French 75

Niche, 1831 Sidney Street, 314-773-7755

The tiny storefront just down from the Sidney Street Café sat vacant for eons. The last humans it held were likely blue-haired secretaries juggling widgets stored in the adjacent warehouse -- ladies sitting behind barred windows like dogs in a pound, poking at calculators, scratching their heads and poking some more.

But that was a long time ago, and those people are likely dead now.

Ah, the circle of life. A room, like a body, is nothing but a receptacle, and it can be reborn in many forms. Where once stood a wood-paneled office with linoleum floors, there now exists an elegant, French-accented new restaurant called Niche. The neighboring warehouse contains lofts, and combined, the two have transformed the eastern gateway to Benton Park. Drink of the Week couldn't be happier about it, honestly, because we live in this area, and we love the prospect of dancing our way down the street to enjoy a cocktail, a glass of wine and some dinner.

We're not crazy about the generic name Niche -- but that's a minor concern. You could name a restaurant Caca and, if the food's good enough, people will flock. It's too early, however, to pass judgment on the vittles; the place has only been open for three weeks. Add to that the fact that Drink of the Week is primarily concerned with the drinks that accompany the meal, and an amazing one at that, we must say. What a relief: so close to home, exquisite and not too pricey.

When you're hankering for a cocktail, it's a good idea to arrive prepared, just in case a restaurant lacks a drink menu, as is the case at Niche. We decided on a French 75, a classic Euro-cocktail created sometime after World War I in Paris; some say at Harry's American Bar, though no one is absolutely certain. Although the bartender at Niche didn't know the drink, we offered guidance, and the Champagne flute came back roses.

There are many ways to make a French 75, but only one way to drink it. The original version consisted of absinthe, calvados (apple brandy) and gin, but over the years the drink has spun off many variations, so a French 75 at one place might be vastly different from one elsewhere. The two key ingredients are gin and Champagne, which on the surface seems like an odd combination. Our version includes a touch of lemon juice and a splash of grenadine, which turns it pink and sweet. Combined, it's a deep, complex cocktail that recalls a kir royale.

You'd think the gin would ruin everything, but it in fact sits back in the drink. You can smell it in the bouquet more than you can taste it on the palate. The Champagne reigns supreme here, and the lemon and grenadine spin circles around each other. One sip might draw out the lemon, the next the grenadine. Overall, the French 75 is a great aperitif, awakening the dormant taste buds from their slumber the same way that inspired humans can walk into a wood-paneled room and reimagine it as a beautiful restaurant. What once was dead is alive again.

 
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