Nick's Picks: Rochester Craft Beverage Tour
Local bartender Luc Thiers was recently interviewed for an article about the craft beverage scene in Rochester for Imbibe, a national magazine that bills itself as “the ultimate guide to drinks culture.” In the article, author Penelope Bass mentioned Fee Brothers, the 154-year-old Rochester-based bitters company that first put our city on the national cocktail map. Bass also referenced bars like the Revelry, the Spirit Room, Solera Wine Bar, Cheshire, and the Playhouse//Swillburger, which are all doling out craft beverages and keeping the 585 boozed up. While it would probably be better to visit each place on a separate night, I was inspired to take in Imbibe’s view of Rochester within a couple of hours. Here is my tale:
The Revelry: 1290 University Avenue
With delicious Southern-inspired cuisine, a bevy of seafood selections, a hip ambiance, and some of the best cocktails in town, the Revelry is not a secret to anyone. In order to beat the Saturday night crowd, I made this restaurant and bar on University Avenue the first stop on my Imbibe tour. With four stops and several more drinks ahead of me, I wanted to start with something simple and light. The East Ender ($8), made with gin, lime, cucumber, and mint was the perfect fit. Feeling energized and invigorated after my drink, I left for destination two as The Rev’s bar began to fill up.
The Spirit Room: 139 State Street. Lyft from the Revelry = $14.48
Its location on State Street, an area not synonymous with nightlife, makes the Spirit Room a destination more than a stop on a bar hop. Adorned with old literature, worn black and white photographs of some who have passed on, antique furniture and glassware, skeletons, and creepy dolls, the Spirit Room’s one-of-kind ambiance makes any drive, even a $15 Lyft from The Revelry, worth it. Surrounded by decay, I saw no need to drink lightly. First, a mai tai ($10), served in a plastic skull of course, followed immediately by a raspberry fiz ($10), made with gin, raspberry liqueur, lemon juice, egg white, and club soda. The Spirit Room’s drink menu, printed on tattered, yellowing paper, lists its cocktail options next to spooky stories and local spiritual facts. I didn’t want to slow myself down, but the Spirit Room also specializes in old-school southern cooking like fried chicken on Texas toast and shrimp and grits.
Solera Wine Bar: 647 South Avenue (Floor One.) Lyft from the Spirit Room = $9.22
After gin, rum, egg white, and more gin, I was exactly halfway through with my craft beverage tour, and on to Solera. This wine bar in the South Wedge has an extensive list of rare, small-batch wines from all over the world. With most of them above my pay grade and palate sophistication, I went with what I knew, a Riesling, specifically a 2015 Zum QbA from Germany ($8).
Cheshire: 647 South Avenue (Floor Two)
Right up the stairs from Solera is Cheshire, an old-school, step back in time, speakeasy-style bar. Upscale décor and a cozy, intimate atmosphere make Cheshire the perfect date spot, though Dan, my friend and accomplice throughout my tour, was not my perfect date (no offense, Dan). Amid a menu filled with pre-Prohibition–style cocktails, I opted for a Moscow Mule ($10) and a French 75 ($10), made with Fords Gin, Casas sel Mar Brut Cava, sugar, and lime juice.
The Playhouse//Swillburger: 820 South Clinton Avenue. Lyft from Cheshire = $6.67
The Playhouse, a two-story space that is equal parts, bar, arcade, and burger joint was the last stop on my tour. While they offer a variety of cocktails, after a night full of craft, it was nice to start with a Genny Light ($4). As is the case with most nights at this wildly popular weekend spot, I ran into a friend, who insisted on buying me one of the Playhouse’s shot and beer combos, the Q-bert—a 16-ounce Labatt and a shot of fireball ($6). Not too long after my shot went down, as I tried to choose one of Swillburger’s dozens vintage arcade games, an all too familiar feeling occurred. The enormity of my night caught up with me—if I didn’t get food soon I was going to throw up. Luckily, quick service and a burger ($5.99) with tots ($3.99) saved me from disaster. With my sickness repressed, I spent my last remaining dollars on pinball and NBA Jam.
While my tour was almost marred by vomit, it should not be looked at as a cautionary tale, but a blueprint of where to start and what to order when exploring Rochester’s craft beverage scene.
Follow Nick’s Picks on Twitter at @NickPicks585.