Cocktailians have flocked to Taste by Niche in St. Louis ever since the craft cocktail lounge opened in the summer of 2009. But the tiny 18-seater quickly outgrew its digs. Chef-owner Adam Altnether recently moved the cocktail haven to a larger space in the trendy Central West End neighborhood, where he and talented beverage director Ted Kilgore are raising the bar to new heights.
“Taste by Niche was limited in size, but became something that people really dug because it was so personal,” explains Kilgore. “Our goal at this space was to do the exact same thing in a more comfortable environment that really spoke to what we love, which is cocktails, food, a great atmosphere and great service. We wanted to take the old Taste and amp it up, to wrap Taste into the entire experience.”
A nondescript front door and heavy black curtains in the entryway set the stage for this cocktail den that exudes a Prohibition-era, speakeasy vibe. The narrow space, flanked by exposed brick and crimson-colored textured wallpaper, is duskily lit from naked bulbs that hang from a wood ceiling and tea light candles on the tables and at the 11-seat bar. Altnether’s goal of creating an “exclusive club” atmosphere flows into an upstairs lounge that holds a pair of communal wooden tables and black leather couches.
Hand Crafted Cocktails
The drink menu at Taste includes more than three dozen cocktails, organized by flavor profile. For instance, some libations are categorized as “Tart, Spiced, Savory,” others “Rich, Dark, Bold,” still others taste “Full, Dark, Robust.” Listed among the “Tart, Bright, Citrus” cocktails are the popular Rosie the Riveter, priced at $10, made with tea-infused Flor de Caña Silver Rum, hibiscus liqueur, orgeat almond syrup, lemon juice, egg white and muddled dried rose buds; and the best-seller, In a Pickle, which is menued at $10, and is a sprightly combination of Hendrick’s Gin, St. Germain, Velvet Falernum, lime juice and muddled dill and cucumber.
On busy nights at the previous location, bartenders mixed approximately 40 In a Pickle cocktails. “Over half the people would order that,” says Kilgore. While it is too soon to state with certainty the bar volume at the new space, considering that dining capacity has tripled, Kilgore anticipates selling an average of 300 total cocktails (doled out to 175 guests) on bustling weekend evenings.
All of the drinks on the menu are original creations by Kilgore and his bar crew except for a section dubbed “Favorite Classic Concoctions” and “Friends of Ours.” The former include the likes of a Manhattan, Old-Fashioned, Dry Martini and Daiquiri, while “Friends of Ours” is a guest section; the inaugural menu at the relocated Taste included guest recipes courtesy of cocktail legends Gaz Regan and Dale DeGroff. All cocktails are $10, with punches and pitchers priced at $45. Also available are 10 wines, for $10 a glass, and six bottled craft beers, priced at $7.
The clientele at Taste—typically professionals between the ages of 25 to 45 years old—don’t generally walk in looking for wine or suds, however. “The majority are cocktail enthusiasts,” said Kilgore. “They are not afraid to be adventurous.” Customers can get especially adventurous exploring Taste’s expanded offerings of gin, rum and American whiskey. Other specialty items on the shelves include a selection of more than 20 vermouths (including a house-made version), aperitifs and digestifs, as well as 45 bitters, ranging from the standard Peychaud’s and Angostura to the obscure, like a dandelion and burdock combination.
Unusual Offerings and Tasty Fare
Taste uncorked a new age in mixology last year when Kilgore became the first bartender in town to age pre-batched cocktails in spent oak barrels. Among the barrel-aged elixirs on the list are the Unusual Negroni, a mix of Hendrick’s Gin, Aperol and Cocchi Americano, aged for eight weeks; and a seven-week aged Martini made of Plymouth Gin, Dolin Dry Vermouth and Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6.
Another obsession at Taste is the ice. Taste relies on a Kold-Draft machine to dispense one and a quarter-inch square cubes and a local ice-carving company to make custom specialty ice for the bar. The cylindrical cubes, measuring two and a half inches in height and two inches in diameter, are created from a reverse osmosis water filtration system that leaves the ice crystal clear. “It’s so clear you can read through it,” comments Kilgore.
Drinks at Taste take center stage, yet food is hardly an afterthought. “It is European tavern fare founded on seasonality, sustainability and innovation,” describes Altnether. Taste offers numerous small plates, all moderately priced and perfect for sharing. Assorted pickles, roasted seasoned almonds and candied bacon are representative of snack fare ($4 to $5), while hungrier tummies can fill up on charcuterie and cheese boards, terrines or sticks of breaded, deep-fried, braised pig head called Pig Fries ($7 to $18). “People sit down at a bar and want bar food like mozzarella sticks. Here, you order Pig Fries,” notes Altnether. Entrées include items such as Fish and Chips, Pork Burgers and Braised Pork Belly ($12 to $16). Desserts, especially Taste’s signature Pigwiches, bacon buttercream sandwiched between two pig-shaped chocolate cookies, are an epicurean’s delight.