Will that be shaken, stirred or both?

Cocktail connoisseurs serve up experiences

Chris McDaniel
cmcdaniel@ptleader.com
Posted 1/16/19

When Sophia Elan places a handcrafted cocktail in front of a customer, she hopes one sip will become a conduit to dreams of distant places.

“What are you trying to create as an experience for the person who is going to consume that drink?” asked Elan, co-manager of The In Between, a new bar on the second floor at 823 Water St. in Port Townsend.

She  often will ask a customer, “How do you feel now, and how do you want to feel?” she said. “‘If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?’ Sometimes they say they would be in a cabin with a book and a warm blanket.”

In that case, Elan said she will make something warm and spicy.

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Will that be shaken, stirred or both?

Cocktail connoisseurs serve up experiences

Posted

When Sophia Elan places a handcrafted cocktail in front of a customer, she hopes one sip will become a conduit to dreams of distant places.

“What are you trying to create as an experience for the person who is going to consume that drink?” asked Elan, co-manager of The In Between, a new bar on the second floor at 823 Water St. in Port Townsend.

She  often will ask a customer, “How do you feel now, and how do you want to feel?” she said. “‘If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?’ Sometimes they say they would be in a cabin with a book and a warm blanket.”

In that case, Elan said she will make something warm and spicy.

If another says they want to be on a sunny beach in Barbados, she will make a daiquiri variation.

“You can help people have a cool experience just by talking with them,” Elan said.

It all comes down to the creativity of the bartender who mixes the drink, she added.

Alexander Moats, Elan’s co-manager, said creating the cocktail that best fits a customer’s taste comes down to knowledge.

“If I know them personally I would say it is very helpful, but if don’t know them and have never met them, then I know certain questions to ask them that can be helpful,” he said. “If Sophie was one of my clients, and I knew she loved bitter spirit-forward drinks, I would say, ‘Oh my gosh, I know this style of drinks’ and can run with that, as opposed to someone that says, ‘I don’t want the drink to be too strong.’ That’s great information. I won’t make you a stirred old fashioned-style drink. I will make you a cosmopolitan or something like that.”

And each drink can be tweaked to taste, Elan said.

“Cocktails come in these families,” she said. “There is the Manhattan, and you can take the framework of a Manhattan and swap out ingredients. All these frameworks, like the framework of a margarita, you can swap out the citrus for something else. You can swap another citrus ingredient. It is really endless.”

With seemingly infinite varieties, a customer may never need to order the same cocktail twice, Moats said.

“The possibilities are endless,” he said. “A Manhattan can be made hundreds of different ways. Just change a dash of bitters or change out the brand of whiskey. It is awesome. You can’t get bored. It is impossible to get bored.”

King of cocktails

While many cocktails have come in and out of vogue, the classic martini still remains at the top of the list, Elan said.

“Martinis will never go out of style,” she said. “When you are talking about gin and vermouth, martinis are a classic cocktail.”

“Martini is the ultimate cocktail because it is customizable,” Moats added. “Everyone, when they order a martini, they are going to tell you the way they like the martini. I think that is really cool. A martini is personal, and a martini is sexy. It will never go away.”

The martinis the duo serve at the bar have a twist, Moats said.

“We have a certain style that we serve our martinis,” he said. “We encourage people to come in and try. We care about presentation a lot, especially with that particular cocktail.”

When a new customer orders a martini, a Manhattan or negroni, Moats sees that as an initial measurement of his talents.

“That is (the) test to see if this is a good place and if I am a good bartender,” he said. “They are ordering that drink to test me. I am up for the challenge. I am going to say, ‘I will show you.’ There is absolute ownership of it. If you make someone’s day by making a drink, it feels good.”

Custom cocktails

While there are over a dozen cocktails on the menu, Elan relishes a chance to create something from scratch at the request of a customer.

“I feel my favorite cocktail to make is the one I haven’t made yet because I get so excited about all the possibilities of flavor combinations, and I love the challenge and the joy of making something new for someone,” she said. “I would love to have that dialogue if someone comes in. It is this instant feedback, and you are in this active state of creation with someone else, and it so fun.”

The possibilities are endless, Elan said.

“You get these instant results,” she said. “It is very much like cooking — this needs more acid or salt or fat, or these elements of spice or pepper.”

Elan did indeed say fat.

As in, from an animal.

