The Bitter Bar: A Step Toward Tradition
Wesley Adams • September 23, 2015 • Lifestyle •
In Boulder’s sea of university drinkers it’s easy to find yourself swimming in craft IPAs and Moscow Mules. However, a well-made Old Fashioned will always be my drink of choice. With just sugar, bitters, whiskey and water, I’m charmed by the technique required to perfectly craft a traditional cocktail like an Old Fashioned. James Lee, owner of The Bitter Bar, beautifully illustrates that expertise.
I was first acquainted with The Bitter Bar via multiple Boulder bartenders, which is a rarity in a competitive food and beverage industry. That in itself was like a Vegas-neon sign pointing me toward the West End of Walnut Street. So, with my insider-knowledge close to the vest, I made my way to the swanky, speakeasy-style bar.
All guests are welcome to enter through the back door, fittingly lending itself to the ambiance of the old hidden saloons from the Prohibition era. Cozy and comfortable décor made me feel like I was coming back home for the first time. A “welcome” from the genuine staff set the tone that I hadn’t been away for long. I knew, though, that the aesthetic would only carry the baton for so long. The moment had arrived as I took a short pause to consider the process and ingredients that I’ve known to go into the Old Fashioned, which I’d been eagerly anticipating.
The simplicity of a cocktail like this one doesn’t allow room for error in portions, nor in the quality of ingredients, but instead accentuates the precise blending of subtle notes that, when paired properly, can change the way cocktails are enjoyed. Enter James Lee. After an opportunity to fully acclimate to the elegantly un-elaborate cocktail, I was approached by the artist responsible so he could ask me what I thought.
With memories of underwhelmingly inconsistent Old Fashioneds being washed away with each sip of this perfect prototype, I was elated to meet the provider of such a drink. After cordially introducing himself, James went on to illustrate the underlying complexities of what is a truly simple method. I had to stop him almost immediately when he mentioned that there was rye whiskey used in his mix. This was contrary to my traditional experiences of using bourbon, so my interest was piqued.
James explained that he uses rye whiskey as opposed to bourbon because it is akin to the method of making drinks prior to the Prohibition era. Bourbon had not become popular until after this time, and wasn’t part of the speakeasy cocktail scene that James so affectionately models. And with regard to the drinking experience, it made perfect sense. The remaining ingredients are understated when the sweetness of bourbon comes into play: a potent metaphor for the classy feel of a place like The Bitter Bar being lost in the wash of happy hour Margaritas and craft beers. These nuggets of information, like the reasoning behind the rye whiskey, help to not only advance one’s knowledge of a great drink but also to develop a palate for what separates this experience from your run-of-the-mill watering hole.
It’s a quality over quantity state of mind for The Bitter Bar, and James makes sure that it’s “easy to come in but actually easier to leave.” Which is such a refreshing reversal of the usual retention-at-all-costs approach. You’re welcome to come take whatever space you’d like, with however many guests you’d like, for any amount of time. It’s a holistic approach to being comfortable and cozy that emanates a sense of ownership for each individual guest. And being avid participants of the bar-going experience themselves, you feel the sincerity in the welcome to the farewell from James and The Bitter Bar staff.
The Bitter Bar. 9th & Walnut in Boulder, Colorado. 303.442.3050.
Open everyday from 5pm-11pm.The Bitter Bar