We may not get the dramatic announcements of spring's arrival that other parts of the country get, like crocuses jetting out through the snow, but we do get our own subtle declaration of a new season. With asparagus season having peaked, the presence of local strawberries and cherries forecasting longer, warming days, and cocktail menus around town start to get a refresh.
While Blackbird has shifted their entire menu from the heavier drinks of winter, warming and substantial, to a collection of refreshing sippers, Rickhouse has introduced an entirely new menu, doing away with the drink bible and focusing their offerings. Here's a quick look at both new menus:
When bar man Erick Castro opened up Rickhouse in 2009, the bar featured a beautifully designed menu with a staggering 60+ drinks. Soon after, a quick service, single page menu was developed to help expedite service with the larger menu's most popular drinks, but the large tome was always available as well.
Now general manager Dan Chavez Stahl and bar manager Lucien Sankey have updated and consolidated the menu into a single sheet of 15 cocktails, broken up into categories that reference terms used on bottles of whiskies: The Family Estate, Cask Strength, Experimental Collection, and Special Reserve.
The Family Estate part of the menu is the largest and also the most approachable. It includes something for everyone, leaning towards less intense flavors. These are the kinds of drinks you could happily have all night and not get bored. The Fort Point ($10, bourbon, grapefruit, cherry liqueur, falernum liqueur) is a stellar example: juicy and refreshing, but with enough complexity to keep you going back.
The Cask Strength section highlights spirit forward drinks, like the Rickhouse Mint Julep ($12, Custom Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon, Mandarine Napoleon, mint, spring bitters), and the Experimental Collection emphasizes their more unusual characters like the darkness of the Midnight City ($12, Appleton Reserve Rum, lemon, creole shrub, honey, egg white, imperial stout).
The Special Reserve submenu showcases the backbar collection of some high-end spirits, merely accented with mixers and designed to let the spirits take center stage, like in the Ramblin' Man ($15, Noah's Mill 15 Year Bourbon, Cocchi di Torino, Becherovka). The bourbon's long slumber in oak gets a wake up call with slight honey and herbal sweetness.
While not a conceptual overhaul, the menu is completely new at Blackbird, one of its thrice-yearly shifts. The spring menu is a nice mix of spirit and produce driven cocktails all with a warmer weather skew. Cocktails like the Sumo Wrestler ($10, Evan Williams Bourbon, nigori sake, yuzu marmalade, yuzu juice) taste like a walk through citrus orchard, or the Kokomo ($9, rum, orgeat, coconut water, Angostura Bitters) seem equally at home on warm days or huddled inside on foggy ones.
The standouts are bartenders Gina Butler's Lola ($10, Espelon Tequila, Vida Mezcal, white tea, King's Ginger, grapefruit bitters) , that tastes like a white agave spirit version of a Manhattan and Matt Grippo's Strawberry Cooler ($10, vodka, Rosato Vermouth, strawberries, balsamic, lemon, Peychauds Bitters) that had me thinking this vodka character might not be so bad after all.
Blackbird, 2124 Market (at Church), 503-0630
Rickhouse, 246 Kearny (at Bush), 398-2827