Today, contributor Natalie Hoch returns to tell us about her conversion to bespoke cocktail culture. Sigh, kids grow up so fast these days with their rye liquors and their retro coupe glassware, don’t they?
Since moving to Prospect Heights three years, ago, my husband Robby and I have watched excitedly as new and noteworthy bars popped up all around us. Some might bristle at our glee for gentrification, but for us, it just means more cool things within walking distance of our place. We were familiar with the speakeasy craze from Manhattan hotspots like Little Branch and The Back Room, so the sign-less, sleek, white-tiled entrance of Weather Up had the subtle, cool vibe to match our expectations.
Our first few visits to Weather Up took place late at night as part of a group of friends, giving us the impression that it was a beautiful but stuffy, crowded, and loud setting. Our orders took a long time and our off-menu requests were not easily met. The atmosphere was great and we still kept coming back, but I realize now that we just didn’t get it. Until Uncle Greg came in from Colorado.
Greg—my dad’s brother, an amateur mixologist and a jolly drinking companion—knows a thing or two (or twenty) about spirits and the art of the cocktail. His wealth of knowledge covers rums, ryes, syrups, and sodas, he makes his own grenadine and accurately recites the history of the Sazerac.
Unlike our past visits, this time we arrived one minute after the 7:00 pm opening and had the place to ourselves. As my uncle talked shop with the bartender, checking out the extensive bar selection, Robby and I admired the display of fresh juices, syrups and condiments and the fantastic ice-making and breaking process up close. The early-evening atmosphere was such a change from our previous visits, with time to notice and savor the cocktails at hand. I was seeing everything with fresh eyes.
As I’ve moved out of my 20s and into my 30s, I’ve fallen deeply in love with food and wine: the history, the culture, the evolution, the practice. I love the story behind food; the narrative of wine; the generations of people before us perfecting the craft, shaping the art, and in some cases smuggling the goods (one of the many reasons I love Boardwalk Empire—that and my old-school gangster thing). Until that particular Monday evening in June, I hadn’t quite had my eureka moment with spirits and cocktails. I suppose Weather Up and Uncle Greg were my initiation.
As with so many quality watering holes in this city, Weather Up does it right, from the selection of liquor to the technical precision and thoughtfully-curated menu. But beyond the impressive performance the bartender provides for each drink—the ritual spoon-slap ice breaking, the skilfully peeled lemon, the absinthe melting a sugar cube—the cocktail is always damn good and often with an unexpected twist, like a chunk of crystallized ginger or a single ice cube half the size of your glass.
Weather Up has an eleven-drink menu, offering riffed classics alongside drinks only your grandfather would know. The last listed is always Bartender’s Choice. I never used to go for that, but I do now and I recommend it. On a hot and stuffy early evening in August, I asked the mustachioed barkeep for something refreshing and simple. I got a Honeysuckle (rum, clover honey, lemon, splash of soda). It was phenomenal.
With colder weather, I seem to favor the way they craft the classics. This past Friday I ordered an Old Fashioned, which they master artfully. Robby got the rye- and absinthe-based Gentleman’s Companion. They were sipped and savored in a beautifully low-lit room to the crooning sounds of 1960s soul—a crisp autumn evening awaited outside to spice up our buzz and flush our face before dinner. We’ll be back soon.