The Drunken Vegan, a.k.a. Patrick J. Hurley, is a full-time barman at the Civil Life Brewing Company and cocktail enthusiast about town. He's an unapologetic drunkard, a vegan and a bon vivant, and, no, he doesn't think those last two terms contradict each other.
Natasha Bahrami loves gin. That is a passion shared by the Drunken Vegan. South Grand's Café Natasha (3200 South Grand Boulevard; 314-771-3411) serves great falafel, but not many people know that the restaurant also features the best gin selection in the city. The Gin Room, a gin-based cocktail bar located in the front room of Café Natasha, will officially open at the end of May, when Bahrami returns to St. Louis from Washington, D.C., where she has been working and learning a lot about gin.
"I put so much time and effort into the flavor profiles of each gin on my menu, so anyone can find a gin they love," she says.
The current list features 50 gins categorized by botanical character, nine housemade tonics, some house infusions that use fresh herbs grown right on the patio, and a list of gin-based cocktails, mostly new spins on classics like the negroni and the "Corpse Reviver No. 2." Bahrami is also barrel-aging gins and tasting them weekly to see how they are coming along.
On a previous visit the Drunken Vegan sampled a favorite gin with a house tonic. The cucumber notes in the Hendrick's are complemented by a citrus, cucumber, basil and allspice tonic. It is spicy, herbaceous and very cucumbery. Next we tried City of London dry gin with "Spring" tonic -- subtle lemongrass marries a huge floral tone of orange blossom, providing a nice counterpoint to the primarily citrus character of the gin. Then Bahrami suggested a cocktail with more Persian influence.
The big, piney juniper notes in the Blue Coat gin came through the loads of earthy, spicy saffron from house tonic No. 2 ("Persian Sunset"). It is a lovely combination. The "Hanging Gardens" is an up cocktail with hugely herbaceous tones of earthy basil; it is quite refreshing. The "Cardamom Cure" is a spin on the "Corpse Reviver," using Small's gin as a base (an intensely botanical gin with a distinct cardamom flavor), with Lillet blanc and a cardamom rinse. It is a tasty, innovative take on a classic.
While gin lovers should rejoice at the opening of the Gin Room, even confirmed gin-haters should give it a try. With so many different gins, tonics and infusions, there is something for every palate. Summer is here, so have a gin and tonic. There are seemingly infinite combinations here, so let's get started.