The message is short and secret and sends me to a Mid-City street, where I land just shy of midnight. The porch is dark, but a front door is slivered open. A walk through it sends me into the candlelit 1920s.
Everyone is wearing straw boater hats or flapper dresses, and a vintage hand-cranked victrola spins out crackly early jazz. Behind the bar is Steve Yamada, wearing a plaid flat cap, typical for that era’s working man.
“I don’t like the term mixologist,” Steve says. “Back in the day, bartending was a trade, and you would have learned it through an apprenticeship.” He’s come up through Victory Bar, as has his business partner, Sam Kane (who also bartends at Bar Uncommon and MiLa).
Together, they’re launching Alchemy Lounge, a pop-up cocktail bar delivering a themed, unique four-drink menu, and roaming neighborhood restaurants that have gone dark for the night. In true speakeasy fashion, Alchemy Lounge will run on word of mouth—not a problem, given the pair’s talent for dazzling concepts and well-balanced drinks.
On this night, they’ve created a flight of shape-shifting cocktails that would have been unheard of in another century.
“Making drinks for the working man in a pub, you wouldn’t have had the leeway to change their texture and temperature,” says Steve. “It’s a real luxury.”
Tonight, then, mulled Glögg comes in a punchbowl, swimming with a frozen block of brewed white tea that releases balancing bitterness and slushy body to the triple-strained spiced wine.
Buttered rum, traditionally a toddy, becomes coolly creamy, rich and improbably smooth, thanks to fat washing the butter-infused spirit. (Steve and Sam use the solid, skimmed-off rummy fat to sauté French toast wedges, which come as a crunchy garnish.)
Taking normally chilled cocktails to steaming means tinkering with the Clover Club’s egg white foam (in the warm version, whipped cream rides citrus-bright raspberry punch, gradually bringing forward the sweetly rounded Hayman’s Old Tom gin.)
The only post-Prohibition drink of the night, the Mai Tai, is hard to heat up because of its acidity (think: warm lime juice). Using warmed, fresh-squeezed pineapple juice is more pleasing, and cinnamon syrup adds body to a drink that’s usually shaken frothy with ice.
The Mai Tai’s last step – a flambé of pineapple slices marinated with brown sugar and lit with chartreuse – has us gathering around the candlelight, thirsty for a forbidden taste.
The Alchemy Lounge will pop up somewhere in March; Steve and Sam are also available for private parties, bartender training and cocktail menu design. Contact them at 704.516.7287 or by email at [email protected]