Amuse-bouche

TONIC

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Molly Boyle

Tonic, re­viewed

Here are a few fun things I’ve over­heard Win­ston Greene, bar­man and pro­pri­etor of Tonic, say to pa­trons of his new es­tab­lish­ment over the past few weeks: “If some­one comes in here ask­ing for Jame­son, I tell them we have Pow­ers. I’ve never had any­one dis­ap­pointed, and it’s cheaper than Jame­son, ac­tu­ally.”

“We have a to­mato-based gin from Italy, and it makes for an ex­cep­tion­ally good dirty mar­tini.”

“There’s the tini­est trace of worm­wood in that cock­tail — I use it as a bit­ter­ing agent.”

“This wine is like stick­ing your face in fresh earth.”

“Ja­panese whiskeys use a bam­boo fil­tra­tion sys­tem that gives it a par­tic­u­lar fla­vor. It’s some­where be­tween hibiscus and hay.”

I could go on, and clearly so can he. This dude — a self-de­scribed ac­tor, rock climber, and sea­soned bar­tender who was raised in Santa Fe — is em­i­nently quotable on the sub­ject of drinks. Tonic, the hal­lowed Art Deco speakeasy he’s carved out of the old Atomic Grill space next to Café Pasqual’s, is a mon­u­ment to his own id, ego, and super­ego. I mean that in the best pos­si­ble way: As much as Greene talks the talk of craft cock­tails, he also walks the walk. Tonic is the best new place to get an adult bev­er­age in Santa Fe, hands down.

But let’s not get com­pletely car­ried away: There’s not much cur­rent com­pe­ti­tion for that ti­tle. Across Wa­ter Street and sev­eral years ago, mixol­o­gist Chris Milligan put Santa Fe on the gar­den-to-glass map at the Ho­tel St. Fran­cis’ Se­creto Lounge with his sig­na­ture cre­ation, the much-chron­i­cled smoked sage mar­garita, which he de­vised in 2011. Milligan has very re­cently moved on to the bar at La Posada, and based on a few vis­its to Se­creto of late, much of the cre­ative en­ergy there seems to have left along with him. Other

el­e­gantly ap­pointed down­town wa­ter­ing holes — Bar Alto at Eloisa and the Anasazi Bar and Lounge, as well as the Rai­l­yard’s Santa Fe Spir­its Tast­ing Room and Paloma — may have strong drinks pro­grams and tal­ented staff, but none of those en­vi­rons ap­proaches the rar­efied air at Tonic.

Much of the four-month-old cock­tail lounge’s splen­dor has to do with the grace­ful in­ti­macy of its in­te­ri­ors, which were cus­tom-built to Greene’s spec­i­fi­ca­tions. Be­yond a heavy carved-sunburst door, guests en­ter through a spa­cious vestibule into a dimly lit Val­halla adorned with tran­som win­dows; pea­cock-blue, white, and gold-pan­eled walls; plush ban­quette seat­ing; and two stun­ning crys­tal chan­de­liers. Live mu­sic booked by drum­mer (and some­time

Pasatiempo con­trib­u­tor) Loren Bien­venu suf­fuses the space on Thurs­day through Satur­day nights. On Fri­day evenings, Bien­venu hosts his own re­volv­ing house jazz band. As a trio that fea­tures sit-ins from lo­cal ta­lent, in­clud­ing Casey An­der­sen, Pat Malone, Chris Ishee, and Greg Butera, their vi­bra­tions seem de­signed to heighten the bar’s Roar­ing ’20s vibe. This is truly the cos­mopoli­tan spot that af­fords an op­por­tu­nity to es­cape the monotony of Santa Fe style: On one late-night visit, sip­ping a well-built Saz­erac, I might have fooled my­self into think­ing I was in New Or­leans. Another lack­adaisi­cal Thurs­day evening around twi­light, the lilt­ing Ir­ish tones of singer Gerry Carthy had me con­sid­er­ing a glass of Pow­ers on the rocks while I dreamed of Dublin.

Greene’s cock­tail menu, along with its ex­e­cu­tion, def­i­nitely height­ens the oth­er­worldly am­bi­ence. The Cac­tus Coke, a brac­ing blend of iced re­posado te­quila, gin­ger syrup, and lo­cal Bit­ter End Moroc­can bit­ters, packs a wal­lop in a cop­per mug. Greene said this pi­quant drink is his big­gest seller, and it’s no won­der. As he served it and I sipped it — lis­ten­ing as he de­scribed the la­bo­ri­ous process of mak­ing the gin­ger syrup, which he steeps with pink pep­per­corns and other com­ple­men­tary aro­mat­ics — I thought back on all the sticky-sweet Moscow Mules I’ve had over the years and how they could’ve been vastly im­proved by sub­bing Greene’s zingy syrup for gin­ger beer. In short, I drank the Cac­tus Coke Kool-Aid, and I am now a con­vert.

The Myrna Loy, named for the ef­fer­ves­cent ac­tress from The Thin Man — the sil­ver screen’s great­est mar­riage of cock­tails and de­tec­tives — is a grown-up Cos­mopoli­tan of sorts. Made with vodka, pas­sion­fruit juice, cran­berry syrup (house-made, natch), and a soupçon of sparkling wine, it’s a throw­back drink with a sprightly fizz.