“We do one cocktail that we infuse a bourbon with bacon fat, and we serve that with cold brew, maple syrup and orange bitters,” she said. “We call it our early bird special.”

But “fat” also applies in vegetarian drinks, Elan said.

“Really you are kind of thinking about the mouth feel of something and the roundness,” she said.

Art Deco

The decor of the new establishment, which  officially opened Dec. 21, was designed to be both transcendent and contemporary, Elan and Moats said, with Art Deco elements woven in to accentuate the more than 80-year-old bar that sits as the centerpiece of the establishment.

“I think the literal bar is part of our identity, too,” Moats said. “It’s old and it’s timeless history, and it’s current at the same time. Because we had this bar to work with, with these lovely Art Deco-carved ladies, I think we took a lot of influence from that. Let’s have influence of Art Deco, influence of speakeasy, but kind of be ambiguous.”

That is not necessarily easy to pull off, Elan and Moats said.

The bar was formerly in the Old Town Tavern before the business closed many years ago, Elan said.

“The Town Tavern was basically this bar in town that was an institution,” she said. “At one point in the 1960s, there was a commune up above it.”

When the tavern closed, Kris Nelson, who owns the building and The In Between, put in a winning bid for all of the equipment, including the bar, Elan said.

“This bar has been in storage for almost a decade,” she said. “We had to redo the top and give it a new life because it had seen a lot of spilled beer.”

Rumor has it the bar was built in San Francisco in the 1930s and shipped to the Pacific Northwest, Moats said.

For Elan, the bar is almost mythical.

“It was the bar where I had my first legal drink in the USA, so it is kind of cool to be now serving drinks behind it,” she said. “How would I have ever known?”

“That is like some weird destiny,” Moats said.

Managing in tandem

Elan, 29, and Moats, 32, previously worked together for many years at Alchemy Bistro and Wine Bar, which is also owned by Nelson.

“Sophie I consider my best friend,” Moats said. “We have spent a lot of time together, and it is easy to hang out with Sophie. We have very similar interests. Being coworkers for so long, we were already drink developing the whole time we were at Alchemy. We were already talking about our favorite bars and restaurants. We have been doing that for years.”

When Nelson approached the two with an idea to launch a new bar, they were ready.

“This is just another level of collaborating with Kris and co-managing,” Elan said. “It feels really seamless. They say ‘Don’t go into business with your friends,’ but it works really well when you have a great base of communication built already.”

The two trust each other implicitly, Moats said, adding that dynamic allows for some creative drinks.

“Kris has given us a lot of creative freedom,” he said. “We are solely in charge right now of our drink program.”

The menu includes 16 cocktails and five non-alcoholic drinks.

The two are offended by the word “mocktail,” which they said implies it’s just a particular drink with all the same ingredients minus the booze. Their “spirit-free” cocktails, on the other hand, are designed to be standalone delights for the senses.

Such a cocktail “is delicious and really carefully thought out and looks just like another alcoholic cocktail and sounds like it, too,” Elan said.

“It is good for you, and you get to hang out,” she said. “We want people to be responsible. If you are the designated driver, it might be boring to sit there all night drinking black coffee or drinking soda water and bitters. Why can’t you also really enjoy and challenge your tastebuds and have something fun and interesting to drink with your friends? We designed this to be just as enjoyable as an alcoholic cocktail.”

A toast to success

Looking back a few weeks after the opening at the months of planning and execution it took to open The In Between, Elan and Moats said they can appreciate their hard work.

“We opened kind of right in that really busy (holiday) week anyway for bars and restaurants,” Elan said. “Even though we did not advertise, every single night we were at capacity. We never really got a chance, until this week, to say, ‘Oh. We did it. We opened a bar. Cool.’ It has been a whirlwind.”

Moats said there were plenty of curious folks who stuck their head in the doorway midway up the main flight of stairs during the construction process, which transformed the space from a retail area formerly occupied by Tickled Pink into the drink destination it is today, Moats said.

“It was cool giving people sneak previews,” he said. “It has been a fun project and a dream, so you get to tell people when they stumble in, ‘This is going to go here, and that is going to go there. Come back and see.”

The physical manifestation of the vision is breathtaking, Moats added.

“It’s absolutely surreal,” he said. “It is new, and, as you can imagine, there is a lot of work for any new business. But I am still kind of processing.”

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