Belle Isle Moonshine

Replace your vodka with something better.

Behind the Bar

Behind the Bar: Jackie Haynes // Bay Local

Behind the BarStephanie StantonComment
All photos by   Joey Wharton  .

All photos by Joey Wharton.

Although Bay Local is located along busy Laskin Road, just a few blocks from Virginia Beach’s tourist-laden oceanfront, its warm, eclectic interior and smiling staff make it a welcoming oasis for tourists and beach vistors alike. The cozy restaurant caters to a loyal breakfast and lunch crowd during the week, only opening its doors for dinner service Thursday through Saturday. While you might think such a brunch-centric establishment wouldn’t attract a huge bar crowd, Bar Manager Jackie Haynes welcomes this mix of hungry regulars and beach tourists alike with a warm smile and a strong bloody mary.

We recently chatted with Jackie about getting her start behind the bar, the joys of a chilled tequila shot, and the importance of getting to know your bar guests. Jackie also shared her the recipe (although she kept the housemade mix a secret!) for Bay Local’s Bloody Bay–a Honey Habanero bloody mary that’s sure to make your boozy brunch a little spicier..


First thing’s first, who are you?

My name is Jackie, and I’m bar manager at Bay Local on Laskin Road. I’ve been the bar manager here for almost two years now.


How long have you been bartending?

I just celebrated my birthday last week, which took me up one, so I’ve officially been bartending for 10 years now.

What first got you behind the bar?

I was originally a Hooters girl, and my managers there saw my interactions with customers and said, “as soon as you turn 21, we’re throwing you behind the bar.” I went out of town for my 21st birthday, and, I kid you not, the day I got back I was in bar training.

Any pro-tips for someone starting out behind the bar?

Fake it ‘til you make it. Nobody knows that you’re doing anything wrong back there except you. If you feel confused or if you’re going down in the weeds, just remember it’s not going to last all night. You’ll get out of it, and you’ll get by.

Favorite drink made by someone else?

I’m totally a beer and shot girl when I go out. I did go to this bar in Fort Lauderdale called The Rooftop, and I thought it was super cool that they had a “Make Your Own Old Fashioned” menu. You pick your whiskey, pick your bitters, then pick if you wanted it smoked or unsmoked at the end. I had never seen that anywhere before.


Favorite drink that you make?

I make a really good extra-dirty martini. For some reason, people dig it when I make it.

Favorite thing to drink when no one’s looking?

Every time I go out, it’s a chilled shot of blanco tequila with a big, fat lime.


If you had to pick one cocktail ingredient to use for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

We make a homemade lavender sour mix here, and I’ve made a handful of cocktails with that. I know it’s probably not going into every drink, but it’s really good. I’d like to see it in every cocktail it can go into.

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What’s your favorite part about working at your bar?

It’s just the vibe. It’s such a small place, but we get a ton of tourists in here–plus the locals love us, too. It’s a really good mix of people, and I think that’s what I like most about it here.


Where do you like to stop in for a drink?

I live, like, a 30-minute drive from here, so I never get to do the “stop for a drink after work” thing. The place we go to the most down here after a crazy Sunday brunch is Shuckers by the Ocean Front. It’s a little local bar. I’ll run in there with the girls and drink a beer or whatever, then I’m on the way.

What makes Virginia Beach’s food & drink scene unique?

There are so many options for local seafood. Basically, any restaurant you walk into is serving you local food.

Give us your golden rule when it comes to bar etiquette.

I like to tell the bartenders to always interact with the guests when they’re sitting at your bar. When somebody sits at a bar, they’re expecting interaction. They know they’re going to have one-on-one time with the bartender, so don’t ever just take a food and drink order then leave. Get to know your customers, because that what creates your regulars and puts more money in your pocket.

What’s your favorite way to drink Belle Isle?

I have truly become obsessed with the Belle Isle Blood Orange. I’ve started to put it in my crushes, and I’ll also chill some at home and sip on it.


bloody bay

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Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. Belle Isle Honey Habanero

  • 4 oz. top-secret housemade Bay Local bloody mary mix (or your mix of choice)

  • garnish with bacon strips, olive, pepperoncini, gherkin pickle, and housemade spicy pickled green bean

Preparation:

Shake lightly and pour into Old Bay-rimmed pint glass.

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Belle Isle Moonshine is a premium, handcrafted spirit proudly hailing from Richmond, Virginia.

We take the name Belle Isle from a small, 540-acre island located smack dab in the middle of the James River where Civil War soldiers used surplus corn rations to make moonshine in copper kettles.

Belle Isle Moonshine is distilled from 100% organic corn, grown by three family farms and responsibly sourced. Once triple-distilled, we charcoal filter Belle Isle four times over. Then, we cut it with purified water right from the James River. Our infusions are made with 100% real ingredients, never artificial flavors or color. We use real grapefruits sourced from Texas and California, local honey from the Shenandoah Valley, organic habaneros grown an hour away, and freshly roasted coffee beans from the most socially conscious roastery in Richmond, Blanchard's Coffee Roasting Co.

From there, each bottle of Belle Isle Moonshine is filled, corked, labeled, and packed by hand by our Production team, who check each bottle and batch for quality assurance. Since Belle Isle is made in small batches, you can find the batch number handwritten in the bottom right corner of each bottle.

Distilled from good times and 100% organic corn.

Behind the Bar: Shane Morrison // Acacia

Behind the BarStephanie StantonComment
All photos by  Alyssa Allworth .

All photos by Alyssa Allworth.

You might miss Acacia if you weren’t paying attention. Located on Pittsburgh’s busy East Carson street, the cozy cocktail bar keeps a low profile with boarded-up windows and a small, nearly imperceptible sign. This hidden storefront may bring to mind an air of exclusivity or snobbery, much like the craze of fancy speakeasies that rose in popularity a few years back. Instead, Acacia manages to be welcoming and unpretentious while still serving some of the most best cocktails in the city.

Bar Manager Shane Morrison helps cultivate that approachable, “neighborhood haunt” atmosphere while creating cocktails that would impress any craft aficionado. With an expansive spirits selection (especially that mezcal shelf!), a variety of housemade potions and tinctures, warm welcomes, and a super intimate interior, Acacia takes all pretense out of the craft cocktail bar.

We recently spoke with Shane about his beginnings in the industry, his guilty pleasure drinks (hello, PBR Hard Coffee), and the burgeoning cocktail scene in Pittsburgh. He also shared two fantastic cocktail recipes using our Honey Habanero and 100 Proof moonshines.


First thing’s first, who are you?

My name is Shane Morrison, and I’m the bar manager at Acacia in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

How long have you been bartending?

I’ve been bartending for about 15 years.


What first got you behind the bar?

I liked the creativity aspect of it. I was serving at a place, and they offered me a job behind the bar. I had the opportunity to make more money–and money’s good–so I took the opportunity to get behind the bar and start making drinks.

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Any pro-tips for someone starting out behind the bar?

Absolutely. Be a sponge, and learn as much as you can. Get in with someone good who really knows what they’re doing. Walk before you run, and before you walk, crawl. Don’t overextend yourself by trying to get too fancy with things. Understand the fundamentals, the basics, the classics, and why they’re done a certain way, and why they’ve been done that way for 150, 200 years.

Favorite drink made by someone else?

My buddy Sean Enright has a tiki-style drink on the menu at Spork . It’s called Galeophobia–it’s Maggie’s Farm 50/50 dark rum, which is a local distillery, a little orgeat, citrus blend, and a toasted macadamia liqueur. It’s just absolutely fantastic. He serves it in a big shark glass. It’s a lot of fun to drink, and it’s really well put together.

