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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Water Street Café's "Vieux Carré" Cocktail is a Punch of Whiskey and a Whisper of New Orleans

Posted By on Wed, Oct 2, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Happy Hump Day! Here's the cocktail that will get you through to Friday.

        Water Street's very classy "Vieux Carré." | Pat Kohm
  •         Water Street's very classy "Vieux Carré." | Pat Kohm

On the corner of Manchester and Southwest avenuea in Maplewood sits the quiet, remarkably humble Water Street Café and Cocktail Bar, a true representation of the proverbial "hidden gem." The exterior and front patio are very modest, and inside you'll find a simple dining room where the small, unintimidating bar greets you upon entrance.

This week, we're drinking the "Vieux Carré," because it sounds French (it's the original name of the French Quarter in New Orleans, and the title of a play by St. Louis native Tennessee Williams) and fancy, and, if nothing else, Gut Check is the epitome of fancy.

See also: Dressel's "Dark and Stormy" is Perfect Cool Weather Drinking

Waiting at the bar is owner Gabe Kveton, perhaps the friendliest bartender in St. Louis. His cocktail menu is straightforward, veering toward the old school. When asked for suggestions, Kveton takes great care to point out and actually explain several options, and why you might enjoy, say, a "Silver Cloud": Scotch and amaro with the heat of a Serrano pepper cooled by sweet honey and foamy egg white.

        Water Street's simple signage. | Pat Kohm
  •         Water Street's simple signage. | Pat Kohm

But our heart is set on "Vieux Carré." Kveton describes the drink as "a classic, like a Manhattan but fuller and warmer." The rye whiskey and cognac are mixed in and smoothed over by sweet vermouth, then given extra flavor by the splash of Benedictine and bitters, and finally stirred and finished off with a twist of lemon. Incredibly spot-on in his simile, the "Vieux Carré" does taste like a strong version of a Manhattan, just with more body and warmth as it hits the back of your throat -- as if you have somehow been rewarded with an extra kick of the good stuff. Because the rye, unencumbered by fruitiness, stands so well on its own, this is truly a drink for whiskey lovers.

Like all drinks at Water Street, ours is served in a vintage glass, but the bar itself never puts on airs, nor does it feel stuffy, like you might need to stick out your pinky or talk about your investment portfolio. Kveton, while fixing drinks and warmly greeting guests, chats amicably about the neighborhood, weather and favorite beers around town, and though this is our first time sitting down at the bar, we feel just like a regular. And there's good reason to become one -- each week Kveton presents a different vintage drink inspired by a book called Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.

After the jump, find out how to make the "Vieux Carré" at home.

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