Food & Drink: Sacramento mixology, sip by sip
It’s a lot smarter—and more affordable—to savor spirits instead of slamming them, so say Sacramento’s artisan-cocktail experts
Sometimes the best summer memories are the most familiar. Like recollections of … gin, for instance. Conveniently, what with Sacramento’s burgeoning mixology and craft-cocktail scene, it’s no longer necessary to take the lengthy jaunt to, say, Beretta in the Bay Area for a decent drink; the capital city’s bartenders are taking more subtle, sophisticated, old-world-style risks. Goodbye Red Bull, hello bourbon!
So, take it (speak-)easy this summer and tipple at these bars, where the artisan drinks don’t flow, but take their sweet, delectable, goddamned time.
Speak easy, drink smooth
The Shady Lady Saloon
1409 R Street
Sacramento’s newest—OK only—speak-easy, the Shady Lady prides itself on a wide variety of craft cocktails. The bartenders educate, offer samples and inspire, and general manager Alex Origoni believes that when it comes to cocktailing, “it’s important to get back in touch with the classics.”
What to drink: Pimm’s Cup, the “official drink of Wimbledon,” which comes from British origins dating as far back as the 1600s. It’s a gin cocktail with mellow amber tones that melt over cool slices of cucumber, fresh mint leaves and a fleshy orange garnish. Finished with ginger syrup and a splash of soda, the Pimm’s Cup provides a subtle summer sweetness that’s definitely unexpected. Refreshing, refined and dangerously smooth, a couple of these and you’ll get the guts to ask for Andy Roddick’s phone number.
Also try: the Bourbon Smash, the French 75 or the mai tai.
Lounge on 20
1050 20th Street, Suite 100
Lounge on 20’s cocktail menu invitingly defers to Sacramento’s changing seasons. During the summer, some drinks will feature artisan spirits like Leopold Bros. Michigan Tart Cherry Liqueur and homemade cucumber-infused vodka. General manager Garrett Hintze says that the Lounge currently is developing its very own limoncello. “We like to find ways to round out the palate,” Hintze explains.
What to drink: the Martinez. Coming in on ships from San Francisco Bay, this early 20th-century drink was named after travelers who needed a pick-me-up after so much time on the bone-chilling sea. Although the ingredients have changed over time, Hintze makes his with Gin 209, Dolin sweet vermouth, Luxardo and Regan’s orange bitters. Finished with fresh orange rind, the Martinez brings light citrus tones and a breezy gin martini mouth feel that makes for a perfect Bay Area getaway, but without the pesky toll fees.
Also try: Governor’s Mansion, the Greta, or the Birds & the Bees.
A lost art
Ella Dining Room and Bar
1131 K Street
Ella’s lead bartender Rene Dominguez has only been in town for a year, but already has developed a loyal Sacramento following. But, whatever you do, don’t call him a “mixologist.”
“To me, that title doesn’t describe the genuine education that’s required when it comes to cocktails,” Dominguez says with coy smile. “When you do things right, being a professional bartender is something to be proud of. It’s a lost art.”
What to drink: White Linen. Originally created by Dominguez, this distinct beverage had gone through a few name changes until a regular customer dubbed its now-official title over a late night “brainstorming session.” Made with gin, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, fresh cucumber and even fresher lemon juice, the White Linen’s milky texture and sweet, slightly acidic kick makes you feel like shaking out the Egyptian cottons. Thread counts be damned!
Also try: the Aviation, the Real Gin & Tonic, or the Negroni.
L Wine Lounge and Urban Kitchen
1801 L Street
L lead bartender Chris Tucker makes classic drinks with modern twists. He frequents local farmers’ markets and personalizes traditional tart mixers with locally grown seasonal fruit purees. This spring, for instance, he offered blackberry, ginger, star anise and the mandarin, ginger, fennel tonic flavors.
What to drink: Add a hefty pour of Leopold’s gin to Tucker’s Grapefruit Ginger Peppercorn for a tonic that’s quintessentially July. The drink starts sweet and lemony, but then comes clean with a peppery finish. Also, Tucker finishes some cocktails with custom port-soaked market cherries, a hint of cinnamon and a twist of orange rind. Nice.
Also try: the Ginger Gimlet, Strawberry Rye Cooler, La Fresa.
1801 Capitol Avenue
Bar manager Joe Anthony Savala challenges the traditional Sacramento palate by mixing up margaritas from scratch—because they taste so much better than the typical pre-mix margs.
What to drink: Pisco Sour. First offered in the Chilean and Peruvian regions during the late 1800s, this distinctive cocktail is made with BarSol Acholado, fresh lime juice, sugar and egg white, and is shaken, served creamy but with a medium density. It’s a great option if you grow tired of the traditional margarita.
Also try: the Pisco Punch or the Corazón Puro.