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Favorite drink that you make?

That’s a loaded question. I think bartenders, in general, hate that question. People say all the time, “Make me what you drink.” Well, why would you want what I drink? My favorite drink is going to be the one that keeps you coming back. Whether it’s something rum-based, mezcal-based, moonshine-based, bourbon-based–I want you to have the experience. It’s not about me, behind the bar, what I drink. It’s more about what the guest wants at that particular time.


Favorite thing to drink when no one’s looking?

I didn’t want to love it, but the PBR Hard Coffee is so delicious.

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If you had to pick one cocktail ingredient to use for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

It would have to be mezcal. I love mezcal. I love the diversity of it. The single village stuff and the boutique stuff–it’s all really unique, and it’s all really different. Every time I taste something new it gives me a new perspective on the spirit.

What’s your favorite part about working at your bar?

Honestly, the people who work here. I know that sounds cliché, but we have some really good people. We have a lot of fun here. The guests, definitely, as well. We have really great support from our regulars, as well as the local community.


What makes your bar unique?

I think it it’s approachable. We serve a high-end product in a comfortable atmosphere. We don’t compromise our standards, but we do it in a way that’s not pretentious.

Where do you like to stop in for a drink?

It depends on the night. Wednesdays I’ll definitely go to Tiki Lounge and have a guilty pleasure piña colada. Hidden Harbor in Squirrel Hill–Max is doing some really amazing tiki stuff up there. That guy is super talented. I love going to Spork to see Sean. Lorelei is doing some really great work here. Cecil is absolutely fantastic there as well.

What’s your take on today’s cocktail culture in your city?

It’s definitely exploded over the last decade. It’s hard because Pittsburgh is a small market. I think some people are getting a little ahead of themselves. There’s only so many people to work. Again, it’s the “walk before you run” thing. But all in all, Pittsburgh is really doing some great work. There are some really talented people here. We have a tight-knit community, and everybody is really supportive of each other. I think that’s the best aspect of it.

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Give us your golden rule when it comes to bar etiquette.

One thing I tell everyone here on staff is to greet the guest as soon as they come in the door. Say hi, and give them a warm greeting, because A) it makes them feel welcome and B) when you’re in the weeds and making eight or nine cocktails at the time, the fact that you’ve acknowledged the guest’s presence can buy you some time. They’ll be a little bit more patient with you that way.


What’s your favorite way to drink Belle Isle?

Coffee in my coffee. I also like the Honey Habanero, equal parts with some grapefruit and a pinch of salt. It’s like a spicy Salty Dog.


Zig-A-Zig Ah

Ingredients:

Preparation:

Add all ingredients to a shaker tin with ice. Roll (don’t strain) into a rocks glass and garnish with a mint sprig.




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Steal My Moonshine

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Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. Belle Isle 100 Proof

  • 1 oz. grapefruit juice

  • ½ oz. rosemary syrup

  • 3 drops homemade black pepper tincture**

  • 6 drops homemade charred rosemary tincture

Preparation:

Add all ingredients to a shaker tin with ice. Shake and double-strain into a coupe glass and garnish with 2 drops of charred rosemary tincture.


**Click here for tips on creating your own tinctures!

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Belle Isle Moonshine is a premium, handcrafted spirit proudly hailing from Richmond, Virginia.

We take the name Belle Isle from a small, 540-acre island located smack dab in the middle of the James River where Civil War soldiers used surplus corn rations to make moonshine in copper kettles.

Belle Isle Moonshine is distilled from 100% organic corn, grown by three family farms and responsibly sourced. Once triple-distilled, we charcoal filter Belle Isle four times over. Then, we cut it with purified water right from the James River. Our infusions are made with 100% real ingredients, never artificial flavors or color. We use real grapefruits sourced from Texas and California, local honey from the Shenandoah Valley, organic habaneros grown an hour away, and freshly roasted coffee beans from the most socially conscious roastery in Richmond, Blanchard's Coffee Roasting Co.

From there, each bottle of Belle Isle Moonshine is filled, corked, labeled, and packed by hand by our Production team, who check each bottle and batch for quality assurance. Since Belle Isle is made in small batches, you can find the batch number handwritten in the bottom right corner of each bottle.

Distilled from good times and 100% organic corn.

Behind the Bar: Mika Takahashi // High Note

Behind the BarStephanie StantonComment
All photos by   Andrew Thomas Lee   .

All photos by Andrew Thomas Lee.

Atlanta’s bustling bar scene is jam-packed with every type of watering hole one can imagine. From tiki bars to speakeasies to ritzy steakhouses, there’s no shortage of talented bartenders shaking up amazing cocktails in the ATL. This amount of stiff competition can make standing out in the crowd a tough task.

High Note Rooftop Bar, along with its bubbly bartender Mika Takahashi, stands above its peers–both literally and metaphorically. Located atop the trendy Moxy Hotel in Midtown Atlanta, High Note’s quirky interior and complex-yet-accessible cocktails make the cozy rooftop bar the perfect spot to enjoy Happy Hour high above the busy city streets.

We recently chatted with Mika about getting her foot in the industry’s door, the beauty of a stiff whisky cocktail, and the importance of service with a smile. Mika also shared the recipe for her mind-blowing Blood Orange cocktail, Revenge of Fortunato.


First thing’s first, who are you?

My name is Mika, and I’m a bartender at High Note Rooftop Bar. 


How long have you been bartending?

I’ve been bartending for about eight years now.


What first got you behind the bar?

I got a bartending school brochure, like, 10 years ago. I went for a week, and it was kind of fun. I’d always been in the industry, but I never thought of myself as being a bartender, so that class kind of changed everything. 


Any pro-tips for someone starting out behind the bar?

Be comfortable with jiggers. Oftentimes people think that using jiggers is kind of old school, but precise measurements to bartenders are really important. 

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Favorite drink made by someone else?

There’s a cocktail called Mudcrutch that was made by Jacob, the beverage manager here. It has a rye whiskey base, absinthe, banana liqueur, and Carpano vermouth. It was a very complex, tasty cocktail.


Favorite drink that you make?

I enjoy everything, but I like making Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, Vieux Carres–the classics. 

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Favorite thing to drink when no one’s looking?

I have a guilty pleasure for–do you remember Tequila Rose? Yeah, I love it. It tastes like a strawberry Yoo-hoo. 


If you had to pick one cocktail ingredient to use for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

It would be absinthe, for sure. I like that anise smell of it, and I like the history of it. If you add one or two drops to a cocktail, it changes completely. 


What’s your favorite part about working at your bar?

Since it’s on a rooftop, it feels like you’re in the fresh air. I like the open feeling of it. Plus, I’m surrounded by great coworkers. It’s an awesome group.

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Where do you like to stop in for a drink?

Right now, we go across the street to Foxtrot after work. It’s a great bar. The bartenders are amazing, and they do a lot of classic cocktails. And Tiki Tango next door is amazing, too. 

What’s your take on today’s cocktail culture in your city?

I think now it’s evolving. More and more restaurants are opening every month or so. Prohibition used to be the style, then Tiki was back, and now it’s kind of more versatile. It’s not just one style. Hopefully it will just get better and better. 

Give us your golden rule when it comes to bar etiquette.

I want to treat guests as I’d like to be treated. A warm welcome will melt the ice. 

What’s your favorite way to drink Belle Isle?

I like the Blood Orange, but I love the Cold Brew!


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Ingredients:

Preparation:

Muddle one mint sprig in a shaker tin, then add all other ingredients except bitters to the tin with ice. Shake and strain into rocks glass. Pack with crushed ice, then top with a few dashes of Angostura bitters. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Recipe courtesy of Mika Takahashi at High Note in Atlanta.

