Putting craft in the mix: Bellevue bars draw in customers with premium cocktails
By Brandon Macz
When the economy is bad, people tend to drink more. When the economy is good, people drink better. That’s a trend restaurateurs and bar owners in the Bellevue area are addressing one hand-crafted cocktail at a time.
By switching up space at Daniel’s Broiler on the 21st floor of the Bank of America building, the opening of Prime 21 more than a month ago led to a 45-percent increase in sales over last year, said Brad Miller, spirits director for Schwartz Brothers Restaurants. As a
standalone lounge, Prime 21 offers hand-crafted cocktails in a quiet atmosphere away from the main restaurant and focuses on pairing fresh ingredients with top-shelf liquor.
“Craft cocktails had started taking off and whiskey started taking off all over the country,” Miller said, which is one alcohol of focus during the fall season at Prime 21. “We look at fall as being with apples and pear and bourbon and scotches.”
Catering to crowds in their 30s and 40s, Miller says customers are looking for interesting drinks that are both ascetically pleasing and flavorful while not complicating the integrity of the spirits within. He comes up with all of the cocktails, which change four times a year with the seasons. The biggest challenge is speed, which means
preparing ingredients for hand-crafted cocktails in advance. Miller said he also likes to change up traditional ingredients when possible, substituting some syrups with jams, for example.
Part of the fascination with hand-crafted cocktails and the liquors used to make them comes from their place in history, which is something smaller, quieter bars can provide to customers when they sit down and speak with their bartenders. Miller said they’re encouraged to educate consumers about the drink specials, the brands of liquor incorporated and to entertain by way of preparation of a fine hand-crafted cocktail.
For Evan Martin, general manager for the recently opened Bar Code, offering hand-crafted cocktails in Bellevue is a way of competing with Seattle, which was a trailblazer for the movement several years ago. Now that the economy is on the upswing, bringing the art form to Bellevue is a good way to keep customers on the Eastside.
“We want to be a regular spot for a lot of the locals,” Martin said, “but also be a destination for what we serve.”
Opened earlier this month, Bar Code is located on the first floor of the Ten20 building on 108th Avenue Northeast. Martin was brought into the business from Needle and Thread of Seattle and Naga Cocktail Lounge at
Chantanee in Bellevue, where he said hand-crafted
cocktails could sometimes be intimidating for customers.
“We’re not trying to intimidate anyone by making something overly advanced,” he said, but patrons are
looking for a certain standard for their food and drink. “At the end of the day, people still want to know what they’re paying for.”
Drinks at Bar Code can be as simple as the Bar Code Tonic, which uses dry gin infused with cinchona bark, or more complicated like the Brews Cruise, which includes a blend of Jamaican rums created by Martin along with a cold brew liqueur, made with help from neighboring Cafe Cesura. Sometimes an eggwhite needs to be
incorporated in a drink to give it a nice foam reminiscent of a meringue.
Whatever drinks come up on Bar Code’s evolving menu, Martin said the primary focus will always be
flavor. “Then it takes three weeks to figure out a name.”