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Disrobing the bar who lived under the stairs: The Archives fine but slow

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Sage leaf garnish adorns two very delicious cocktails. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Sage leaf garnish adorns two very delicious cocktails.
In honor of Halloween, and our encountering participants in the Harry Potter-themed Expecto Bar Crawl on Oct. 6 during our first visit to The Archives, I’m lacing this review with Potter-isms. Worry not if a reference escapes you. What’s most important to glean: Archives mixologist/owner Dylan Currier scored high on his N.E.W.T.s and deserves the title “cocktail wizard.” Prior to his late August launch, he levitated spirits at Cowboy Star, then Sakura Speakeasy. His drinks are damn good. But that doesn’t mean all aspects of the Archives rate ready to win the bar equivalent of the Quidditch Cup.

Somewhat hidden from Muggles, the dimly lit lounge — a mix of booth seating and high-top, black-clothed tables plus a modest mirror-framed bar counter — haunts Colorado Craft’s basement. Enter down the restaurant’s stairs (during hours) or through a back alleyway staircase. And expect at least a short wait on drinks.

Currier, running solo early that evening, was totally in the weeds — where’s a handy house-elf when you need one? We sat at the bar and watched him whiz through his ticket list, shaking drink after drink, meticulously placing garnishes. Nearly 20 minutes passed before we received our cocktails. First, a special, lightly sweet Sage Brush Trail (with which he won Artini a few years ago; formerly on Cowboy Star’s menu), made with gin, lime, simple syrup muddled with sage, and egg white for the velvety, frothy texture, plus a sage leaf garnish for aroma. Next, the excellent Cimarron, made by lacing sotol (a tequila cousin that drinks like a tame mezcal, slightly smoky, spicy and earthy) with the same lime, sugar and sage, but this time with muddled blackberries too, which impart a pretty color and mild fruit essence. 
Location Details The Archives
15 S. Tejon St.
Downtown
Colorado Springs, CO
5 p.m. to 2 a.m., Tuesday through Saturday

Our next round, also from the originals section of the menu versus the classics list, delivers a play on a wassail called El Pomar (one of bartender Courtney Caldwell’s contributions) with Christian Bros Sacred Bond Brandy cut with Distillery 291’s The Decc clove-citrus liqueur, an apple-ginger shrub, lemon and bitters — pure blissful autumn in a glass. As satisfying as a mug of Butterbeer at Hogsmeade, we imagine. While The O.N.E. starts with Old Overholt Bonded Rye (another bonded spirit, denoting at least four years aging in a federally certified warehouse) mixed with herbal-bitter Punt e Mes sweet vermouth to balance the rye’s bite, plus black walnut liqueur and bitters. We snack on a bully burrata plate with roasted garlic and prosciutto. All of Colorado Craft’s appetizer list serves for now as The Archives’ menu — Currier hasn’t finalized plans for his own menu yet, as all his efforts since Colorado Craft co-owner Bryan Bradigan offered him the space earlier this year have understandably gone into building and getting the bar going.

At a follow-up visit, the pork green chile mac and cheese and pork rib sliders treat us just fine, the sliders standing out with blue cheese funk, a deep barbecue sauce and an ideal, airy bun. This time, we only have a drink each over the course of an hour, because we’re never offered more. After another long wait between seating (at a high-top directly in front of the bar) and receiving drinks, we get warm, dedicated attention for a bit, but then sit ignored, with empty plates and near-drained then completely empty drink glasses in front of us — for 20 minutes. It was as if we were wearing an Invisibility Cloak. I silently cast spells: accio server! (a summoning charm) ... Aguamenti! (my water glass was bereft of a refill) ... Incendio! (to light a fire under the asses of the four staff goofing about, swapping stories behind the bar, ignoring customers).

That’s not the service we expect from a place charging $10-$13 for cocktails. Even if that night’s special White Negroni (swapping in slightly less-bitter Suze for Campari) delights with delicacy (the perfect light apéritif) and the Witch’s Brew (a fine, heavy digestif) beautifully bites the tongue with dark rum spice blended into Fernet-Branca’s bitter aromatics and Strega’s minty fennel essence. So yeah, the drinks are badass, fit for a glowing review in The Quibbler. But they’re best when in your hand, not in bottles magically waiting to be poured.

I’ve clearly taken some liberties and had a little fun here playing with the Potter-isms. But goofy framework aside, I’ll reiterate that The Archives easily joins the top cocktail bars in town, quality-wise. It’s a cool space with ample potential. The service deficiencies we experienced are easily fixable. By the time the next menu refresh rolls around — Dec. 21 tentatively, with seasonal hot drinks in tow — I suspect the bumps will be behind Currier and crew. Should be smooth sipping from there.

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