Photos by Andrew Thomas Lee.

Want more Behind the Bar?


Belle Isle Moonshine is a premium, handcrafted spirit proudly hailing from Richmond, Virginia.

We take the name Belle Isle from a small, 540-acre island located smack dab in the middle of the James River where Civil War soldiers used surplus corn rations to make moonshine in copper kettles.

Belle Isle Moonshine is distilled from 100% organic corn, grown by three family farms and responsibly sourced. Once triple-distilled, we charcoal filter Belle Isle four times over. Then, we cut it with purified water right from the James River. Our infusions are made with 100% real ingredients, never artificial flavors or color. We use real grapefruits sourced from Texas and California, local honey from the Shenandoah Valley, organic habaneros grown an hour away, and freshly roasted coffee beans from the most socially conscious roastery in Richmond, Blanchard's Coffee Roasting Co.

From there, each bottle of Belle Isle Moonshine is filled, corked, labeled, and packed by hand by our Production team, who check each bottle and batch for quality assurance. Since Belle Isle is made in small batches, you can find the batch number handwritten in the bottom right corner of each bottle.

Distilled from good times and 100% organic corn.

Behind the Bar: Nathaniel Hall // Swan Dive

Behind the BarStephanie Stanton1 Comment
All photos by    Alyssa Flood Photography   .

Walking into Swan Dive in Rochester is a joyfully jarring experience. One minute, you’re standing outside an unassuming building on bustling Alexander St. and the next you’re transported to an emerald green, retro Miami, Art Deco wonderland. A glance at the innovative cocktail list, the elevated-yet-cheeky pizza menu, or the expertly curated backbar will confirm one thing: the folks behind Swan Dive definitely know what they’re doing.

This isn’t an accident. An example of Rochester’s bubbling food and beverage scene: Swan Dive is one of six popular sister restaurants. The newest addition (the restaurant family’s new “baby brother”) is an upcoming Italian joint called Vern’s.

“Rochester’s food and beverage scene has exploded in last five years,” Swan Dive’s Bar Manager Nathaniel Hall says.

Hall has been Swan Dive’s bar manager for the establishment’s entire year-and-a-half lifespan. He credits a lot of Rochester’s buzz to the growing popularity of the Rochester Cocktail Revival, New York state’s only week-long cocktail festival. This year’s festival (June 3-9) will be Belle Isle’s first time as a BackBar sponsor. So, what should we expect?

“It’s a week of bedlam and revelry,” says Nathaniel of the festival. Needless to say, the Belle Isle crew is ready.

We recently chatted with Nathaniel about his barback beginnings, the beauty of the Last Word cocktail, and the proper way to ask for a drink at a bar (hint: it’s not by calling the bartender “hey!”) Nathaniel also whipped us up an Exclusive Gift, a stellar Honey Habanero cocktail created by fellow Swan Dive-r Patrick Stetzel.


First thing’s first, who are you?

I’m Nathaniel Hall, and I’m the bar manager here at Swan Dive in Rochester, New York.

How long have you been bartending?

I’ve been bartending for about five years and managing for two years. We’ve been open for just over a year, so Ive been the bar manager here since day one.

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What first got you behind the bar?

I was a barback at one of our sister restaurants, The Daily Refresher, which is two doors down from where we’re currently sitting. I moved up through the ranks pretty quickly there and then started bartending during slower shifts. One night they threw me to the wolves on a Saturday, and the rest is history.

Any pro-tips for someone starting out behind the bar?

Look at your shoes, and get new ones. You’re on your feet a lot, and your feet are gonna hurt, so get good shoes. Stay clean, stay positive, and stay cool in times of stress. There are going to be stressful moments, but just take 10% back. If you’re moving at 100% and you feel yourself start to get squirrelly or stressed out, take a deep breath, take 10% off of your current speed and just push through. Two o’clock is gonna happen no matter what.

Favorite drink made by someone else?

I like to go to Cure, which is in the Public Market here, and ask Donny to make me something with gin. Whatever he’s feeling that day is probably what I want.

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Favorite drink that you make?

My favorite cocktail is a Last Word, easily.

Favorite thing to drink when no one’s looking?

That’s a tough one. I would have to say a PBR and a shot of well whiskey from Lux in South Wedge. Just shitty whiskey and shittier beer.

If you had to pick one cocktail ingredient to use for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

Escubac, which is an herbal liqueur that’s very similar to Green Chartreuse. It’s not as intense, but it still has that herbal quality. You can use it for mezcal, tequila, gin, vodka. It’s very versatile. I like to use it as my bartender’s ketchup.

What’s your favorite part about working at your bar?

I think the versatility of the program. The amount of reach that we have with our staff, our spirits selection, our beer and wine selection–we have something for everyone here. If you look at our backbar, you know you’re going to get something delicious.


How do you go about creating cocktails for Swan Dive's menu?

We curate our menu based on what we think is cool. We don’t really pander as much as some places might or as we possibly should. For example, the first cocktail on our menu is the Cool Breeze. It’s vodka-based, but it also has sherry, a French peach liqueur, and a housemade ginger syrup. Not a ton of people really know what sherry is, so if we throw that in with recognizable ingredients like vodka, peach, and ginger, we’re introducing you to something new kind of slyly. For us, we just like to incorporate ingredients that we stand behind into flavor profiles that you wouldn’t normally expect.

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Where do you like to stop in for a drink?

If I’m in the mood for a small neighborhood haunt, I like to go to Joey’s on Main St. Two of my friends own that little bar. There’s about 12 seats, a dart board, and a pool table. It’s perfect. If I’m going to get a cocktail, I like to go to Cure, Ox and Stone, and Roux.

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What make Rochester's food & drink scene unique?

Rochester’s food and beverage scene has exploded in last five years. I would say the forerunner of that is Restaurant Good Luck, which I think everyone in this room would say is an amazing, amazing place. It’s been influential in every aspect: food, beverage, hospitality. Their director, Chuck Cerankosky, is the man who heads the Rochester Cocktail Revival. With his influence, it’s all sort of been a tributary that flooded Rochester. I like to say this town is, “big city flavors, small city feel.”



Give us your golden rule when it comes to bar etiquette.

For bartenders and barbacks: greet customers with a smile, a menu, and water. For patrons: don’t tap your credit card, don’t wave your money at me, and my name isn’t “Hey!” If you’re polite, you’ll receive proper hospitality back.

What’s your favorite way to drink Belle Isle?

When they first brought the Honey Habanero in, I introduced it to everybody who was in front of me, and we were just sipping it with ice. Maybe a little bit of water to open it up. I like spice, but I can’t really tolerate it that well. I’m kind of a baby–but I really enjoy it. I enjoy the chemical reaction that happens in your brain with a little spice. So the Honey Habanero is my favorite.


Exclusive Gift

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Ingredients:

Preparation:

Add all ingredients to a mixing tin with ice and shake. Double-strain over fresh ice and garnish with a lemon plank.

Recipe by Swan Dive’s Patrick Stetzel.

 

Want more Bartender pro-tips?


Belle Isle Moonshine is a premium, handcrafted spirit proudly hailing from Richmond, Virginia.

We take the name Belle Isle from a small, 540-acre island located smack dab in the middle of the James River where Civil War soldiers used surplus corn rations to make moonshine in copper kettles.

Belle Isle Moonshine is distilled from 100% organic corn, grown by three family farms and responsibly sourced. Once triple-distilled, we charcoal filter Belle Isle four times over. Then, we cut it with purified water right from the James River. Our infusions are made with 100% real ingredients, never artificial flavors or color. We use real grapefruits sourced from Texas and California, local honey from the Shenandoah Valley, organic habaneros grown an hour away, and freshly roasted coffee beans from the most socially conscious roastery in Richmond, Blanchard's Coffee Roasting Co.

