I’ve always been amazed by the little gems that are to be found in Chattanooga dining culture. Now that our fair city has branched out everywhere from fine dining to food trucks, it’s time to take another aspect of our dining to the next level—drinking. And more specifically, cocktail drinking.
We’ve got our share of local breweries. The founders of Chattanooga Whiskey are working tirelessly to bring distilling back to Chattanooga. How can we bridge the drinking gap? By mixing them together, of course.
All over the country—and the world, for that matter—bartenders are revamping the way we drink. Beer cocktails, cocktails on draft and barrel-aged everything are trending from coast to coast. Somehow, our city has been glazed over between the cocktail resurgences highlighted in Nashville and Atlanta. I hope to change that.
I’ve been working downtown for a couple of years to elevate the bar program at Easy Bistro & Bar under the direction of Chef/owner Erik Niel. But in order to succeed, we need your participation. By “we,” I don’t mean our restaurant alone, but everyone surrounding us. Justin Stamper, bar manager of Poblanos Mexican Bar and Grill, recently launched his cocktail program, and I encourage everyone to go see for themselves what quality venues of drinking are already here. Stamper’s efforts give me great hope for our little city to slowly but surely find its own cocktail niche.
I’ve spent the past week in New Orleans at a little bar conference known as Tales of the Cocktail. I suppose it’s not so little anymore, seeing that this year marked its 10th anniversary, and the city hosted a few thousand bartenders, producers, ambassadors and cocktail enthusiasts.
What is remarkable about this event isn’t just the incredibly lavish parties and information-packed seminars, but the inevitable smattering of serendipitous moments throughout the week. While in a lengthy line at the Bon Vivant’s third annual Pig & Punch Party waiting to feast, I happened to find myself standing beside the national president of the United States Bartenders' Guild, David Nepove. Taking advantage of the few minutes I had with Mr. Mojito himself, we discussed how to start a USBG chapter and, most importantly, how to further bar education. His enthusiasm and love of the craft were enough to have me ready to get on the plane home and share what I learned.
In this column, I plan to explore drinking venues new and old, historical cocktails and those that have been derived from them, and sometimes how to do it yourself. What I need from you is support and feedback. Go out and support those practicing the craft here and in surrounding cities. Sit at my bar and tell me what you think about what you’re drinking. Email me and tell me what you want to hear about. My hope for this column is to edify those in the industry and educate those who are just excited to be able to participate from the other side of the bar.
Let’s see what our city can really do (and drink).
Laura Kelton is a recent graduate of UTC and currently runs the bar program at Easy Bistro & Bar. Feel free to reach out to her by email with any questions, comments or requests. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.