I almost missed the adult twisty slide and the two-lane bowling alley.
I’d already been down to the bottom floor, or so I thought, of the renovated RJ Reynolds skyscraper in downtown Winston-Salem during the grand opening of the extravagant new hotel inside its bones. And I’d stopped off on several different floors with the tux and ball gown-wearing elite, peering into tony meeting rooms and pricey suites. In one sixth-floor room, staff drew a bubble bath in a tub with a view of the Innovation Quarter.
Hundreds of polished guests turned out for the June 2 launch party, one of several invite-only promotional events organized by the Kimpton Cardinal hotel, where the cheapest night’s stay will run you $161 and generally much more. Upon entry, we were handed “passports” to be stamped at various points throughout the building, a way to encourage us to stop in on the less glitzy portions of the hotel; a fully-stamped passport would enter you for a drawing for a free stay in the Cardinal.
I’d done pretty well for myself, snagging stamps and drinks as I went — a 1664 French lager on the 20th floor, a glass of pinot grigio in the lobby area, a Corona near a stage were a band played and later a couple cocktails at the Katharine Brasserie & Bar. But as I rode the elevators, chatted up the staff, mingled with other guests and snacked on deviled eggs with shrimp and top-notch barbecue, I heard nothing about the slide or bowling.
Thank god for friends like Tina and John, who told me about the adult jungle gym of sorts that the other guests had either overlooked as well or didn’t care for. But not me — a slide inside this building, and free bowling?! — and not Councilwoman Denise D. Adams either.
When I finally found the giant fun room, complete with foosball, pool and a half basketball court, Adams was preparing to head down the corkscrew slide, heels and all. I rushed down a staircase so I could see the gigantic grin on her face when she popped out at the bottom, a moment before she racked the pool balls and lined up her break.
Only a couple other adults from the gala upstairs had found their way down, though a few teenagers in street clothes battled over foosball and a man put in work on his basketball fundamentals. Realizing someone left a bowling lane open, I quickly started pitching balls down the wooden floor, which I swear is a longer distance than normal alleys.
At the stunning Katharine bar upstairs, I asked if the basement attractions were normally open to a patron of the restaurant/bar or if I’d need to book a room to qualify. My server stunned me when she said yes. I figured that the Cardinal rolled out the proverbial red carpet for the paparazzi and upper crust, but apparently you too can swill a few drinks and take your date for a ride down the slide.
Nice as the Cardinal may be, I really showed up out of curiosity about the accompanying restaurant and bar, about which Winstonites can’t seem to shut up. I can’t fairly report back on either; despite nabbing two “free cocktail” tokens, the Katharine closed regular service for the party and only offered three cocktails while the restaurant portion to its rear remained empty. But I saddled up to the street-facing bar anyway, skipping a seafood spread laid out for the affair and going for the hard stuff.
I wanted to order the War of the Roses, a Pimm’s cocktail with cardinal gin, St. Germain, lime, bitters and mint, but the reasonably priced house cocktails and wine and beer on tap weren’t available that night. Instead I tried the special #5 with gin, lillet rosé, lemon and St. Germain — sort of like a light lemonade — and the preferable sazerac prepared with a puff of absinthe mist on the surface.
Skeptical of the absinthe, I asked if Jennifer — who bartended at Sixth & Vine and Fourth Street Filling Station before joining up here — would let me try it before and after so I could discern the difference. Few attendees had meandered over here as well, just a few steps down from the hotel’s Main Street entrance, and so I figured what would normally be an obnoxious request would pass. She pulled what looked like a lipstick tube out after my first sip and spritzed the glass, and despite my initial reservations, the absinthe mist truly enhanced the overall flavor of the rye whiskey drink.
The cocktail menu will change soon, even though the brasserie and bar just opened, and it’s probably worth holding off a week or so until the locally-designed list is in play rather than one handed down from the Kimpton company.
When you go, I doubt a server will stop by with a tray of caviar crostinis, as one did while I sipped my spirits. There won’t be a free spread of fare in a back room at the Cardinal, nor free drink tokens, a so-called passport or pop-up bars dotting the Empire State Building lookalike. But the slide will be there, and the bowling alley. And the genuinely kind staff, and probably some of the same chi-chi guests. And while the food and drinks will no doubt be different, if what I witnessed is any indication of what the Katharine is capable of, I believe the hype.
Visit the Katharine Brasserie & Bar at 401 N. Main St. (W-S) or at katharinebrasserie.com.