From there, each bottle of Belle Isle Moonshine is filled, corked, labeled, and packed by hand by our Production team, who check each bottle and batch for quality assurance. Since Belle Isle is made in small batches, you can find the batch number handwritten in the bottom right corner of each bottle.

Distilled from good times and 100% organic corn.

Behind the Bar: Abiose Spriggs // The Playhouse / Swillburger

Behind the BarStephanie StantonComment

The Playhouse/Swillburger has a lot going on. Located on the border of Rochester’s Swillburg and South Wedge neighborhoods, the sprawling barcade is housed in an old Baptist church building. Inside, you’ll find an impressive collection of both vintage and newer arcade games ranging from Ms. Pac Man to Big Buck Hunter to (everyone’s favorite drinking hazard) Skee-Ball. Many similar game-heavy establishments would be content to serve up domestic beer bottles and watery highballs to their screen-captive guests–but not here at The Playhouse. While the adjoining burger joint, Swillburger, serves drool-inducing sandwiches to the masses, The Playhouse boasts an inventive-yet-accessible cocktail menu and an equally impressive craft beer list. Bottom line: it’s nearly impossible not to have fun here.

This is in part thanks to Abiose Spriggs, The Playhouse’s bar manager, whose infectious laugh, ease with guests, and delicious, cheekily-named cocktails make chilling at the bar just as fun as any game in the building. We recently chatted with Abiose about cutting his industry teeth by washing dishes, his favorite bar book, and his longstanding love of amaro. He also shared the recipes for two super-tasty Belle Isle concoctions–Hipster’s Delite and Swipe Right? And yes, there is an emphasis on the question mark.


First thing’s first, who are you?

My name is Abiose Spriggs, and I’m the bar manager and a bartender here at The Playhouse.


How long have you been bartending?

I’ve been bartending about three and a half years. Maybe more like four. I kind of lose count sometimes.

What first got you behind the bar?

I started working at The Owl House, which is a sister restaurant to this bar. I was in the kitchen there first, and they lost a bartender. They were like, “Is anybody interested in doing this?” And I was like, “Yeah, I want to try something different.” I was used to washing dishes and expediting food, so it was a total 180 for me.


Any pro-tips for someone starting out behind the bar?

Read a lot of books. That’s how I got most of my knowledge starting out. Also, just go to your favorite local cocktail bar and watching the bartenders.

Do you have a favorite bar book?

My first one was the Death and Co. bar book. I thought that one was pretty informative and pivotal to the building of my bar knowledge.

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What’s your favorite drink made by someone else?

I like to stick to the classics. I usually do like a rye Old Fashioned or something else that’s whiskey-forward.


Favorite drink that you make?

My go-to is the Old Pal. It’s another rye whiskey cocktail that’s a variation of a Negroni–so rye, Campari, and dry vermouth with a lemon twist.

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Favorite thing to drink when no one’s looking?

Genny Light, but I drink that when people are looking, too.




If you had to pick one cocktail ingredient to use for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

Any amaro. My first real amaro love was Cynar, and I still have a love affair with it.


What’s your favorite part about working at your bar?

Definitely the staff I work with. Everyone’s amazing, everyone’s hands-on and definitely invested. Plus, it’s just a fun bar. You never get to see bartenders truly have fun like I feel that we have fun here. I mean, we work at an arcade.


Where do you like to stop in for a drink?

My favorite watering hole would probably be Caverly’s. It’s an Irish bar not too far away from here–just a little hole in the wall. I actually really don’t drink cocktails when I’m not working. I’m just a beer and a shot kind of guy.


What make Rochester's food & drink scene unique?

As far as the drinking scene, you have to give a big shoutout to RCR [Rochester Cocktail Revival] and what it’s done for Rochester and the cocktail community here. I’m pretty sure it’s the only [weeklong] cocktail convention in New York state–but don’t quote me on that [ed. note: he’s right!]. Those who are into the scene here find their bars and their bartenders. It’s great.

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Give us your golden rule when it comes to bar etiquette.

Hospitality’s pretty important to me, in terms of customer service and making sure the guest feels comfortable, and that they’re happy and enjoying themselves. It’s harder to do on the weekends when it’s super busy, but when you find the time to make the experience unique for someone, it feels good.


What’s your favorite way to drink Belle Isle?

I like to use the Cold Brew Coffee moonshine in White Russians. Or just that with our Cold Brew is pretty darn good.



Hipster’s delite

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Ingredients:

Preparation:

Combine first two ingredients in a Collins glass over ice. Top with kombucha and garnish with a lime.






swipe right?

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Ingredients:

Preparation:

Combine all ingredients in a mixing tin over ice. Shake vigorously and double-strain into a chilled coupe glass.

Want more Behind the Bar action?

Belle Isle Moonshine is a premium, handcrafted spirit proudly hailing from Richmond, Virginia.

We take the name Belle Isle from a small, 540-acre island located smack dab in the middle of the James River where Civil War soldiers used surplus corn rations to make moonshine in copper kettles.

Belle Isle Moonshine is distilled from 100% organic corn, grown by three family farms and responsibly sourced. Once triple-distilled, we charcoal filter Belle Isle four times over. Then, we cut it with purified water right from the James River. Our infusions are made with 100% real ingredients, never artificial flavors or color. We use real grapefruits sourced from Texas and California, local honey from the Shenandoah Valley, organic habaneros grown an hour away, and freshly roasted coffee beans from the most socially conscious roastery in Richmond, Blanchard's Coffee Roasting Co.

From there, each bottle of Belle Isle Moonshine is filled, corked, labeled, and packed by hand by our Production team, who check each bottle and batch for quality assurance. Since Belle Isle is made in small batches, you can find the batch number handwritten in the bottom right corner of each bottle.

Distilled from good times and 100% organic corn.

Behind the Bar: Sunny Seng // Kith/Kin

Behind the BarStephanie StantonComment
All photos by  Joey Wharton .

All photos by Joey Wharton.

“Where we’re standing right now? It was a little scary,” Kith/Kin Bar Manager Sunny Seng says of 1990’s Washington, D.C., long before the existence of the beautiful marble bar at which we sit. It’s hard to imagine this location as anything other than the modern, stylish D.C. restaurant located in the Intercontinental Hotel, but none of this was here three years ago. In fact, not much on this mile-long waterfront strip was here until 2017 when D.C. debuted its newest revitalization project, The Wharf.

Kith/Kin, opened by Top Chef and Eleven Madison Park alum Kwame Onwuachi, is The Wharf’s hottest new restaurant. Onwuachi’s stellar Afro-Caribbean food has definitely created a buzz in the Capital City, but the cocktail program is what we’re here to talk about today–and, trust us, it doesn’t disappoint. Seng’s innovative, refreshing cocktails are the perfect complement to Onwuachi’s food. We recently chatted with Seng about mixing his first Mai Tai at age eight, his method for finding the perfect cocktail for each bar guest, and his tropical, dreamy Belle Isle cocktail, Calypso’s Moon.


First thing’s first, who are you?

My name is Sunny Seng, and I’m the Bar Manager and Lead Bartender of Kith/Kin, Chef Kwame’s restaurant at The Intercontinental Hotel in Washington, D.C.


How long have you been bartending?

