Saturday, October 1, 2005

Back to the Bars!

Behold the cocktail, embodiment of western civilization. Evolved from ancient technology (distillation was known to Babylonian alchemists 25 centuries ago; medieval pharmacists concocted flavored alcohols) and enhanced by contemporary imagination, designer drinks have graduated from patent medicine to emblems of sophistication.

The latest spot to cater to our fascination with retro nostrums is Suite 410, around the corner from Toi on the slippery slope between the Mariners Store and Rochester Big & Tall. Toi's owners, Damon Maletta and Max Borthwick, had already demonstrated a knack for exotic beverages; their move to Suite 410 has left culinary pretensions behind to concentrate on beverages, period.

They hired drinks guru Ryan Margarian (remember when he was the barman at Zoe?) to develop a list of "resurrected" and "original" cocktails, and brought in Robert Hess (whose website,, is the authoritative record for cocktail recipes) to train the staff in mixological history. The result is a lounge that's gratifyingly serious about its drinks-not in a snobby "battle of the premium vodkas" way, but serious like great restaurants. Serving a vodka-soda would be like the chef sending out an unadorned head of lettuce.

The "chef" at Suite 410 is Amon Mende, lately at Via Tribunale and remembered by downtown imbibers as Murray Stenson's talented understudy at Cafe ZigZag. No free-pours here; everything is measured into a mixing glass, some aromatic ingredients literally by the drop. Ice is added only when the blend is perfect. And worth the wait.

Suite 410 isn't a loss leader for a dance club with $1 well drinks. It isn't the waiting room for a restaurant. In fact, everything's the same price-$8.75. Steep but fair. I just hope the throngs of pretty young things packing the joint every night understand what they're in for-a lounge with real drinks that are hand-mixed, not squirted. High time.

Classic and fanciful names alternate on the drinks list. Have you tried a Blackthorn? Gin, Dubonnet and kirschwasser; it tastes like a Manhattan. The Corpse Reviver is lemony, with gin, freshly squeezed lemon juice, Cointreau, Lillet and a drop of Pastis. The Pisco Sour uses an organic egg white; a dash of Angostura bitters floats across the top, providing a fragrant accent of ... chocolate!

Amon and his coterie worship at the altar of Audrey Saunders, who opened her own bar, Pegu Club, in New York only weeks ago. She's the deity; they're the disciples. We're fortunate to have an outpost.