It was the shank of the evening after a long day. A cocktail was called for and The Blue Hour was only a short amble away through the Pearl. There’s always something going on at l’heure bleu!
It’s a pleasure to stroll the Pearl District late in the evening, when much of the chattering crowd has diminished and there is a quieter, more contemplative mood. The watering holes become bright little beacons that draw the few people around to congregate. Rather than shouting to be heard, you can engage in quieter conversation, and can sip your cocktail in contemplation.
The Blue Hour is a minimalist space, with clean, crisp white lines offset by tall billowing blue drapes artfully spaced to contrast and soften the severity of the room. The bar is off to the side of the dining room, just close enough to be part of the action, but just far enough away to create a separate space.
The bar is low-profile so it’s not apparent at first how well stocked it is. But one look at the cocktail list, with the attached roll call of spirits, and it’s obvious that this is an extremely sophisticated bar program.
The list of featured cocktails is enticing, and makes it difficult to decide on only one—this would be great for a dining foursome who is in the mood for a little experimentation, adventure, discovery and variety, with drinks that run from light and frothy to deep and dark and complex.
Since it’s the wee smalls, deep and dark and complex seems to be called for, so it’s the Bon Vivant that gets the nod.
The Bon Vivant
An intriguing blend of Hennessey VS Cognac, Dolin Rouge French Sweet Vermouth, Grand Marnier, Averna, and Peychaud’s Bitters, this cocktail has more than a bit of French flair to it. The highly spirituous, and slightly rough, VS cognac gives it a bite, the Dolin adds a bit of complex sweetness, the Grand Marnier provides a bitter orange flair, the Peychaud a driving exotic pungent bitterness—but the genius here is the addition of Averna, a delightful—and very vivant—bitter liqueur from Sicily.
Bitter ingredients are all the thing in today’s mixology scene—and that’s a very good thing, because too much sweetness can be dull and cloying, and the palate needs to be revived with contrasting bitter aromas and flavors. (The Italians knows this better than anyone, I think, hence the proliferation of Italianate and Southern French bitters.)
Averna is a wondrously complex and multifaceted liqueur, with deep floral and herbal flavors mingling together in great profusion. There’s a hint of sweetness underneath (there has to be in a liqueur, which requires a minimum of 2.5% sugar) but the overwhelming impression is of complex degrees of bitterness balanced by strong notes of cola and root beer. Averna is fine all by itself as a digestif (the common use), but comes alive when used as an ingredient in a cocktail, as it is here.
All of this complexity makes The Bon Vivant a compelling and captivating cocktail, a sophisticated French-Italian that’s perfectly at home in the sophisticated world of the Blue Hour.