I’m 40, so 32 years. Seriously, the first Mai Tai I ever made was in my father’s restaurant. It was probably against child labor laws, but this was the ‘80s. The service bar was back behind this blockade, and he was teaching me how to make a Mai Tai like, “More rum, boy!” So I literally made my first Mai Tai at eight years old, but I’ve been bartending professionally for 20 years.

So you come by it naturally. What first got you behind the bar, in a more professional sense?

My father was a chef, so I grew up in a kitchen. I grew up around chefs yelling at each other, and I grew up around, “This doesn’t taste right. What’s wrong with it?” I learned how to balance flavors at an early age. I promised myself I would never be a chef, but I learned to cook French food in my father’s restaurant and at home. I kind of took that to another level when I started bartending in college, and I realized the balance of flavors in food are the same as the balance of flavors in a cocktail. It’s sweet, it’s bitter, it’s sour, it’s bold, it’s spicy, it has umami–those are all things I was taught through cooking. I try to utilize those skills and put that into every cocktail I make.

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We all just learned that Kin/Kin’s Chef Kwame Onwuachi was nominated as a 2019 James Beard Award Semifinalist for Rising Star Chef. What approach do you take to creating cocktails to compliment his food?

Chef Kwame is amazing. If you make a cocktail he doesn’t like, he will tell you it sucks–and I love that about him. He gives you a chef mentality. Plus, anything in his kitchen we can utilize. We look at our bar program as an extension of the culinary program. We’re like liquid chefs–granted, our “food” is spirits and we feed the soul instead of the belly. We really try to use anything that he’s using back there. Whether it’s sorrel, or gooseberry, or habanero ferment–we really try to use anything he’s using and translate it to our bar guests.

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Any pro-tips for someone starting out behind the bar?

First and foremost, observe before you speak. Find a mentor, and listen to that mentor. Learn something new everyday. I still learn something new everyday, even from less-experienced bartenders, and I add that to my repertoire. It’s kind of like adding pieces to a puzzle and transforming as you watch other people’s skills. Just keep adding, and don’t stop adding.

Favorite drink made by someone else?

That’s a hard one. With all the cocktails we make and the thousands of recipes we know how to make, when I go out I usually just drink a shot and a beer. After work, we’re tired of making drinks and just want to get straight to the point.

If I had to choose one cocktail that anybody made me, I would say–and I don’t know the gentleman’s name–but it was at my favorite bar in New York City called Angel’s Share. He smoked the glass, which I had never seen at the time, and the drink is called Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. When I drank it, the smoke got in my eyes. It was delicious, so I was okay with the pain.

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Favorite drink that you make?

In all honesty, I don’t really have one. My favorite drink to make almost happens every day, because I profile every guest who comes to the bar as far as their palate goes. So I’ll start off with, “What do you like? What’s your favorite spirit?” I’ll become a “spirit guide,” if you will: do you like vodka? Gin? Rum? Tequila? Whisky? Cognac? Absinthe? Kerosene? Gasoline? We can make a cocktail out of anything. Once we choose that, I kind of figure out if they like sour, sweet, bitter–and usually I don’t even know what’s happening, I’m just gathering information. Then I’ll usually finish with, “If you had to choose one cocktail, what would it be?” I’m not going to make that one, but then I’ll really have an understanding of where their palate is. The coolest part about this is when I create something based on that, their eyes light up when they drink it. That becomes my favorite cocktail every day.


If you had to pick one cocktail ingredient to use for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

Ice! Every cocktail has one ingredient that’s shared, and that’s water through dilution. If you shake too long, it’s overdone. Stir too little? Not diluted enough.

What’s your favorite part about working at your bar?

We get all walks of life from all across the world. Because we’re in a hotel, but have also become a destination restaurant because of Chef Kwame’s food and our cocktail program, we’ll have these people for five or six days. When do you ever have a regular like that? We’ll build relationships with them, then they’ll come back on business or leisure next time and we know their name and what cocktail they like. We know their dog’s name. We really build the kind of relationship that I don’t feel you can do outside of a really busy hotel bar.

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Where do you like to stop in for a drink?

After work? The closest bar possible. Normally, I go to a place called The Brighton , which is right down the street. It’s not really a craft cocktail bar, but sometimes that’s not what I’m looking for. We get out so late that we only have about 45 minutes or so to relax and wind down before we go home. Those bartenders have such great personalities. I really believe that you can teach bartending, but you can’t teach personality. Those guys just make me happy. I go over there, and there’s a shot and a beer ready for me, and we’re high-fiving instantly. More so than the taste of a cocktail or the design of a cocktail, if you don’t have the personality, you shouldn’t be behind the bar.


What’s your take on today’s cocktail culture in your city?

I left for Florida and then New York in 1997, and there was nothing out here. Where we’re standing right now? It was a little scary. I was born and raised in Washington, D.C., so I’ve seen every single part of the district change. When I left, there was no scene–no food scene and no place to get a proper cocktail. When I came back to visit much, much later, I was taken out by a friend, and there were all these restaurants in places that you used to never want to go. Now there are food districts, and art districts, and the cocktail scene is on fire here. Everybody’s taking it seriously, and they’re adding artistry to something that I’m very passionate about. I didn’t think that D.C. would ever come around, but we’ve come such a long way.


Give us your golden rule when it comes to bar etiquette.

There are certain things that you do not talk about behind the bar: sexuality, politics, and religion. Those are the three bar no-no’s. You just don’t talk about them, because it can turn a great environment into a very nasty environment quickly.


What’s your favorite way to drink Belle Isle?

I literally stayed up until two in the morning masterminding this cocktail. So, not to toot my own horn, but this cocktail is delicious. Plus it almost took me twice as long to name it, so I’d have to say definitely Calypso’s Moon. Calypso is a type of Afro-Caribbean music, which is a nod to our cuisine, and of course the “moon” is for moonshine. Calypso is also a moon we discovered around Saturn in the 1980’s, so it has a nice astrological tie-in as well.


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Ingredients:

+ 2 oz. Belle Isle Blood Orange

+ ¾ oz. Orange Curaçao

+ ½ oz. orgeat

+ ½ oz. fresh lime juice

+ ½ oz. fresh blood orange juice

+ ¾ oz. pineapple juice

+ ½ oz. simple syrup

+ 2 muddled gooseberries

+ 2 mint sprigs

Preparation:

Muddle two fresh gooseberries in a shaker tin. Slap one mint sprig to release oils, then add to shaker. Add remaining ingredients to tin with ice, then shake vigorously. Double-strain into a rocks glass over pebbled ice. Garnish with gooseberry, blood orange wheel, and mint sprig.


Belle Isle Moonshine is a premium, handcrafted spirit proudly hailing from Richmond, Virginia.

We take the name Belle Isle from a small, 540-acre island located smack dab in the middle of the James River where Civil War soldiers used surplus corn rations to make moonshine in copper kettles.

Belle Isle Moonshine is distilled from 100% organic corn, grown by three family farms and responsibly sourced. Once triple-distilled, we charcoal filter Belle Isle four times over. Then, we cut it with purified water right from the James River. Our infusions are made with 100% real ingredients, never artificial flavors or color. We use real grapefruits sourced from Texas and California, local honey from the Shenandoah Valley, organic habaneros grown an hour away, and freshly roasted coffee beans from the most socially conscious roastery in Richmond, Blanchard's Coffee Roasting Co.

From there, each bottle of Belle Isle Moonshine is filled, corked, labeled, and packed by hand by our Production team, who check each bottle and batch for quality assurance. Since Belle Isle is made in small batches, you can find the batch number handwritten in the bottom right corner of each bottle.

Distilled from good times and 100% organic corn.

