El Scorcho, 7356 Manchester Road, Maplewood; 314-644-5566


Got a drink suggestion?

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Our waitress, Hayley, was born sometime between October 23 and November 21. She's a Scorpio — that mysterious, seductive Zodiac creature that exudes passion and energy. We know because the sign is tattooed in black ink on the inside of her wrist: It's a stylized M, the final downstroke punctuated with an arrow, like the Devil's barbed tail. It matches the one on the lighter she lent us.

If restaurants were awarded astrological signs independent of their actual opening days, El Scorcho would be a Scorpio, too. The month-and-a-half-old sliver of a restaurant in Maplewood glows red-orange like a seedy porn; its colored lights only exacerbate the sweltering late-July evening. The heat permeates the shotgun bar all the way back to our table. It forces our sandals to slip repeatedly from our wet soles, and our legs are sweaty and slick against the vinyl chair. (We would have preferred to sit on one of the saddles up at the bar, but some city slickers have beat us to it.) Waitresses who are almost uniformly brunette, bespectacled and pierced, clop around in cowboy boots and cut-off denim skirts, emptying ashtrays and filling orders.

We need a drink, and in this place, it's gotta be the Infierno: habanero-infused vodka, Chambord and créme de cacao. We're confident in our choice, then admittedly less so when Hayley places it front of us with a warning much more stern than the one that accompanied our audibly sizzling dinner: "Just so you know, it's really, really hot."

It comes in a martini glass and smells like an alcoholic hybrid of Aztec hot chocolate and Tootsie Pops. Under these lights it hints of watery Dimetap, — but then, our teeth have taken on a salmon-colored hue, so it's hard to say.

We're a bit concerned that Hayley's still watching us, sipping a soda, while we steel ourselves in preparation of for the first taste. The prayer on the Mexican votive candle atop our table suddenly seems ominous: ""Holy mother of God, Queen of Mercy, keep me under your protection." What the hell: We've been to Mass today.

The Infierno's slow burn makes our tongue feel as though it's sprouted prickly new hairs that we want to scratch but can't. "It's good," we say after a pause. "It really is." We mean it. The Scorpio looks relieved and she disappears, leaving her lighter behind for us on the table. We order another one before we're done with the first.

When we belly up later, our new bartender, Heather, recommends dumping a shot of half-and-half into what's left of our second Infierno. She says it'll transform it into a subtler dessert drink, and she's right — it pleasantly mellows the heat while retaining the drink's unique, kicky qualities. She tells us El Scorcho infuses some of their tequilas and vodkas in-house, including the Tito's Texas Vodka that's in the Infierno. Heather says they can only infuse the alcohol with habenero peppers for about a week; otherwise, the vodka becomes so spicy it's borderline undrinkable. But we say bring it. Like El Scorcho, we're already en fuego. Got a drink suggestion?

E-mail [email protected] Drink of the Week

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