- Matthew Schniper
- Almagre's whole aesthetic belongs to a particularly well-curated Pinterest board.
Style is everything. And the Bar at Almagre has it. In spades.
At sunset, golden light filters in through sheer curtain panels, casting long shadows across Turkish rugs. Light woods on the bar face, high-top tables and wide coffee tables speak in illuminated languages of wavy woodgrains. Blue and orange leather modern chairs, brown barstools and gold-nailhead-accented, button-tufted sofas slowly fill with patrons in trendy plaid, and stark black T-shirts, button-downs, sweaters and hats, as if a batch of stage-crew hands just called it a wrap, or someone scheduled a nihilists meet-up.
Everyone is beautiful inside a space like this, perhaps even more intelligent and funny. Even my friend Seth.
Long pendant lights hang over the horseshoe-shaped, white stone-capped bar in front of an unfinished cinder block wall made fashionable somehow with its linear rectangle-patterned, melty-mortar grayness. Gold and brass adornments around the room, including gold-finished cutlery and picture frames around classical landscape paintings, plus cylindrical vases on a central end table also set with a Navajo basket and horse carving give a sense of standing in some wealthy person’s stuffy study.
Yet co-owner and designer Mundi Ross has tastefully reined in the design to be just shy of too much — of anything. Too formal, too hipster, too unfinished and raw, too polished and pretty. In everything here she has found balance. There’s a certain Dwell magazine aesthetic, wordlessly whispering “put me on Pinterest, I’m perfect.”
Of course that does make the ideal backdrop for fine craft drink and food, which ultimately acts as a calling card for what the attached event venue stands capable of when it comes to wedding and party catering, plus special one-off, drink-paired dinners. Ross and co-owner Grace Harrison, of Peak Place and Hold Fast Coffee, refer to the whole concept as an “urban industrial wedding and events venue and bar,” and they wisely enlisted accomplished former Garden of the Gods Gourmet executive chef Amy Fairbanks to design their tapas-like menu of regional and international food boards — uniformly $16 dining assemblages artfully presented on long-handled wood blocks. We go for Mexico City, Bordeaux and Scandinavia.
- Matthew Schniper
- You don't want to miss any of mixologist Christian De Los Santos' cocktails.
But first, we start our drink sampling with a barrel-aged mini cocktail flight (also $16) of four house-aged concoctions: a Manhattan, Boulevardier, Bijou and a Oaxaca Old Fashioned. Axe and the Oak Whiskey House-alum and bar manager Christian De Los Santos oversees this program, and told me back in August that it’s about “adding complexities to the classics we all know and love.”
The Manhattan, using Axe and the Oak’s rye whiskey, sips spot-on, but smoother around the edges of taste perception, somewhat mellowed out just by the minimal aging. De Los Santos usually lets the barrels go for four to six weeks in a high-char barrel (which generally affects various aspects of finish aromas and flavors). He says the sharper notes of the spirits do tone down, creating a more rounded marriage of flavors. But each recipe requires finessing; for example the Bijou’s Chartreuse has a tendency to take over with sweetness the longer it sits, while highly bitter Campari actually softens some, which we notice immediately in the Boulevardier. So bartenders here actually add the bitters component upon serving rather than let the barrel become a total science project, though “we adjust with assumption when we batch,” he says.
We find the Oaxaca Old Fashioned — Mi Campo blanco tequila, Rayu mezcal, agave and orange bitters — the best of the bunch; it’s a drink invented just over a decade ago at the respected East Village New York bar Death & Co., and has gained popularity for good reason. Since the Rayu sees a slight bit of taming through age, this barrel-aged version makes for a great gateway mezcal for those who haven’t yet come to appreciate the potent drink’s smoky splendor. Get a full one for $12.
House cocktails (a section of the menu that changes every six months) meanwhile run $10 while classics like a Negroni or Sidecar are $9. Two drinks that appeared on the opening house menu are the Hippie Painkiller and Night + Day: the former an island-y rum mix with coconut cream and pineapple plus carrot juice for a bright orange hue, lemon and OJ for more citric punch, and ginger for closing zing. In the latter, Hold Fast cold brew and Allspice Dram join cacao rum and Creme de Tequila for a chocolate- and coffee-forward dessert drink that tastes like a White Russian went to finishing school to get a little classier.
From the post-Halloween new house menu, we also nab an early sampling of a drink De Los Santos named the Ancho Fuego: Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, Mi Campo blanco, sweet vermouth, and Leopold Bros. Aperitivo (which has now replaced Campari across the menu for its similar properties). A charred jalapeño coin garnish adds wonderful aroma to the drink, a lovely blend of spice and herbal influence.
Unsurprisingly this pairs perfectly with our Mexico City board, composed of four fine pastor tacos complete with big pineapple chunks, chile-lime-seasoned jicama slivers and crunchy chicharrones, and a pair of refreshing, ivory-white coconut and rice milk paletas (popsicles). Not every board features a sweet component, though the French spread’s baked Brie could be dessert to some diners, even if it’s spiked with roasted garlic. A scallion aioli receives new potato segments with gusto while sourdough baguette slices await the cheese, thin ham shavings and fig or Dijon mustard or butter smears, with cornichons as acidic offset.
Now that Smørbrød has folded — we may be the only city uncivilized enough to fail to support a Nordic spot, given the cuisine’s trendiness elsewhere — The Bar at Almagre may have to lead the Scandinavian charge with its single board, built around wild-caught smoked salmon slices and a fantastic, dill-rich, wild-caught pickled herring salad (its pungency buffered by apple bits). Fairbanks finds more sharp touchpoints with pickled red onions (pretty in pink against the wood block) and a horseradish-scallion chevre — its tangy goat cheese nature a nice sub-in for what would be cream cheese on a lox bagel. But this board instead gifts dark toasted rye bread points, their caraway essence another strong flavor that happily receives smoked-salt butter or mustard, each a welcome condiment for hard-boiled egg and new potato segments, too.
Though the boards feel substantial on a one-to-one ratio per person, we add a recommended couple of à la carte items: a light and textbook bruschetta trio, and a small plate of Bomb Nachos extracted from the Midday-Midnight-Munchies board, basically stoner food that has Fairbanks following in Ross’ footsteps for pushing the eclectic boundary at Almagre right up to a tipping point, yet finding tasteful balance. Pickled onions and jalapeños lead the charge atop corn-quinoa tortilla chips also loaded with chile-roasted pulled pork and Cheddar Jack, with a capricious sour cream drizzle zig-zagging under chopped cilantro leaves.
We can’t finish everything we’ve ordered and request to-go boxes, only to be denied. I shoot De Los Santos a puzzled, sideways head tilt, like when your dog is trying to understand what you’re saying to him. He smiles professionally and says something to the effect of how Ross and Harrison figure with the shared-plate concept most groups will clean plates.
Secretly, I figure Ross just couldn’t find a to-go box fashionable enough to meet her design standards. Like, if there were ones not price-prohibitive made out of wood with inlaid gold accents it’d be game-on. Simply put: If it’s not stylin’, it’s not here. That’s Almagre.