Other cock­tails build their fla­vors in lay­ers. In the muted Bliss Be­hind Your Eyes, so­tol is blended with an herbal in­fu­sion of dami­ana — a Mex­i­can herb Greene said is note­wor­thy for its pow­ers as a re­lax­ant, aphro­disiac, and mood stim­u­lant — as well as earthy, nutty dan­de­lion leaf and the afore­men­tioned “tini­est trace of worm­wood.” Fin­ished with grape­fruit bit­ters and a dram of cin­na­mon syrup, the re­sult is a bizarre but oddly sooth­ing elixir — this, out of the six cock­tails on the list, is clearly the epony­mous tonic.

The Lady in Black — “smoky, acer­bic, and beau­ti­ful, she’s the one who got away,” purrs the menu — is per­haps not so mys­te­ri­ous as its name, but it’s cer­tainly tasty, with its moody mix of bour­bon, black lime syrup, mud­dled lime, and smoked salt bit­ters. These ul­tra-ro­man­tic li­ba­tions be­fit a bar that seems im­prob­a­bly filled with dark­ened cor­ners, each of which feels ideally suited for brood­ing or canoodling.

Don’t for­get to eat while you’re mar­veling over the con­coc­tions. Tonic is ba­si­cally a two-man op­er­a­tion, and Greene’s coun­ter­part, chef Zayne Berkey, is a ris­ing star in his own right. He and Greene of­fer a thought­ful se­lec­tion of nine small plates, with an em­pha­sis on the kind of hip­ster bar menu items that are trend­ing across the coun­try. That means there’s pou­tine, both ve­gan and clas­sic. The lat­ter is a size­able bowl of the Canada com­fort food that’s prac­ti­cally de­signed to pro­vide a cush­ion for the con­sump­tion of al­co­hol, with its rich, vel­vety chicken gravy; hand­cut fries; and large, lus­cious, melty cheese curds. On another plate, roasted Brus­sels sprouts — a veg­gie that seems to be spend­ing much longer than its prover­bial 15 min­utes in the spot­light — are matched with creamy farro and tangy Mor­nay sauce in a luxe-hip­pie dish that may leave you feel­ing more vir­tu­ous than the pou­tine might.

Fried chicken and waf­fles are given a lighter and whim­si­cal hand­held treat­ment. Small whorls of sweet, medium-thick, crepe-like waf­fles are served in shot glasses, with lit­tle nuggets of breaded dark meat nes­tled in their soft cen­ters and ac­com­pa­nied by dots of bour­bon-maple-mus­tard sauce. If it’s straight chicken you’re af­ter, though, opt for the sa­vory crunch of the sur­pris­ingly com­plex black gar­lic chicken nuggets, which are served with two dip­ping op­tions: a muted but­ter­milk dress­ing and a more lively plum Szechuan sauce.

Though the bal­anced sweet­ness of our cock­tails ruled the dessert op­tion out on both of our vis­its, lo­cal craft ice-cream from La Lecheria, with fla­vors de­vised specif­i­cally for Tonic, is also avail­able. The se­lec­tions may ro­tate, but Greene waxed es­pe­cially elo­quent over the Man­hat­tan op­tion (based on his own spin on the cock­tail), which he de­scribed as served in a waf­fle cone and driz­zled with his own be­spoke Ital­ian amarena cherry syrup.

Hav­ing opened last fall with lit­tle fan­fare, Tonic is still a work in progress. A larger pa­tio vestibule space abut­ting Wa­ter Street is closed for now — Greene al­luded to its lack of in­su­la­tion as well as his plans to even­tu­ally move live mu­si­cians to that ren­o­vated area on a small stage that might, hope­fully, lure passersby on a sum­mer’s eve. Greene also told me he’s mak­ing a firm com­mit­ment to help re­vive Santa Fe’s down­town nightlife with his late-night hours — the bar is of­fi­cially open un­til 2 a.m. In­deed, es­pe­cially on week­end nights, Tonic hosts a de­cid­edly younger and more lo­cal crowd than we’re used to see­ing in such a grown-up­look­ing bar down­town, per­haps ow­ing to the re­cent demise of both Sky­light and the Un­der­ground. In the well-ap­pointed Tonic re­strooms, the walls are cov­ered in chalk­board paint, with col­ored chalk avail­able for the cre­atively in­spired. Cock­tail-re­lated — and of­ten ju­ve­nile — epi­grams are thus part and par­cel of the pow­der-room dé­cor.

One night, I lis­tened as Greene told sev­eral in­quis­i­tive pa­trons — who had won­dered aloud just how he could ef­fi­ciently man­age a crowded bar on his own — that find­ing re­li­able bar­tenders who are also ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing out his ex­act­ing stan­dards has proven dif­fi­cult over the past few months. For now, that means he re­lies only on a week­end bar­back for as­sis­tance. So bear in mind that if the joint is jumpin’, good things come only to those who are will­ing to wait.

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