Craft Cocktails

459. Lost River – January 19, 2020 – Detroit, MI

January2020LostRiver1 (2)January2020LostRiver3 (4)January2020LostRiver2 (3)January2020LostRiver4 (3)I don’t do Sunday-Funday extravaganzas nearly enough – as my visit to Lost River reminded me.

A friend and I sought libations at the tiki-themed bar on the East Side of Detroit after walking through the VERY cool, very-view-worthy Robolights Detroit exhibit at the MOCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit) one Sunday in mid-January.

Walking into Lost River felt like walking into another dimension. The bar had its own atmosphere, one that was dimly lit and strewn with faux flowers and vines, fishing nets, twinkle lights, and island-inspired memorabilia and artwork. This is the kind of place where it feels totally possible to forget the time of day, season, and geographical location.

One wall brandished a striking floral mural, and another held a projector screen showing Gilligan’s Island episodes and vintage cartoons. In front of that screen was a xylophone, on which musician Roland Remington played melodically trippy tunes. The tiny place was jam-packed full of ambiance.

Lost River’s drink menu also wasn’t short on ambiance. It features signature cocktails, an array of intriguing tropical beauties encased in all manner of fancy glassware and bedecked with accessories such as rubber duckies, fresh flowers, fruit and herb garnishes – even a skewer of mini marshmallows and a doll-sized firepit to toast them on for one drink (the Fiery Skeleton).

I seriously considered ordering the Morning Routine, a boozy take on cereal and milk (containing a generous portion of Fruity Pebbles), but opted instead for the Rum Barrel, a drink described on Lost River’s menu as containing Appleton Rare Blend, Plantation Xaymaca, and Angostura 5 Year Old rums, grapefruit and lime juices, grenadine, honey falernum, allspice, and bitters. It was tasty – fruity and refreshing!

Lost River doesn’t have its own food menu, but it often hosts pop-up restaurants. Gajiza Dumplins is a frequent food contributor, and we were fortunate to have them there on the night of our visit. My friend enjoyed some of their vegan dumplings, and I savored a bowl of khao soi. Gajiza Dumplings’ take on one of my favorite Thai dishes was excellent with its richly flavored coconut curry broth, chicken thigh meat, egg noodles, and garnishes of pickled cabbage, fried shallots, crunchy noodles, cilantro, chili paste, and a lime wedge. We shared the Tiki Tots, which were supreme comfort-food deliciousness: perfectly crispy, perfectly grease-saturated tater tots tossed in black garlic oil, peanuts, fried shallots, Parmesan cheese, and various spices, served with spicy mayo. Yum, yum, and YUM!

This evening at Lost River was a Sunday-Funday extravaganza I was not soon to forget: it seriously colored that following Monday – and the rest of my week – in rosy-hued, tropically-infused, xylophone-plinky vibes. Thank you, Lost River, for transporting me to an isle of carefree fun for a couple of hours!

15421 Mack Ave.

Detroit, MI 48224

(Closed Mondays and Tuesdays)

www.lostrivertiki.com

371. Sfumato/Castalia – October 18, 2018 – Detroit, MI

October2018SfumatoCastalia1 (4)October2018SfumatoCastalia2 (2)October was a busy month of visits for me (11 in total!). And when I called upon a gorgeously-kept Victorian manse one Thursday evening in mid-October, I got two visits for the price of one via Sfumato/Castalia, a perfume shop by day and cocktail bar by night.

I’d stumbled across this unique establishment while searching online for naturally made perfumes sold in the area. I was in need of a new scent but wanting to veer away from traditionally-made perfumes with their oft-synthetic ingredients. Sfumato’s site popped up in my search results, and I was psyched to learn that a perfumery creating signature scents from plant-based ingredients resided right in Midtown.

According to Sfumato’s website, its scents are concocted from “trees, flowers, herbs, and spices.” This is evident when you step into its basement-level shop and sniff sample sticks of the eight perfume varieties currently for sale.

Four perfumes reside in Sfumato’s Signature collection, and four are deemed Black Label. An eight-milliliter bottle (dubbed the Travel size) of a Signature scent is $30; a Black Label variety in that size is $40. Sixty-millileter Standard size bottles run $90 and $120, respectively.

And then there are the perfume flights – the route I ended up taking. I couldn’t decide which of Sfumato’s scents I liked the best, so I decided to get to know the four Signature varieties (Epiphany, Gravitas, Siren Song, and Survival Instinct) better via the flight option, which proffers one-milliliter sample vials of each for $15 (the flight containing the four Black Label perfumes is $20).

