Something old, something new at The Cellar Lounge

Something’s happening in the cocktail lounges and restaurant bars of America. First off, nearly every bar now comes with a cocktail menu. Think back – seven years ago they hardly existed. You walked into a bar and you knew what you wanted, whether it was a glass of beer, a screwdriver or a gin and tonic. Today, if a cocktail list isn’t presented right away I automatically ask if there is one. Why? Because nearly every watering hole has created a selection of “original” cocktails – blends of alcohol, fresh juices, herbs and garnishes with names you’d never find in The Bartender’s Black Book. While this is all fine and dandy, I have to wonder: can’t I just get a Negroni anymore?

Bartenders: You ought to know how to make a Negroni. Photo credit.

Picture it: downtown Pittsburgh, 2009. I meet my husband for a post-work drink. Scanning the laminated cocktail menu I see drinks named “The Yinzer” and “The Black and Gold Rush.” They don’t sound appealing so I decided to order one of my favorite pre-dinner cocktails, an oldie but goodie – a Negroni. The young, gum-chewing bartender stares at me blankly before responding, “What’s that?” I tell it that it’s equal parts Campari, gin and sweet vermouth. She turns to her co-worker and asks her, “Do we have Campari gin?” Oy vey. I should have left. Why I stayed and let this girl bring me her attempt at a Negroni, I don’t know. She brought me a huge highball glass filled with ice and a pink-hued liquid that tasted like Robitussin. But, man, she could throw together Yinzer’s like they were going out of style! I never went back.

Cocktail history in America is fascinating to me. The 50’s brought Mai Tai’s and Sidecars, in the 60’s Bloody Mary’s and Manhattan’s were king, in the 70’s everyone was drinking Grasshopper’s and Daquiri’s. Things got tacky in the ‘80’s with drinks like Between the Sheets and other names that made you blush when you ordered them. In the 90’s Seabreeze’s and Long Island Ice Tea’s were the things to drink. The 21st century brought a love of shooters and cosmopolitans, then people fell in love with prohibition libations again before finally getting to where we are now where folks adore small-batch liquors served strait up, artisan bitters, absinthe and house-made garnishes…and cocktail menus to showcase cleverly-named creations.

Guess the era? (1970’s) Photo credit.

New is not bad, as long as it’s truly new and original. A new ingredient or two in an already perfect drink doesn’t count. Yes, I’m talking to you, restaurant bar, who puts Port and lemon juice in your Manhattans. And you, too, cocktail lounge. Yeah, you who puts Prosecco in your mojitos. Alright, alright, people order it, you say, but for goodness sake, be sure your bartenders mixologists know how to make the classics for us old fogies who have the nerve to order off the menu!

As the only cocktail lounge in Temecula wine country with a full bar, The Cellar Lounge had to be sure upon opening that it had something for everyone: a killer selection of beer and wine (both local and international choices), excellent spirits and liquors, an appealing ahem cocktail list and associates behind the bar who knew what they were doing and cared about their craft. Guess what? They know how to make a perfect Negroni. Their Manhattans are top notch. And, oh my, their dirty vodka martinis are legendary. At the same time, the Lounge’s seasonal list of cocktails is unique, innovative and absolutely delicious. No, you won’t find the Santorini martini or the Venice on the rocks in any cocktail recipe books, but you won’t be able to forget them.

If you haven’t yet experienced the speakeasy-styled Cellar Lounge, visit us at Ponte Vineyard Inn any day of the week. Happy Hour is Monday through Thursday from 4pm to 7pm and we have live music on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights. And food. We have great food as well.

–Erica Martinez

–What’s your favorite cocktail of all time?