Behind the Bar: Haley Jeffries // Lures Bar & Grille

Behind the BarStephanie StantonComment
Belle Isle 'Behind the Bar' Lures Bar and Grille_2019-02-28_0686_TSUCALAS.jpg


Nestled on the outskirts of tourist-heavy Annapolis, Maryland, Lures Bar & Grille has been serving up some of the best seafood and craft beer in the area for more than a decade. While the 27-draft tap list of only craft beer draw a lot of attention, this small-but-mighty bar staff can also whip up a mean cocktail. Focusing on fresh ingredients, bartender Haley Jeffries and the Lures team create drinks that perfectly compliment good times, great food, and patio weather. We recently chatted with Haley about getting her start in the industry, her favorite spots to stop for a drink in Annapolis, and her “Golden Rule” for bartenders. Haley also shared her recipe for the aptly named Honey Habanero cocktail, Instagrammable.


First thing’s first, who are you?

My name is Haley Jeffries, and I’ve been at Lures Bar & Grille for about a year now.


How long have you been bartending?

I’ve been bartending for way too long–probably six or seven years! This has been my favorite bartending job, for sure. I just got my Associate’s Degree last month, so I’ve been doing that on the side, and next month I’m taking my exam to get my TEFL [Teaching English as a Foreign Language] certificate.


So you’ve been busy! What first got you behind the bar?

My parents own a smoothie shop [Robeks] in the Harbor Center in Annapolis, so I’ve worked in the restaurant industry since I was about 13. After that, I jumped around to multiple serving positions. When I started serving at Lures, I kind of got lucky because they needed a bartender. At first when they asked if I was interested, I said “no,” because this place is pretty intimidating and the drinks are kind of complex. I was hesitant, but they threw me in and gave me a really extensive training.

Any pro-tips for someone starting out behind the bar?

The biggest thing that I’ve learned is to not freak out. Especially when you get busy or “weeded,” it’s so easy to say “Oh my God, I can’t make this drink,” but you can’t make a good drink if you’re freaking out. Just stay calm and have fun. People are at a bar to have a good time, so just relax and have a good time with them.

Do you have a favorite drink?

I really like a jalapeño Moscow Mule, or any kind of Moscow Mule. Ginger Beer is my favorite thing. We also make this drink here in the summer that’s cucumber vodka, lemonade, and a little bit of agave. Or anything margarita. Clearly, I just like alcohol.

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You’re talking to the right people! If you had to pick one cocktail ingredient to use for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

Agave is my favorite sweetener, especially in the summer. Tequila is my go-to liquor-wise. You can make anything good with tequila.


What’s your favorite part about working at your bar?

More than any place I’ve ever worked, they give people room to grow. They’re very much like, “Hey, you have an idea? Throw it at us, we’ll see if we like it.” Sometimes there’s constructive criticism, and sometimes they’ll just put it on the menu the next day. Management here is really phenomenal. They’re super helpful as far giving advice and encouraging growth, which encourages you to try to be better and work harder.


What makes your bar unique?

The food is great, first of all. We have almost 30 beers on tap, and we don’t serve any of your typical domestics. But also, I think I might be the person who’s worked here the shortest amount of time, and you don’t see that in a lot of restaurants. There’s usually a lot of turnaround in restaurants, but there are servers who have been here for 10 or 12 years.

Where do you like to stop in for a drink?

I really like Vida in downtown Annapolis. I love tacos, Mexican food, and tequila, obviously. Paladar has great margaritas. As far as “divey” bars, I really enjoy West End. They’re open until like 1 or 2 a.m., so it’s easy for us to go there after work.


What’s your take on today’s cocktail culture in Annapolis?

Downtown Annapolis is definitely the place for it. People come here to visit, to explore, and to be by the water and be tranquil. I think if you can sit by the water and drink a cocktail that looks pretty, you’ll probably drink more than one of them if you have a good view.

Give us your golden rule when it comes to bar etiquette.

For bartenders, my Golden Rule is to greet your customers right away. Now that I’ve done this for so long, I’m kind of picky about the service I get when I go out, and I like to be greeted within a minute. I think it’s important, because you know your experience is going to be good.

What’s your favorite way to drink Belle Isle?

I like spicy in general, so I love the Honey Habanero. This new cocktail [Instagrammable] has definitely been my favorite creation so far.


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Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. Belle Isle Honey Habanero

  • 4-5 fresh strawberries

  • juice from 1 fresh lime

  • ½ oz. agave

  • top with sparkling wine

  • garnish with a lime wheel and edible pineapple flower garnish ( via Dress the Drink)

Preparation:

Blend or muddle lime, strawberry, and agave and add mixture to shaker tin. Add Belle Isle Honey Habanero and ice, then shake vigorously. Pour (don't strain) into a Collins glass and top with sparkling wine. Garnish with a lime wheel and edible pineapple flower.

Recipe by Haley Jeffries, courtesy of Lures Bar & Grille.

Photos by Justin Tsucalas.


Still thirsty?


Belle Isle Moonshine is a premium, handcrafted spirit proudly hailing from Richmond, Virginia.

We take the name Belle Isle from a small, 540-acre island located smack dab in the middle of the James River where Civil War soldiers used surplus corn rations to make moonshine in copper kettles.

Belle Isle Moonshine is distilled from 100% organic corn, grown by three family farms and responsibly sourced. Once triple-distilled, we charcoal filter Belle Isle four times over. Then, we cut it with purified water right from the James River. Our infusions are made with 100% real ingredients, never artificial flavors or color. We use real grapefruits sourced from Texas and California, local honey from the Shenandoah Valley, organic habaneros grown an hour away, and freshly roasted coffee beans from the most socially conscious roastery in Richmond, Blanchard's Coffee Roasting Co.

From there, each bottle of Belle Isle Moonshine is filled, corked, labeled, and packed by hand by our Production team, who check each bottle and batch for quality assurance. Since Belle Isle is made in small batches, you can find the batch number handwritten in the bottom right corner of each bottle.

Distilled from good times and 100% organic corn.

Wanna know more about us?

BOO-hind the Bar: The Owl Bar // Baltimore

Behind the BarStephanie StantonComment
The Owl Bar’s Bar Manager Joe Aldridge pours up some dark magic.   All photos by    Justin Tsucalas   .

The Owl Bar’s Bar Manager Joe Aldridge pours up some dark magic.

All photos by Justin Tsucalas.

The scariest things we typically encounter at bars are drunk, chatty old men and loud bachelorette parties. At The Owl Bar, located on the first floor the historic Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore, things are a bit more paranormal than your average neighborhood haunt. Opening in the city’s Mount Vernon neighborhood in 1903, The Belvedere has longstanding history as a playground for the rich and famous–including at least 10 U.S. presidents and countless celebrities.

It’s no surprise that with over a century as Baltimore’s premiere venue, The Belvedere has more than a few ghost stories. When we’ve taken you Behind the Bar in the past, it’s to share the secrets of one of our favorite bartenders. In this special Halloween edition, we’re sharing the secrets of the bar itself–and this bar (and the hotel it inhabits) definitely has some secrets. Read on to hear two longstanding employees of the Belvedere Hotel and The Owl Bar share their firsthand otherworldly encounters in the historic building. We’re also sharing two of The Owl Bar’s new spooky cocktail recipes, courtesy of bar manager, Joe!

**If you’re in Baltimore, check out The Owl Bar’s Hollywood is Dead party on Saturday, October 27!


What’s your favorite Owl Bar/Belvedere Hotel ghost story?

Valerie (Belvedere Hotel employee): I have held many positions here at The Belvedere for the past 21 years, so I have many stories to tell. I was in the Grand Ballroom on the 12th floor getting set up for an event when I experienced the ballroom coming alive like it did in the movie The Shining. I could hear people starting to talk, and I could hear ice clinking in glasses as if drinks were being made. Then music started playing–but unlike the movie, I couldn't see any of it. I could only hear it.