Three and a half weeks after my visit to Sfumato, I’m down to the dregs of those four vials of Signature scents, and I’ve enjoyed the heck out of them. I find wearing the herbal, woodsy, citrusy, luxurious plant-based scents both soothing and exotic.

It’s a close call between Gravitas, Survival Instinct, and Epiphany as to which one is my favorite, but my snap-judgment verdict at the moment is that it’s Epiphany, with its aura poetically described on Sfumato’s website of “intense greenness with hints of dew-covered moss and life ready to step into the sunlight. An elegant party that always pleases, no matter who attends. The scent of myself, delivered divinity on a fresh spring day.” How can one not feel transformed by the wearing of a scent with a description such as that?

As the wearer feels transformed by the donning of Sfumato’s enchanting scents, so Sfumato itself transforms into something else entirely. In the evenings, starting at 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, its shop counter turns into a bar rail, and it becomes Castalia, the cocktail bar.

And as one might expect, Castalia is not your typical cocktail bar. Each of its signature alcoholic beverages have been inspired by one of Sfumato’s scents. When you order one, it’s served to you with a napkin sprayed with the scent that inspired the drink. You’re encouraged to sniff the napkin as you sip the drink to mingle the olfactory experience with the tasting experience. Non-alcoholic versions of each cocktail are also available.

I decided on the cocktail that paired with the Mocha Valentino Black Label perfume, the Cacao Manhattan, and savored the rich notes of chocolate, coffee, and spice in the whiskey-based drink as well as in the scent that accompanied it.

While as a perfume shop Sfumato’s tiny interior had been welcoming, I especially adored the environs as a bar. With its dusky lighting and stone walls, it was intimate and cozy; the bartenders were the consummate hosts, friendly and charming. What an ideal place to enjoy a warming cocktail and the rich scents that accompany it on a dreary winter’s evening (or any evening, really)!

3980 Second Ave.

Detroit, MI 48201

www.sfumatofragrances.com

www.castaliacocktails.com

225. Katoi – January 18, 2017 – Detroit, MI

20170118_17380620170118_17390120170118_173909The first half of January, I didn’t do any exploring – I was too busy recovering from the busy holiday season and acclimating to 2017, I guess! I’d been dying to get down to Detroit for weeks and weeks, and I was there to see Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at the Fisher Theatre the week after New Year’s – but alas, no exploring of new places occurred then (the neighborhood around Fisher Theatre is sorely lacking in restaurants and bars –  local restaurateurs, scope it out!). So I was psyched to have an excuse to go downtown again on the 18th – not only because I was going to the Red Wings/Bruins game thanks to a generous friend who gifted me a ticket for Christmas, but also because I knew we’d be trying at least one new place (yay to friends who are open to exploring!).

I was especially enthused when my friend said she was down for dining at Katoi. The Thai restaurant, which opened last year, had been on my radar thanks to a coworker who is supplying the restaurant with her free-range, organic pork. She’d praised the creativity and skill of the head chef and commented on the unique space that housed the restaurant.

Apparently, I wasn’t paying enough attention when she spoke about the building, because I didn’t realize that Katoi is housed in what appears to be a former auto shop. It’s also on a stretch of Michigan Avenue in Corktown that’s less lively than the strip that houses Sugar House and Slow’s and Astro Coffee and Gold Cash Gold about a third of a mile down. Perhaps the desolation I felt was summoned by the GPS navigating us off of Michigan Ave. to the trash-strewn alley behind the restaurant, telling us that we had arrived . . . yeah, NO, GPS.

At any rate, the outside of Katoi is nondescript and deceptive, belying the awesomeness that is inside. Stepping across the threshold of this former industrial building, I stepped into – what else? – a trendy, intimate dining space, all exposed brick, frosted glass, and colorful lighting. Like so many other buildings in Detroit, this one has been reborn into something completely different from what it once was. I never tire of discovering the various incarnations of this city. The repurposing, the creativity – it’s so exciting!

The menu presented so many intriguing options that it was hard to select only a few. Most dishes were more like small plates than full-blown entrees, so my friend and I ended up sharing four: the Stir-Fried Brussels Sprouts with a cashew cream sauce, the nuanced Thrice Cooked Sweet Potatoes, the spicy Drunken Pastrami Noodles, and the meaty Crispy Spareribs coated with a caramel fish sauce crust. All were delicious, but the vegetable dishes were our hands-down faves; they were so flavorful! My friend and I were like, “We need someone to cook us vegetables this delicious every day!”

