Drink of the Year

The Drinks We Have Known and Loved in 2003

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An ode to liquid, the wetness that passes through your lips, massages your taste buds and, in a split second, changes them forever. A song in praise of the rubdown, the loosener, the stress reducer, the "aw yeah, that's a good one" concoction. Rejoice for the bartenders who know so much more than we do about the chemistry and art of creation. We owe them a big kiss, or at least a fat tip. Over the past year, we have sampled drinks, many of the alcoholic variety, others quite virginal, in an ongoing crusade to ferret out the bestest, oddest, most intriguing and sexiest drinks in the St. Louis area. The drinks we liked best in 2003 are listed below, along with the establishments that served them.

Lindeman's Framboise at 33 Wine Shop and Tasting Bar, 1913 Park Avenue, 314-231-9463. It is the most exquisite nectar that can be had, this Belgian ale that overflows with heavenly raspberry tartness. "It's like raspberry Champagne beer," we wrote this summer, "and is hands-down the Perfect Summer Drink, served in twelve-ouncers that look like mini-bubbly bottles and tasting like nothing other than a raspberry wallop-upside-the-head." Thirty-three, an intimate Lafayette Square establishment, sells it, as do most fine liquor stores; if you don't like beer, you'll still like this. If you like Champagne, you'll adore this; if you like fruit juice, this will make you happy. If you like raspberry, brace yourself, because you'll be positively orgasmic.

El Moro at the Chocolate Bar, 1915 Park Avenue, 314-421-2626. Is it a coincidence that the Chocolate Bar is right next door to 33? Yes and no; Lafayette Square blossomed in 2003, owing in some part to the commitment of quirky establishments like the Chocolate Bar, which deals in the luscious brown. In the winter months, the Bar is a virtual Land's End catalog of county folk who trudge to the city for a choco treat. El Moro is a hot chocolate, with the emphasis on hot -- as in: spicy. The spicy arrives via smoked chiles, which transforms the elixir into an oddity that takes some getting used to but is aces once your buds are onboard.

Jade at Zoë's Pan-Asian Café, 4753 McPherson Avenue, 314-361-0013. The fine cocktails at Zoë's Central West End establishment deserve special mention, because the place has the best drink menu in the city. In addition to Jade, our fave, they dole out a fantastic Suzy Wong (Stoli and watermelon juice), a Red Dragon (rum, cranberry and mango) and Tiger's Milk (Grand Marnier, orange and pineapple juice and coconut milk). "Jade is sour, the result of some serious lime-juice action," we blabbered. "The juice is added to a hefty portion of Bacardi Light rum and augmented with mint. The mint is cut into shreds about the size of your pinkie nail....But man, it's sour, and the sour mixed with the powdered-sugar rim makes for a fun game of back-and-forth. Last sip too sour? No sweat. Just take a little lick. Sip and lick, sip and lick."

Agavero Martini at Kitchen K, 1000 Washington Avenue, 314-241-9900. The newly arrived Kitchen K has been, in our experience, spotty at best in the food department. But in the drink department, they're rolling along nicely, thanks in large part to the Agavero Martini, the most memorable drink we enjoyed this year. Its main ingredient is Agavero liqueur, a blend of tequila and damiana flowers, which combine to create a sweet, subtle tang. Bar manager Patrick Bardone, we wrote, "mixes in a splash of Cointreau liqueur to add some depth, then tosses in an orange peel for a little color. The result suggests a margarita without being tyrannical about it. It's soft, it's gentle and it will gracefully float your head through sunset-tranquil waters."

It deserves mention that in all of 2003, we enjoyed many drinks, and not once did we hurl from overindulgence. We had maybe half a headache once or twice. We wouldn't presume to suggest that you make moderation the rule in 2004, going easy on your liver, your heart and your head. Whatever you do, though, for all of our sakes, don't frickin' drink and drive. Please.

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