One of my last big experiences was about two years ago when I was working on the 13th floor. I had gone down to the 12th floor to clean and lock up. I got off the elevator and heard the sound of women's high-heeled shoes walking on the wood floor. For some reason, I got a bad vibe from whoever’s spirit that was. I told others about it the next day. I said, “We usually have nice ghosts here, but that one last night? I don't think she was.” That night I was cleaning and locking up the 12th floor again. Before I came down, I texted my husband to ask what he wanted for dinner, so just before I was about to lock the doors I checked my phone to see if my husband texted me back. When I opened my phone, the letters were being pressed and a message came across my phone saying, “I am a beautiful person. I am a beautiful person. I am a beautiful person.”

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Jackie (General Manager, Owl Bar): I’ve been locking the restaurant doors at the end of the night (early morning) for more than seven years now–so I’ve seen a lot! My first encounter with a ghost was my very first month as the restaurant manager. It was myself and our bar manager at the time, Jeff, as we were doing some last minute cleaning before locking up. The TVs and the music were both off as we were about to leave. I was walking out of the kitchen, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a bright light in the corner up on the ceiling by the television followed by a huge SLAM! Jeff had his back turned to me as he was counting out his drawer and didn’t budge. I was shocked at what I had seen and heard, but I was more shocked that Jeff didn’t react to this god-awful noise. The hit was so hard that I swore it hit the floor and shattered it. The floor was in tact, the bright light I had spotted had disappeared, and Jeff was still counting his drawer as if nothing had happened. I was horrified and screamed for him to come from behind the bar. I explained what I had witnessed in detail. His response? “Sounds like you had your first ghost sighting here at The Belvedere.” Later on after we locked up, we reviewed the cameras, which show me crawling under the corner table to check the floors. I looked ridiculous!

What’s your favorite spooky room or floor in the Belvedere?

Jackie: The Grand Ballroom (12th floor). Rumor has it that a Baltimore woman in the 1920s caught her husband dancing with his mistress in the Grand Ballroom and shot him dead. His ghost, it is rumored, still haunts the ballrooms of the 12th floor, but it only bothers women. Once in a while, people who work up there swear that glasses fall to the floor and break with nobody nearby, or they put something down and a little while later it would be somewhere else.

Happy Halloween, y’all!


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Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ oz. Belle Isle Blood Orange

  • ¾ oz. Sour Apple liqueur

  • ¾ oz. Melon liqueur

  • 4 oz. lemonade

Preparation:

Combine all ingredients in a mixing tin over ice. Shake and strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice.

 
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Ingredients:

  • 1 ¼ oz. Belle Isle Cold Brew Coffee

  • ¾ oz. Jägermeister Manifest

  • 1 oz. Tyku Coconut Sake

  • ¾ oz. egg white

  • ¾ oz. coconut syrup

  • 2 dashes chocolate bitters

Preparation:

Combine all ingredients in a mixing tin over ice. Shake and strain out ice, then dry shake for 15 seconds. Double-strain into a chilled coupe glass.

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Recipes by Joe Aldridge,

Bar Manager


Craving more creepy cocktails?


Belle Isle Moonshine is a premium, handcrafted spirit proudly hailing from Richmond, Virginia.

We take the name Belle Isle from a small, 540-acre island located smack dab in the middle of the James River where Civil War soldiers used surplus corn rations to make moonshine in copper kettles.

Belle Isle Moonshine is distilled from 100% organic corn, grown by three family farms and responsibly sourced. Once triple-distilled, we charcoal filter Belle Isle four times over. Then, we cut it with purified water right from the James River. Our infusions are made with 100% real ingredients, never artificial flavors or color. We use real grapefruits sourced from Texas and California, local honey from the Shenandoah Valley, organic habaneros grown an hour away, and freshly roasted coffee beans from the most socially conscious roastery in Richmond, Blanchard's Coffee Roasting Co.

From there, each bottle of Belle Isle Moonshine is filled, corked, labeled, and packed by hand by our Production team, who check each bottle and batch for quality assurance. Since Belle Isle is made in small batches, you can find the batch number handwritten in the bottom right corner of each bottle.

Distilled from good times and 100% organic corn.

Want to hear more about us?

Behind the Bar: Joshua Le // The HofGarden

Behind the BarStephanie StantonComment
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Some venues just can’t be tied down to one concept. With three stories, a rooftop bar, a music venue, and a private event space, The HofGarden has room to cater to almost any crowd. Located in Richmond’s brewery-saturated Scott’s Addition neighborhood, The HofGarden is primarily a German-style biergarten–albeit one that serves some amazing pizza and stellar cocktails. The latter is due partially to bartender Joshua Le, an industry veteran who knows a thing or two about shaking a cocktail. We recently chatted with Joshua about his favorite guilty pleasure cocktail (hint: it’s frozen and fruity), his favorite places in Richmond, and his #1 way to annoy a bartender. Scroll down to read all about it, plus get the recipe for Sun-Kissed, a cocktail featured in our upcoming addition of The Moonshine Book.


First thing’s first, who are you?

I’m Joshua Le, bartender (and babysitter) at the The HofGarden. I’ve been at the Hof on and off for three years and back full-time since early 2018.

What first got you behind the bar?

I’m like a bar fly: the booze.


Any pro-tips for someone starting out behind the bar?

Focus on the customer and operating the bar you’re behind as efficiently as possible. The cocktails will come to you as you go.

Favorite drink made by someone else?

I never know the names of the drinks, and honestly, I don’t think the person making them for me ever knows the name either. I like trying something new and different, so I always have the latest cocktail they’ve been working on or their favorite.

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Favorite drink that you make?

I call it “The Equalizer”–gin, lemon, simple syrup, mint, and Peychaud’s. It’s light, refreshing, boozy, and it’s served in my favorite glass–the coupe.

Favorite thing to drink when no one’s looking?

Miami Vice. You can look, though. I don't mind.


If you had to pick one cocktail ingredient to use for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

Belle Isle, duh.

What’s your favorite part about working at your bar?

There's always something different going on here. We have a lot of space to work with, so we have live music, DJs, fashion shows, weddings, spoken word events, and, one time, an amateur wrestling match. So there’s always something to keep you on your toes.

What makes your bar unique?

The Hof has a unique culture that I've never seen in any bar I've worked at. This place is always growing, and they really support employee growth–if it's restaurant related or not. They really invest in the best interest of their staff.


Where do you like to stop in for a drink?

Sticky Rice is and has been one of my favorite bars ever. Always a great crowd, and if I had my own joint, I would hire any one of their exceptional bar staff. Always polite, personable,  and quick.


What’s your take on today’s cocktail culture in your city?

The craft cocktail scene in Richmond is growing right along with the city. Richmond has grown exponentially in the last five years, and people are taking note. I think we have more breweries than Starbucks, and new restaurants are constantly opening giving plenty of opportunities to those passionate about craft cocktails. It’s an exciting time to be here, and anybody serious about craft cocktails should consider Richmond as a great place to make a name for themselves.


Give us your golden rule when it comes to bar etiquette.

I don’t care if you’re a bartender, so don’t tell me.

What’s your favorite way to drink Belle Isle?

With [Belle Isle Key Account Manager] Ashley Grant. If she’s not available, I do enjoy a Belle Isle Cold Brew Negroni.


