Magic Ate Ball: What's in the cards at the Fortune Teller Bar?

Slideshow: Inside the Fortune Teller Bar on Cherokee

Jul 4, 2013 at 4:00 am
A housemade pickled egg basket. Slideshow: Inside the Fortune Teller Bar on Cherokee.
A housemade pickled egg basket. Slideshow: Inside the Fortune Teller Bar on Cherokee. Mabel Suen

Tarot-card readings come in two varieties: question readings and open readings. Enter the dim, timeless confines of the Fortune Teller Bar with a need for something specific, and you might find it. Or come with an open mind, as many have, and see what the future holds.

Co-owner Sam Coffey, a carpenter by trade (and a 2011 RFT MasterMind Award recipient bought the space currently inhabited by the Fortune Teller Bar in 2009. At first he used it as his workshop and set up camp there on a regular basis — really: He lived there, in a tent.

So how did a blue-collar tradesman's squat morph into a bar?

Sam Coffey saw a sign.

While prying off the "Zapateria la Moda" boards left over from the building's previous occupant, a Mexican bootery, Coffey saw his fate spelled out before his very eyes. The building's vintage façade revealed itself in three chunks: first a drawing of a hand wielding a crystal ball; then the word Fortune spelled out in antiquey black letters; and, finally, "Teller Bar."

"I quickly went from excitement to realizing that, 'Crap, I have to open a bar now,'" Coffey says with a laugh. "At that point it wasn't up to us. The building was speaking to us and telling me, 'You're going to open this bar, and you don't have a choice!'"

Though they've only been able to divine the details via hearsay, Coffey and his co-owners have learned that the original iteration of Fortune Teller Bar existed in the late '80s, for about a decade. Today's version opened in November 2012 after a few years of planning and construction by Coffey himself. He partnered with longtime friend, bartender and beer expert Matt Thenhaus (now the bar's general manager) to develop the concept and menu. The pair recruited Kristin Dennis to handle the business end and the cocktails. (Oh, and the pickles.)

A light push of a swinging screen door gives way to a clear view of Coffey's handicraft in a darkened room: The shelving behind the bar here is a thing of beauty, salvaged wood peeking out from behind illuminated bottle after bottle of carefully arranged spirits and beers. A smooth, L-shape bar provides the barkeep with a front-row audience, while a few repurposed-barrel tables topped with small flickering candles serve as centerpieces for private conversations.

Slideshow: Inside the Fortune Teller Bar on Cherokee

Weekend visitors may partake in a tarot reading in the fortuneteller booth near the front window. The mystic-kitsch décor is sparse enough to seem unforced but interesting enough to draw the eye; the vibe effectively channels hole-in-the-wall charm with an upscale garnish, akin to a well-made but unfussy martini garnished with a two-dollar olive.

Note to tarot first-timers: The secret to enlightenment lies in the spread.

A few flips deep in the bar's menu, a page of largely locally procured "snacks" awaits, among them Companion Bavarian soft pretzels with spicy mustard, and build-your-own meat-and-cheese boards. For $5 try a basket of the house selection of pickled eggs in beet, yellow curry and jalapeño flavors, served with a side of Sriracha swirled over spicy mustard.

Mind you, these aren't your stereotypical pickled eggs (though it'd be awesome to see jumbo jars of 'em set out on the bar). The glossy orbs repose on your plate like an Easter offering, in pretty pastel hues of purplish pink, yellow and spring green. A slice down the middle of each reveals a creamy, light-yellow yolk. The beet brought a pleasant sweetness, the jalapeño a kick that could have used a little more zip. The yellow curry stood out among the trio, offering the most pronounced flavor. The Sriracha mustard created a nice play between spicy and sweet with the beet egg, but the others stood better on their own.

Hot sandwiches — accurately touted as "melty slabs of satisfying snackitude" — have only recently made their way onto the menu. A marinated-tomato caprese sandwich combines a mass of warm, chewy fresh mozzarella with juicy Roma tomatoes and pesto, all between two pieces of toasted whole-grain bread from Black Bear Bakery. Choose the Missouri horseradish aioli to go with this one, and you'll give it just the zing it needs.

The main ingredient of a Black Forest ham sandwich comes courtesy of the G&W Meat & Bavarian Style Sausage Company, smoked to a T, sliced thin as prosciutto and paired smartly with a sweet and spicy house made jalapeño jam. Pickled onions add a piquant crunch, while aged white cheddar subtly melds the flavors.

A good sandwich takes this palate-tempting assortment and blends the ingredients with just the right balance. A great sandwich goes a step further — by melting the hell out of some good cheese over all that in a toaster oven behind the bar. Avail yourself of a similar mouthwatering feat by ordering the "Hearty Grilled Cheese," a sandwich that combines white cheddar, Swiss and Parmesan cheeses, cooked until gooey over thinly sliced apples. Swathed with spicy German mustard blended with local honey, the result tastes surprisingly more savory than sweet. Any way you go, your sandwich is garnished with the Fortune Teller's signature lack of fuss: potato chips. The plate is just the ticket to squash the hunger bug on a budget of five or six bucks.

The Fortune Teller Bar attracts a uniquely varied clientele, as one might expect in the up-and-coming Cherokee Street neighborhood. If your visits go anything like ours, you might expect to share bar space with a gaggle of twentysomethings on a girls' night out, an overly affectionate middle-aged couple adorned in tie-dye, dudes accessorized with trucker hats and cans of beer, a smattering of the business-casual demo, a small pack of canines basking on the patio and a cook grabbing a drink after a long night shift.

"Give me whatever you suggest. I trust your judgment," the cook says to Thenhaus, who produces a can of DAB Dortmunder, describing it as light and smooth with no hint of skunk or bitterness — the quintessential summertime beer. For something more substantial, he recommends Civil Life brown ale, one of his all-time-favorite St. Louis craft beers. If neither of them do the trick, there are two dozen more options from which to choose, from Belgian brews to Stag on ice with lemon — a.k.a. the "Yellow Bandito" — and Thenhaus can tell you the history and flavor profile of each and every one. The wine list is small but well considered and, this being the hot season, includes two rosés and a fizzy Spanish cava. Cocktails are requisitely au courant, some of them augmented with house made bitters and infused vodkas. The "Cherokee Street Fizz," featuring pineapple-and-jalapeño vodka, fresh lime, fresh orange and soda, proved to be a refreshing summertime sip.

The more adventurous tippler might consider some pickles in liquid form. The house specialty "Mason Jar" combines house-infused pickle vodka, dry vermouth, lemon-hopped bitters and seasonal pickles. The pickle, in this case a carrot, tastes of deep and dark spices soaked in cider vinegar.

And the drink itself?

Weird but interesting — same as nearly everything else here.

Slideshow: Inside the Fortune Teller Bar on Cherokee