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The 2015 Bar Guide 

A reference manual for Richmond nightlife from A to Z.

Page 3 of 5

J. Jukeboxes

An endangered species of sorts, the jukebox ignites the music lover’s heart when spotted in the wild. Nothing beats a Sunday afternoon hanging out at the Lilly Pad Café, a lesser-known joint off Osborne Turnpike. Waterside glider rockers and buckets of beer accompany an assortment of classic rock hits and the occasional ’80s pop nugget, coming from the old-school player that’s been dragged out onto the sidewalk (search Facebook for Lilly Pad Café). Tabletop jukes delight folks at Millie’s Diner (milliesdiner.com) and River City Diner (rivercitydiner.com). And for the smoke tolerant, there’s a pretty rockin’ one at the Forest Restaurant on the South Side (doitintheforest.com).

 

click to enlarge Postbellum’s burger with charred onions, turnip greens, truffle mayo and ducky mushrooms. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Postbellum’s burger with charred onions, turnip greens, truffle mayo and ducky mushrooms.

K: Kitchen Craft

Few appreciate a late-night kitchen like service industry workers. By the time they’re finished cooking for and serving you, all they want is someone else to do it for them. But it’s also unwind time, so a lively late-night bar scene is a must. These places satisfy on both counts, with dishes that keep the pros interested.

Commercial Taphouse & Grill’s tangle of salt-and-pepper tempura-fried mushrooms have the magical ability to keep “hangry” tendencies at bay, make friends out of strangers and stave off a hangover. Not bad for fungi. Or maybe a deconstructed pho is what you need: The Viet Dip combines beef brisket with Thai basil, bean sprouts and cilantro on a roll with pho broth on the side for dipping (search for Commercial Taphouse & Grill on Facebook).

GwarBar’s turducken tube, a hand-held obscenity of spicy turkey, duck, chicken and foie gras sausage gaudily accessorized with caramelized onions, a pickled quail egg and smoked tomato ranch sauce, is guaranteed to fill a belly long empty after frenetic 12-hour shifts. Yes, you’ll hate yourself in the morning, but what else is new? (gwarbar.com).

Postbellum’s burger would be outstanding simply for its riff on the standard version: charred, not raw onions, turnip greens instead of iceberg lettuce and truffle mayo rather than ketchup and mustard. But it really boils down to two words — ducky mushrooms. Those would be mushrooms cooked in duck fat and a day’s worth of calories on a roll. Done (postbellumrichmond.com).

“Bamboo Cafe,” says Kali Strain, a bartender at Amuse and a server at Heritage. “Bamboo really is the spot. Strong drinks and classic, good food. But don’t give it away, I want to keep that to myself.” Too late (facebook.com/bamboocaferva).

 

click to enlarge Ashleigh Anderson and Jon Eckert, who fell in love working alongside each other in the service industry, are expecting their first child in a few months. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Ashleigh Anderson and Jon Eckert, who fell in love working alongside each other in the service industry, are expecting their first child in a few months.

L. Love

Falling in love (or just in lust) with a co-worker is a time-honored tradition in the service industry. Working long, punishing shifts and late nights together can quickly build a bond. Jon Eckert bartends at McCormack’s Big Whisky Grill and Lady N’awlins Cajun Cafe, while Ashleigh Anderson manages and bartends at F.W. Sullivan’s Fan Bar & Grille. They met while working together at Boka Tako Bar on Robinson Street. And they’re expecting their first child in a few months.

Style: How and where did you meet?

Eckert: We met when I was managing a bar and hiring a bar staff. I was feeling under the weather from the night before and was late to the interview. It was a very, very unconventional interview, which I wanted to get over with so I could get back to bed. Needless to say I hired her because I was hungover.

Was it love at first drink? Did it take time? How did things progress?

Anderson: We definitely had a connection after we began working together. We began to hang out secretly — or so we thought — because he was my boss and didn’t want other employees to take it the wrong way. After a while we stopped caring and officially started dating.

What are the pitfalls of dating someone that you work with in a bar? What are the advantages?

Eckert: You have to keep your personal and work lives separate. You can’t bring home to work and work to home. Ashleigh and I have a system of whenever we start bringing our personal life into work and pissing off the other person, we just say “banana.” It lets the other person know to chill because we are working that we need to keep things professional. It’s also fun to say banana at someone who is mad. The advantages are we both don’t mind the other working crazy hours and living off very little sleep.