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Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ oz. vanilla bean-infused Belle Isle Black Label

  • 1 oz. pineapple juice

  • ½ oz. sunflower seed orgeat

  • ½ oz. fresh lemon juice

  • 1 egg white


    Preparation:

    Combine all ingredients in a mixing tin over ice. Shake and strain out ice, then dry shake for 15 seconds. Double-strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with vanilla bean paste.

**Recipe by Bobby Kruger of The HofGarden.

All photos by Kate Magee.

Still thirsty?


Belle Isle Moonshine is a premium, handcrafted spirit proudly hailing from Richmond, Virginia.

We take the name Belle Isle from a small, 540-acre island located smack dab in the middle of the James River where Civil War soldiers used surplus corn rations to make moonshine in copper kettles.

Belle Isle Moonshine is distilled from 100% organic corn, grown by three family farms and responsibly sourced. Once triple-distilled, we charcoal filter Belle Isle four times over. Then, we cut it with purified water right from the James River. Our infusions are made with 100% real ingredients, never artificial flavors or color. We use real grapefruits sourced from Texas and California, local honey from the Shenandoah Valley, organic habaneros grown an hour away, and freshly roasted coffee beans from the most socially conscious roastery in Richmond, Blanchard's Coffee Roasting Co.

From there, each bottle of Belle Isle Moonshine is filled, corked, labeled, and packed by hand by our Production team, who check each bottle and batch for quality assurance. Since Belle Isle is made in small batches, you can find the batch number handwritten in the bottom right corner of each bottle.

Distilled from good times and 100% organic corn.

Wanna know more about us?

Behind the Bar: Tony Hairston // Wong Gonzalez

Behind the BarStephanie StantonComment
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Located in the hustle and bustle of downtown Richmond, Virginia, Wong Gonzalez is definitely one-of-a-kind in the River City. Not only is the space bright and beautiful, but it’s the only place in town you can find Mexinese food. Although it’s a newer addition to the prolific EAT Restaurant Partners group, Wong Gonzalez sets itself apart from the pack with a delicious Chinese-Mexican fusion menu, a killer Happy Hour, and a selfie-inducing bathroom. Thanks to Bar Manager Tony Hairston, the cocktail menu is just as unique. With drinks like Baby One More Time and Boujie-Vardier, the cocktail list at Wong Gonzalez is just as playful as the kitschy, Old Hollywood interior. We recently chatted with Tony about his favorite drinks, his bartender beginnings, and his amazing Belle Isle cocktail on draft (!!!). Read on to get that recipe, plus another one: the spicy, smoky Strut.


TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF…


I’m Anthony “Tony” Hairston, Bar Manager at Wong Gonzalez. I’ve been bartending at Wong Gonzalez for a little over two years, but in general for about six years.


What first got you behind the bar?

I was serving at the time, and one of my friends who was the bar manager just kept encouraging–as well as nagging–me to work behind the bar. One day I just said, “Fine! I’ll give it a try,” and that’s all she wrote.


Any pro-tips for someone starting out behind the bar?

Someone once told me when starting out bartending that a good thing to do is go to other bars. Check out how it’s run and learn from watching other bartenders’ techniques, such as how they stir a cocktail or shake a drink.


Favorite drink made by someone else?

I think maybe a Strawberry-Mint Mojito topped of with a little bit of Champagne.

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Favorite drink that you make?

Currently on our menu we have a Sorry Not Sorry cocktail (#SNS) that I think is pretty delicious. It’s made with peach vodka, blackberry-peach syrup, lemon, tea, and ginger beer. My second-favorite is our Saint Amy–jalapeño-infused tequila, elderflower, pineapple, lemon, and lime.


Favorite thing to drink when no one’s looking?

Tequila! It’s my go-to, as most people know.


If you had to pick one cocktail ingredient to use for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

Honestly, any of the Belle Isle Moonshine spirits. They always work well when creating cocktails!

What’s your favorite part about working at your bar?

What’s not to love about Wong? It’s beautiful inside. We have really good food. Our Happy Hour is pretty awesome, and we have it everyday we are open–including Saturday and Sunday! We are located in a great area, so we get a mixture of guests that come in, from business people getting off work trying to catch happy hour to a group of ladies having dinner before going to see a show at one of the venues nearby, to a late night pop of people coming in right after partying at a wedding reception. I do think the number one best thing about working at Wong is family. Not only is the staff some of the best people I have worked with and grow with, but EAT Restaurant Partners itself is probably one of the best companies to work for!

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What makes your bar unique?

I think the visual aspect of the bar does attract a lot of people. We also pride ourselves on having a great amount of different spirits–especially tequila, vodka, and bourbon! Our bar is a place where you can come by yourself and not have to worry, or meet up with a group and not feel pressured or rushed. And again, you can’t beat the Happy Hour!


Where do you like to stop in for a drink?

I’ve been hanging out in the Fan and Carytown areas. Some places I like going are The Jasper, Weezie’s, Buddy’s Place, and Babe’s of Carytown, just to name a few.

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What’s your take on today’s cocktail culture in your city?

I like the trend of how cocktails are being made today. I feel like more people and restaurants are becoming innovative with cocktails, which makes it exciting to try something new. When I first started, a “complicated” drink was a Long Island. Over the years, I have been able to learn and grow as a bartender, and explore new methods of creating cocktails. It’s fun to learn not only what’s in a cocktail, but the reason why it’s made a certain way.

Give us your golden rule when it comes to bar etiquette.

Wow, a loaded question! There are so many. I guess for guests: waving money around yelling “Yo, bartender!” while there are a plethora of other guests before you is not going to get you a drink any faster than the rest of them!


What’s your favorite way to drink Belle Isle?

I like the Belle Isle Black Label, Honey Habanero, or Ruby Red Grapefruit with some freshly squeezed lime and lemon juice and some simple syrup. Something very easy to make, yet refreshing.



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Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ oz. Belle Isle Ruby Red Grapefruit

  • ¾ oz. Aperol

  • 1 oz. fresh orange juice

  • 1 oz. fresh lemon juice

  • ½ oz. Honey Syrup

Preparation:

Combine all ingredients in a mixing tin over ice. Shake and strain into a rocks glass over ice.




**Featured on tap at Wong Gonzalez!


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Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ oz. Belle Isle Honey Habanero

  • ¾ oz. honey-ginger syrup

  • ½ oz. carrot juice

  • ½ oz. fresh lemon juice

  • 3 dashes orange bitters

  • Spritz of mezcal

Preparation:

Combine all ingredients in a mixing tin over ice. Shake and strain into a rocks glass over a big ice cube. Spritz with mezcal.




Recipes by Tony Hairston.

Photos by Joey Wharton.

Still thirsty?


Belle Isle Moonshine is a premium, handcrafted spirit proudly hailing from Richmond, Virginia.

We take the name Belle Isle from a small, 540-acre island located smack dab in the middle of the James River where Civil War soldiers used surplus corn rations to make moonshine in copper kettles.

Belle Isle Moonshine is distilled from 100% organic corn, grown by three family farms and responsibly sourced. Once triple-distilled, we charcoal filter Belle Isle four times over. Then, we cut it with purified water right from the James River. Our infusions are made with 100% real ingredients, never artificial flavors or color. We use real grapefruits sourced from Texas and California, local honey from the Shenandoah Valley, organic habaneros grown an hour away, and freshly roasted coffee beans from the most socially conscious roastery in Richmond, Blanchard's Coffee Roasting Co.

From there, each bottle of Belle Isle Moonshine is filled, corked, labeled, and packed by hand by our Production team, who check each bottle and batch for quality assurance. Since Belle Isle is made in small batches, you can find the batch number handwritten in the bottom right corner of each bottle.

Distilled from good times and 100% organic corn.

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