the heads of many of its clientele? It's easy to see how a menu heavy on the gin and bourbon can be intimidating to those drinkers uninitiated in the ways of the classic cocktail, so McCullough and crew might find it beneficial to make a list of transitional drinks, i.e., "If you usually order a vodka-soda, try a Moscow Mule."
Regardless, I don't think the lack of Red Bull and frozen drink machines will hurt them any. The location is just right to ensure that the bar will be humming most every night, in a neighborhood where the locals have plenty of expendable income.