Anderson: Another advantage with working together is now that I’m pregnant, I can make him help me with things like getting ice and taking down my chairs on days I have to open the bar.

 

M: Mescal

Sean Rapoza, lead cocktail ninja at Shoryuken Ramen, attributes mescal’s uptick in popularity to its smoky, savory nature. “It plays into the end of the bacon trend that was so prevalent in food culture recently,” he says. “Smoky is new to most palates when it comes to drinks.” For a killer take on a classic cocktail, try Rapoza’s mescal old-fashioned, with a base of mescal and reposado tequila, mole bitters, raw sugar and a flamed orange twist — an ideal pairing with spicy food (shoryukenramen.com).

Over at Rancho T, where co-owner Ed Vasaio dubbed bartender Stephen Ogburn a plenipotentiary, the preferred pour is Del Maguey’s Vida mescal because it’s readily available at a reasonable price.

“There’s no other base spirit with so much depth and nuance of flavor,” Ogburn says. “When making cocktails, mescal can be the base spirit, an accomplice or add just a hint of complexity.” His Smoky and the Bandit, served in a chilled cocktail glass, is refreshing and complex, pairing mescal with gin, simple syrup, lemon and lime juice, egg white and two kinds of bitters, including Hellfire. Smoke and fire, get it? (ranchot.com)

 

click to enlarge The crafted lighting, tables, wall, design — construction of Sabai, near the intersection of Broad and Boulevard, was a labor of love, co-owner Brandon Pearson says. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • The crafted lighting, tables, wall, design — construction of Sabai, near the intersection of Broad and Boulevard, was a labor of love, co-owner Brandon Pearson says.

N: New Places

We’re spoiled when it comes to new places to try. Since our 2014 Bar Guide, more than a handful of fine establishments have opened their doors and satiated our thirsty palates. Step into the cozy, tiki-inspired Sabai (facebook.com/sabairva), where you’ll be surrounded by gorgeous blond wood, Edison bulbs and handmade metalwork while drinking some of the freshest, fruity concoctions you’ll ever taste. For something completely different, GwarBar (gwarbar.com) is delightfully blood-spattered and noisy. The selection of liquor and local beers, including Strangeways Brewing’s Gwar Blood, paired with intergalactic junk food is out-of-this-world awesome. In the West End, owner Mac McCormack is on hand to suggest your next favorite libation — from a choice of more than 2,300 spirits — at McCormack’s Big Whiskey Grill & Smokehouse (facebook.com/mccormacksbigwhisky).

Drink like the Spanish do — which involves a lot of eating. Torero Tapas Bar and Grill (facebook.com/torerorvatapas) has authentic jamon and chorizo to go along with your favorite Rioja or a fancy cocktail that can compete with the best of them. Rancho T (ranchot.com), the Tuffy Stone and Ed Vasaio love child, serves up some unforgettable Latin American fare complemented by a thoughtful, darn tasty cocktail program and knowledgeable staff. Coda Urban Bistro (codarva.com) is conveniently located next door to the National and is a several steps above mozzarella sticks and Miller High Life. Whisper the password, and at Grandstaff & Stein Book Sellers (booksellersrva.com), you’ll enter a bygone era full of classic cocktails, dapper barkeeps and swanky digs.

 

click to enlarge feat25_o.jpg

O: Obsession with Fernet-Branca

Still intensely bitter since the first batch was created in 1845, Fernet-Branca is an amaro, a bitter herbal liqueur produced using 27 herbs and other ingredients, usually downed neat as a digestif. It was one of the very few alcoholic products that could be legally imported during Prohibition because of it was classified as medicinal. Right.

At the Rogue Gentlemen (theroguegentlemen.com), you’ll find Fernet front and center because owner John Maher is a fan — although not entirely for medical reasons. Curious? We asked Maher to share his top three reasons to try Fernet:

1. To settle the stomach, especially after a big meal. “It’s healthy,” he says.

2. To try something new. He says amaros tend to play second fiddle to bourbon in the South, but for those seeking something different, nothing fits the bill quite like Fernet.

3. To drink like a bartender or cook: “It’s a job requirement at Rogue Gentlemen. If you don’t when you start here, you will,” he says. “Drink Fernet, it’s delicious.”

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