How do you like your bar? Quiet, subdued lighting, perfect for low conversations with a friend or partner, or televisions blaring, music bumping so you yell your order to the bartender?
In addition to layout, size and offerings, often the type of bar you visit has to do with the time of day. I’ve witnessed some start the night with a calm, introverted atmosphere and end with loads of patrons spilling out, eyes bloodshot and unfocused, cabs called and syllables transposed.
I like the first type by a long shot, which is one reason I showed up to Table 16 in downtown Greensboro right after they opened at 5:30 p.m. last Saturday. The dinner crowd had yet to arrive, so I assured my husband Ryan no one would care about his T-shirt and cargo shorts ensemble. After telling an employee we were there for the bar, we walked straight to the back, past candlelit tables with carefully origamied cloth napkins.
Immediately I liked the feel: teal walls, a short vase of roses, the strange print of two kissing women with black wolves for hair. Only four stools lined the bar, and a couple small tables offered six additional seats. My mirrored reflection at the bar hid behind three rows of bottles, and some old favorites caught my eye, like Templeton Rye.
The bar is new, in a way — Table 16 is under new ownership, and the restaurant and tucked-away bar area received makeovers. There’s no discernible change on the outside, which is part of the appeal.
The bartender, Eric, circled around, informing us there is no set cocktail menu. For a moment, I freaked out. What do I order? I don’t know names of most classic cocktails, and I didn’t know what experiments he could concoct. Ryan ordered a Manhattan, the standard by which he judges all new bars we patronize. Eric said I could choose a liquor to base a cocktail on, and he would figure it out.
“Gin or mezcal are my suggestions,” he said, presumably because of the unseasonably warm weather.
Not one for smoky flavors, I chose gin, and proceeded to watch him add ingredients I wouldn’t normally go for like chartreuse, an herbal liqueur that’s indescribable in the way that Jägermeister is. But chemistry is an interesting thing, and to fully appreciate the wonders of a cocktail, one must keep an open mind.
It’s called the Last Word — equal parts green chartreuse, gin (Eric used Tanqueray), Maraschino liqueur and lime juice. And it’s phenomenal.
As was the next one he made me: the Industry Sour, a cocktail invented at a bar in New York City called Death & Co. Chartreuse (there it is again), fernet branca, simple syrup and juice of a whole lime. It had the color of butterscotch thanks to the fernet, and wasn’t nearly as sour as I thought it’d be.
Ryan and I shared it as Eric passed around bottles of fernet and cynar for us to sniff, two other spirits that elude easy description. He had substituted Byrrh, a French fortified wine, for the vermouth in Ryan’s Manhattan, which kicked it up a notch and earned Ryan’s approval.
By 7 p.m., there were still only three patrons, but Eric admitted the bar can get quite crowded, with 30 or more squeezing into the small space.
So choose your bar experience wisely. On a lazy evening at Table 16, you can have your own personal bartender. As an introverted booze enthusiast (still not an alcoholic!), I’d have it no other way.