Thursday, August 21, 2014

Superbly Different, Tastefully Done--An East Bay Street Cocktail Mixing Treasure

Discreetly tucked away in a quaint alley just beyond a black wrought iron fence, I had passed its intimate, bricked courtyard many times while walking the Venue Range in the French Quarter. No more than a passing curiosity over the years, an outing a week earlier included a brief, probing peek into its windows.

Back again and on the prowl for an untried place to have dinner, I was surveying the East Bay streetscape when the unimposing black and white sign marking its location caught my attention and rekindled my interest to take another look-see. Its name invoked thoughts of white tuxedo jackets, spat covered shoes, and Humphrey Bogart clutching a gimlet exclaiming, "Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine."

By definition, a joint is an unsavory place. Add gin to it, and you have an unsavory place serving alcoholic concoctions. The establishment in question on East Bay Street is anything but sleazy and even Bogie would be proud to be seen there as would any respectable local or tourist. It is a little piece of classy, French Quarter real estate lined with a liquor bottle menagerie of rainbow intoxicants served in varying sizes of glassware on a curved bar complimented by an assortment of unconventional dishes at surprisingly cheap prices. Ironically, it is called The Gin Joint.

After gleaning the menu, it quickly became apparent this was not the place for a full dinner. The drink portion of the menu was sizably longer than the food portion, but it was an attention grabber, especially the section called the Bartender's Choice. The bar was full and the leather booths against the walls looked comfortable, but the outdoor courtyard furnished with three sets of black wrought iron tables and chairs under the lights and the trees was the perfect choice on this beautiful Charleston early evening.

The menu was divided into two sections: drinks and food. The drink section was divided into alcohol categories: Gin, Agave, Whiskey, Brandy, and Rum but no Vodka--it is a pre-Prohibition menu. Under the alcohols were house names of mixes containing that particular alcohol--the mixes change with the seasons and inspiration.

While all the listed drinks were seductively tempting, the Bartender's Choice was the perfect match for my "throw caution to the wind" mood. From a list of 15 flavors and taste sensations, I was instructed to pick two of my favorite passions. Based on my choices of strong and savory, the bartender skillfully created my surprise cocktail using local sources of bitters and citruses blended with a shot of spirited imagination. When my highly anticipated libation finally arrived, the server detailed the ingredients and the alcohols used. It was the proper drink and exactly what I was looking for. An added striking feature of my Bartender's Choice was the single chunk of ice submerged in my cocktail cut to the shape of the glass--a chip off the 300-pound ice blocks whittled down by Joe Raya and company. All drinks are $10 each.

As to the food, the categories were Provisions, Cheese, and Desserts. My food selection came from the Provisions. The Duck Meatball Sliders with Fennel, Apple Slaw, and a San Marzano tomato sauce for $12 were very Mediterranean and delightfully exquisite.

Other choices were a Chicken N Waffle Sandwich with a Red Pepper Jelly for $12, a Benton's Country Ham wrapped in a Grilled Cheese and Wow Wow sauce for $9, Pickled Shrimp with Lemon, Capers, Onions and Sour Dough for $8, and a Pad Thai Popcorn for $6. Informed popular house favorites included a Soft Pretzel covered with Sriracha Cheese Sauce and Bull's Bay Salt for $7 and Pork Buns for $12. Dessert choices included a Coca-Cola Cake for $10 and a Peanut Butter Chocolate bar for $8.

The Gin Joint has been selected as one of "the 21 Hottest Cocktail Bars Across the US" by Eater and Garden and Gun rated it as one of the "50 Best Southern bars." From my experience, I see no reason to question their knowledgeable evaluation. With its idyllic location on East Bay Street right in the heart of the French Quarter surrounded on all sides by the best of the best, its contribution to Charleston's sizzling bar scene in my estimates is second to none and its drink offerings top shelf. Because the food menu consists mainly of small dishes, you would be more likely to choose it as a place to share a quiet cocktail with a special someone before a dinner outing or a drop in for a comforting drink and dessert diversion from an afternoon of sightseeing. Superbly different, tastefully done. For me, it is no longer just a passing interest. It is a on going interest.

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