Laidback cocktail bars juxtapose class with character.
I once was in love with a girl who had bright pink hair and a taste for craft cocktails. She was 4’11,” wore platform combat boots, and swore like a Tarantino character.
The problem was that it was 2008, and anywhere we went for a French Martini or a Kir Royale, the mixologists of bougie cocktail bar X would stare in subtle dismay at my punk rock paramour, rolling their eyes as they joggled their stainless steel cocktail shakers.
But things have changed in the past decade—you don’t have to wear a bowtie anymore if you want a top shelf drink made with care and affection. While craft beer has become an obvious mainstay in Columbus culture, craft cocktails are not far behind, popping up in just about any place that has a liquor license. It seems almost paradoxical to go to a hole-in-the-wall for a $12 dollar, well-made drink, but in a way, it has permeated the culture and been made accessible to any ol’ social deviant who desires intricate, inventive cocktails without the price tag of snooty atmosphere.
“I think we come across more relaxed and casual. We use a lot of esoteric ingredients, but our staff is really good at explaining flavor profiles without making people feel stupid.”
This brings us to The Bottle Shop: a living, breathing juxtaposition—a dimly lit, non-pretentious haunt whose rotating list of lovingly crafted cocktails have generated a prodigious reputation around town. Opened by husband and wife duo German Vazquez and Barbara Reynolds in 2016, it has become an important fixture of the ever-evolving Victorian Village. The dynamic of TBS almost represents the delicate balance of the perfect cocktail: one part cocktail and craft beer bar, one part carryout, and, appropriately enough, one part well-stocked bottle shop, with a wide selection of bottled beers and fine wines.
“The feedback I get most often from our guests is that they feel more comfortable here than in other cocktail bars,” said Reynolds. “I think we come across more relaxed and casual. We use a lot of esoteric ingredients, but our staff is really good at explaining flavor profiles without making people feel stupid.”
In my opinion, bars are supposed to be like womb-like asylums, a separation from the bleakness of the real world. Walking into TBS is like teleporting into your eccentric auntie’s rumpus room—a plethora of mismatched antique furniture, zigzagging Christmas lights, wood-paneled walls adorned with a tiny gallery of framed religious iconography, and an assortment of thrifted novelty trinkets purposefully scattered, creating an ambiance akin to an antique mall in Nowhere, Ohio. The owners even curate unusual, dated, campy, and often psychedelic short films that are projected onto the wall at all times; while mesmerizing in their own right, they mesh exceedingly well with the endless mix of alternative post-rock oozing out of the speakers.
“The Bottle Shop is a mash-up of elements from many of my favorite places around the world, including Bacchanal in New Orleans, Lagniappe House in Miami, and Le Comptoir Generale in Paris, among others,” said Reynolds. “German and I both really liked the idea of a bodega set-up, with both on- and off-premise sales, as well as a comfy, living-room aesthetic.”
Don’t worry—if the idea of sequestering yourself up in cozy dive on a sunny afternoon sounds downright absurd, The Bottle Shop boasts a larger-than-average patio, complete with a permanently-stationed re-purposed taco truck. (I say re-purposed, since the wrap of the wagon broadcasts Mediterranean cuisine. To account for this confusion, they simply plastered a sign on the side advertising Mexican food. Again: this is what charm is).
But what shines most prominently about The Bottle Shop is, of course, their drinks. A highly sippable cocktail that you can find on their current menu is the salaciously named Naked & Shameless. Riffing a classic with a clear and clever spin is the MO at The Bottle Shop, and it’s displayed at its best in this drink. Mixing fresh lime juice, Mezcal (imagine tequila’s cooler, richer, more interesting older cousin), Yellow Chartreuse, and Ancho Reyes Verde. The last two ingredients I will leave for the bartenders at The Bottle Shop to explain, but suffice to say they are both unique and undoubtedly rarefied liquors. These ingredients are shaken, strained into a frosty cocktail coupe, and delicately garnished with a tiny roasted chili floating on a dehydrated lime wheel, resulting in a drink as unique in its appearance. It’s smoky and savory while still possessing sweetness, and vibrant vegetal flavors, bring a welcoming funky pepperiness.
Reynolds may go out of her way to make sure her customers don’t feel stupid—but that doesn’t prohibit her from having a slight agenda.
“I’m always trying to trick people into drinking sherry so they realize it’s awesome,” she laughed, “so I’m pretty excited about a cocktail I’m working on with Hendrick’s gin, blackberry-infused fino sherry, Dolin Genepy des Alpes and lemon. It doesn’t have a name yet, but it’s bright pink and delicious!” (It will be on their new summer menu after June 25).
If you haven’t ever stopped by, definitely add it to your summer to-do-list, and you couldn’t hope for more perfect timing with their seasonal speciality menu about to change over by the end of June. And yeah, bring your weirdo friends—no one will mind.
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