We also had some KILLER cocktails whose names I neglected to take note of. Mine was pink, grapefruit-infused, flavorful, and strong.

When we left Katoi around 6:45 to head to the Joe, the tiny waiting area was packed, and the lot, alleyway, and street outside the restaurant were littered with cars parked every-which-way. Not a bad draw for a Wednesday night in the middle of winter!

2520 Michigan Ave.

Detroit, MI 48216

www.katoidetroit.com

 

197. Standby – October 8, 2016 – Detroit, MI

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Standby’s discreet entrance sign and the impressive artwork fronting it

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The Belt

20161008_17191120161008_174036Continuing my birthday celebrations from last week into Saturday, some friends and I met for a pre-dinner drink at Standby, a cool little bar tucked away in The Belt. In case you, like me before Saturday, have never encountered The Belt, it’s this vibrant alley space located between Broadway and Library streets downtown. Strings of lightbulbs, graffiti artwork, and other displays of creativity brighten this corridor between buildings. It’s an area meant to promote artists and engage the public with their work, according to Standby’s website. It’s also characteristically modern Detroit – another facet of its magical rebirth phase.

Standby’s entrance within this busy alleyway was initially unrecognizable to us – until we spotted the small carved wooden sign to the right of a metal door just beyond a massive artwork display of a man’s face.

The discreet nature of the bar’s storefront is intentional, according to its website. It wants to feel hidden away, so that those who visit feel like they are hiding away, too. That appeals to me. I get that urge to escape sometimes, to be somewhere where no one in my life knows where I am.

Carrying though this intention, Standby’s interior is small and intimate, dim, mysterious. There’s a tiny bar rail, dark wood, contemporary artwork on the walls. There’s a food menu containing what appears to be a few small plates (beets with ricotta; brussels sprouts; shrimp escabeche, to name several), a few entrees (including a cheeseburger and curry-braised lamb) and two desserts (du jour ice cream and chocolate selections). And there’s the drink menu, consisting of some very classy – and very strong – craft cocktails.

Said cocktails are also quite pricey – but they are a value considering how much liquor they contain! My legs were boozy-numb after only a few sips of my Dowager Empress, a gin, Chrysanthemum syrup, rosewater and bitters-infused concoction served in a tumbler with a grapefruit peel and one of those big square ice cubes. It was a drink that demanded to be savored.

225 Gratiot Ave.
Detroit, MI 48226

www.standbydetroit.com

162. Two James Spirits – January 24, 2016 – Detroit, MI

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In my next lifetime, I am going to come back as one of those pretty, tattooed female bartenders you see everywhere around Detroit, and I am going to tend bar at an establishment just like Two James. A bright, beautiful bar, the perfect mix of gritty (set in an obviously former industrial building) and elegant (featuring vivid floral-themed artwork and metallic orb light fixtures with delicate cutout design work floating around the bar). Small and intimate. And crafting with care a deliciously stiff drink. Damn, was the drink I had there amazing! It was a White Russian, and I think it had a name other than White Russian on the menu – but of course, I can’t recall that name (I need to start taking notes in my travels – this is critical info!).

While I was prompted by the menu description to order this, I’ve heretofore never been much of a White Russian girl – and it’s probably because, I am realizing now, I never had one that was made properly! Two James’ is perfection – due in large part, I am sure, to the fact that it contains its own distilled vodka. The distillery also produces various whiskies, two kinds of gin, a bourbon, a mezcal, and absinthe. So yes! It is the perfect establishment for some chill Sunday afternoon spirits-imbibing.

The day I visited Two James and also Mercury Burger and Bar, January 24, also happened to be the one-year anniversary of me hitting the landmark of 100 local places visited since starting this blog (with my visit to Grand Trunk Pub in Detroit on January 24, 2015)! That I had planned this visit to Detroit on this day was a happy accident – but one that I was pleased to discover.

