Homemade Cocktails — Experiments, Critiques & Travels
This past weekend, friend Jack and I made our way to downtown Decatur to seek out one of Atlanta’s newest cocktail-centric bars, Paper Plane. The cozy, retro-infused spot is the latest project by local bar wizard Paul Calvert (of Pura Vida and Sound Table fame). As the AJC has said, it’s not a speakeasy — it just happens to have a couple discreet entrances tucked behind the newly-opened Decatur branch of Victory Sandwich Bar. And unlike faux-speakeasies, it’s clearly marked…
Making your way down the alley that ties into shop-lined Church Street, you’ll pass guests who line the path at tables of twos or fours and who fill in the spaces between the ferns and flowers of the rear patio. A constant stream of thirsty patrons spill through the large, open doorway and into the bar, finding their seats in the plush, black, leather-lined booths and stools of the Midcentury-modernesque interior (dig the globe lights, patterned veneer, and retro stereo receiver).
The drinks? Well, as a newly-made acquaintance from that night put it: “I walked in, saw that everyone at the bar was holding a cocktail and not a beer, and said, ‘Hey, this looks like a cool place.’”
Paper Plane’s back-bar is carefully stocked, and the drinks veer (slightly) away from the classic standards and into the Microdistilled Spirit + European Aperitif + Fruit + Bitters motif that is now commonplace in the city (I’m lookin’ at you, Holeman & Finch). Not that I’m complaining, mind you: the combinations are always unique ( I certainly wouldn’t have thought to try most of them), and they often make use of newer spirits that I’ve yet to taste or haven’t stocked at home. Kelly, our bartender, mentioned that while Calvert heads the bar, each bartender is encouraged to experiment and develop a drink or two for the ever-changing menu. The cocktails are regularly moved in and out of rotation, which keeps the choices fresh and maintains a certain level of creativity behind the stick. Here’s a sampling of what we had that night…
- Alma Reposado Tequila
- Rare Wine Co. “New York” Madeira
- Amaro Montenegro
- Cherry Heering
Stirred, served up in a chilled rocks glass.
Very nice! Wine-like and fruity, with a strong agave backbone and a good dose of fig and jam flavors. There’s a bit of warm spice and wood floating around in here, too — probably the combination of amaro and reposado. The drink is not especially sweet, and reminds me of a chilled mulled wine, but without the sharper, wintry spices. A good after-dinner drink, maybe paired with roast meat.
- St. George Terroir Gin
- Vino Verde
Shaken, poured over ice in a Collins glass, lemon wedge garnish.
Jack’s first drink for the evening wasn’t as fruity or as sweet as he expected — it, too, came out rather wine-like in body and texture (heck, wine’s an ingredient). The light fruit flavors are balanced with tonic-like bitterness and cut through with herbs and citrus. Rather nice.
The acquaintance quoted above, by the way, was James, a caterer-turned-farmer-and-poultry/hog-purveyor from Asheville, North Carolina. After swapping tales of travel, molecular gastronomy, farming, cocktails, and the crazy boom in the Atlanta food scene — from which he’d been away for some time — James requested the classically fantastic Hanky Panky. No, not on the menu, but bartender Kelly whipped one up, no problem: she went with Beefeater, Carpano Antica (or was it Cocchi?), and a good dose of Fernet. James was kind enough to let me sample the result — I would’ve upped the vermouth and lessened the Fernet, but you can never really go wrong with a Hanky Panky. Every bartender prepares a classic cocktail to their own taste, so while it may not be an new, innovative combination of spirits, the imbiber gets to sample a little bit of that bartender’s personality (along with their drink, of course).
Seeking a nightcap after a cheese platter (just a snack; dinner was earlier, at Yeah! Burger), I had a glass of Amaro Montenegro, while Jack sought further refreshment with the…
- Caña Brava Rum
- Domain de Canton Ginger Liqueur
- Sparkling White Wine
Shaken, served up in a cocktail glass, and topped with the bubbly.
Probably our favorite drink of the night: this was the zippy pick-me-up that Jack had been looking for. The No Vacancy sports a perfect amount of fizz and citrus combined with an herbal woodiness provided by the celery (I’m guessing it was muddled — or maybe a syrup?). A perfect drink for a warm summer evening in a comfy, retro cocktail bar.
After bidding adieu to James and Kelly, we headed back out on to the street, past the always-busy Leon’s and toward the town parking deck. With a reportedly-excellent small plates menu and a dozen drinks left to sample, I’ll certainly book a return flight to Paper Plane. See you there!
Photos by IJL
(Apologies for the photo quality, by the way — the Nikon was at home, resting, and the iPhone had to step in.)