Summer drinks wash over the North Coast
Story by Carlo Wolff | Photography by Michael C. Butz
Walk into Porco Lounge and Tiki Room and you’ll enter a cooler, darker world – an exotic escape from Cleveland’s summertime heat found along the Tremont-Ohio City border.
You’ll naturally gravitate toward the bar, a cleverly laminated affair featuring swizzle sticks, mostly from Las Vegas, trapped in plastic. You look up to see an eclectic collection of alcoholic accessories, from rhubarb liqueur to amaros to truly exotic aperitifs. On the top row, toward the left, is a gaggle of parakeet mugs made for sipping (don’t rush) such custom drinks as the turquoise Mare Blu (the baseline blend is vodka and blue curacao) and the Planet of the Apes, a blond bomber based on rum.
Other glasses abound, like the snifter that houses the Fogg Cutter, a tawny, opaque drink based on dark and light rums bartender Andy Avner dresses up with dry ice. Besides the rum, Avner says, there’s gin, brand and orgeat, an almond syrup frequently encountered in the Mai Tai, another island mainstay.
You expect a miniature rock ‘n’ roll band to pop out of this drink, so strong it walks a fine line between the intoxicating and the anesthetic. Porco brings the hammer down even harder with Tiki Bob’s Concussion, a $25 drink available only one time an evening and not available after 10 p.m.
It’s summertime and the living is tropical in Porco, a relative newcomer on West 25th Street, about a half-mile south of the West Side Market. It claims to be the first true Tiki bar in Cleveland since the fabled Kon Tiki in the old Sheraton hotel downtown closed in 1976. Avner says all Porco’s simple syrups, like the orgeat, are made in-house, in a nod to pre-Prohibition bartending tradition.
The place is fun, blending kitsch and cool in a way that’s characteristically Cleveland – and slightly mysterious: All Avner will say about one of Porco’s newest drinks, the Planet of the Apes, is that it includes rums and banana liqueur. Those plastic monkeys clambering around its neck hint at the refreshing, sunny pleasures to come.
Across town, at the BottleHouse Brewery in Cleveland Heights, bartender Jason Kalligracas suggests the Americano, a milder precursor of the famous Negroni, as just the thing for the summertime. The Negroni includes gin, Campari and sweet vermouth; the Americano is a level lighter, swapping club soda for the gin.
“You can make it by the pitcher,” he says, concocting the tall, burnished drink in a shaker.
Legend has it that a Count Negroni, looking for a deeper buzz, told his bartender, who was making an Americano, to strengthen it. And so the gin-forward, bracing and slightly bitter Negroni was born.
The Americano, however, is a handsomer quaff.
At the BottleHouse, the Americano’s assembly starts with a premium sweet vermouth called Antica, then that neon-pink aperitif known as Campari, then a slice each of lemon and orange, and finally, the soda water. The astringent and the sweet blend beautifully in this light drink, Kalligracas says. He’s right.
For something quite a bit stronger, try the Seventh Heaven, a variation on the Aviation featuring gin, maraschino liqueur (Luxardo works well), grapefruit juice and fresh mint. Like the Aviation, which adds violet liqueur (like St. Germain), it’s a milky-looking concoction best served in a cocktail glass.
As Kalligracas says, the Seventh Heaven is a gin-forward drink. You don’t really need the mint for flavor – but you do for the look. “Take a sprig over the glass and tear it” is the key to entering this particular variation of heaven, Kalligracas suggests.
Whatever your summertime pleasure – don’t overlook tequila drinks or rum drinks – there’s a cocktail to match your mood. And pleasure your design sense.