2445 Michigan Ave.
Detroit, MI 48216

www.twojames.com

156. Fork n’ Pint – December 26, 2015 – Waterford, MI

20151226_20411420151226_19401920151226_194001Chicken ‘n’ waffle! Poutine! Roasted root salad! The large and impressive menu of the recently opened Fork n’ Pint in Waterford boasts numerous rich-and-cozy comfort-food dishes. You need a hearty, substantial meal to go with all of those craft cocktails and beers you’ll be consuming in the confines of the cozy, cabin-esque establishment. (OK, I am sensing a theme with cozy for me here. I am in flannel pajamas and drinking tea with a candle warmly burning next to me in the dead of winter, so cozy is kind of my jam right now).

I probably didn’t need to be gorging on fried chicken, waffle, cheesy grits, and fries loaded with gravy and cheese curds the night after two days of holiday celebration and all of the festive eating that entails, but well, why not? Why not continue the glorious, fat-drenched revelry? After all, this was a special dinner. I reconnected with some friends I worked with years ago, who I’ve kept in decent touch with but who at most I only see one to two times a year. Our workplace was one of those one-of-a-kind office environments with one-of-a-kind people who you will never forget, and friendships forged that allow you to pick up exactly where you left off and to reminisce about hijinks surrounding the old joint and to cackle with glee over the gossip. Old work-joint gossip is possibly the best kind of gossip! And poutine is my jam! So I was pretty content with my visit to Fork n’ Pint. And I’d love to go there again to try out more of that delectable-looking menu.

4000 Cass Elizabeth Rd.

Waterford, MI 48328

www.forknpint.com

126. Jolly Pumpkin – June 20, 2015 – Detroit, MI

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I struggled, as I did when I visited Ashley’s in Westland back in November, with whether I should include Detroit’s Jolly Pumpkin as a new place on my blog, because I have already been multiple times to the Ann Arbor location. But as with Ashley’s, I ultimately decided to see the recently opened Detroit location of JP as its own entity. Yes, it’s got the same name and brand and is owned by the same people, but it has its own distinct look and setup, and the food menu also looks to be more extensive (I NEED to go back and eat there – the pizzas look amazing!). That’s the wonderful thing about most local chains – I wouldn’t even call most of them chains, just brands with several locations – they are not cookie-cutter. They adapt the aura of their surroundings, and the Detroit Jolly Pumpkin is decidedly Midtown. It’s a gorgeous facility, with this great rustic-slash-urban-industrial, renewed-Detroit feel to it (locals, you know the vibe I’m talking about – it’s lovely and refreshing!). Spending time in the city extensively Saturday, enjoying it and watching other people enjoy it, felt so uplifting. A rebirth is totally happening down there, for real! I feel grateful to live in the proximity of this unique, diverse place and to get to witness its transformation. I can’t wait to do down to there again for the Tigers game this Sunday and to enjoy it some more.

So, total confession: I was sacrilegious and didn’t get one of Jolly Pumpkin’s renowned sour beers. But that’s ok, because they’ve got some signature cocktails, too, and I discovered they are pretty amazing! Admittedly, I am one of those people who likes to get a cocktail just because it is unusual-sounding: the weirder, the better. I’ll run the risk of a drink tasting horrible just to drink something different. At JP, I ordered the Rita Hayworth, which contains chipotle cherry agave tequila. It had quite a smoky flavor that took some getting used to, but the more I drank it, the more it grew on me (it didn’t hurt that it was pretty strong!). Sitting there at the picnic tables, people-watching and enjoying the company of my friend as I sipped a craft cocktail on a Saturday afternoon, it was like, this is it. This is summer in Michigan. This is what being alive is all about!

441 W. Canfield

Detroit, MI 48201

http://www.jollypumpkin.com

43. The Oakland Art Novelty Company – August 7, 2014 – Ferndale, MI

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The Patsy and Edina and the Le Antoinette, two happy hour offerings

I was so excited to finally get to The Oakland. A friend and I went for its happy hour, and it was delightful! I loved the old-fashioned richness of its interior, which is dark and candlelit and helps you to feel that you’ve been transported to an alternate reality.

It reminds me of a similar concept to The Sugar House in Detroit – meticulously created specialty cocktails served in an old-fashioned environment – though I must admit, I prefer The Oakland. Its menu doesn’t boast the voluminous selection that The Sugar House’s does, but the staff I encountered was very friendly and knowledgeable, and I’m sure they could make anything you asked for. Plus, it has a great happy hour that features delicious $5 drinks – quite a deal, considering that the average regular drink price there is double to triple that.

201 W. 9 Mile Rd.

Ferndale, MI 48220

http://theoaklandferndale.com