Saloon, in Davis Square, you'll find a lengthy, diverse and intriguing drink list, except it's concentrated on whiskey. And that too is a major thrill.
Saloon, which opened its doors in December 2011, is the second venture by Ken Kelly and David Flanagan; the first being Foundry on Elm. I was invited to dine at Saloon as a media guest and it's a place I'l return to again soon, to explore more of their whiskey choices and enjoy more of their cuisine. It truly is a Whiskey Wonderland, and is a worthy destination for all whiskey and cocktail lovers. In addition, their food is a worthy draw in of itself.
Locating Saloon is not the easiest, as the primary signage is a .light ball on Elm Street. However, if you go to 255 Elm Street, you;'ll find a small lobby and within that lobby is a tiny sign indicating that Saloon is located downstairs. You then take an elevator down, where you follow more stiny signs down a bland hallway until you reach Saloon. It's worth the effort to seek it out..
Inspired by pre-Prohibition bars in New York City, Saloon contains lots of dark woods and leather. It has a large bar and two separate dining areas, one beyond an arch which is supposed to be over four hundred years old and obtained from a church in England. It is elegant and homey, with a welcoming ambiance. There are no windows so you almost feel like you have left the world, to step back in time. On a Tuesday evening, with snow predicted later that night, it was fairly busy and I suspected it gets packed on the weekends.
It is a well curated list,prepared by Manny Gonzales, their Beverage Director. Initially, when Saloon first opened, they were known primarily for their bourbon and their list was heavy on the bourbon. Over time, Manny added a greater variety of whiskies to the list. Manny stated that their most popular whiskey is the Bulleit Bourbon & Rye. Other popular choices include the Auchentoshan Single Malt Scotch, the Elijah Craig Bourbon, and the Nikka Coffey Grain from Japan.
Though they can make the standard cocktails, they have a special list of thirteen Cocktails ($10-$12), many made with whiskey though others are made with mezacl, vodka, and rum. They also have four Duets ($10), which are basically a beer and a shot. If Beer is your desire, you'll find about 16 Draft Beers & Ciders ($3.50-$8) and 12 by the Bottle/Can ($3.50-$7, with 2 exceptions for larger size bottles). There are local beers, other domestic beers and a few international options too. Their Wine list is small, with only 13 options ($5-$10/glass), though the choices are not the usual suspects. And face it, you aren't coming to Saloon for the wine. The whiskey is the main draw.
Their Food Menu is also relatively small, broken down into Hors d'Oeuvres (12 choices priced from $7-$15) and Mains (6 choices, most priced from $15-$19). I like these smaller menus, which don't try to do everything, but which try to do a small number of things very well. The Hors d'Oeuvres present their own special take on bar food, from a Corn Dog (made with chorizo) to Brandt Beef Sliders. The Mains do the same, from a Short Rib Pot Pie to a Chicken Fried Rabbit Leg. If you like seafood, they have a Catch of the Day (market price) and for the carnivore, you can get the Ballers Steak ($40), a 28 oz bone-in rib-eye steak. Whatever your preferences, you'll likely find something on the menu which will appeal to you.
Life By The Drop, and holds monthly spirits classes at Saloon. From speaking with Manny, it's clear he has a deep knowledge and passion for whiskey, and his whiskey list is indicative of that passion. Manny led us through a tasting of five whiskies, pouring them from the strongest to the lightest, which is the opposite of how you would taste wine. He thought this is the best way to understand and experience the greater complexities and subtleties of the lighter whiskies. His choices were diverse and interesting.
Peach St. Distillers, which is made from a blend of 60% local corn, 20% rye, and 20% two-row malted barley, and has an alcohol content of 46%. It is open-air fermented, distilled once, and aged for at least two years. It is a small batch bourbon, with only 1 and a 1/3 barrels produced a day. This was a lighter bourbon, with a smooth and lightly sweet taste and some mild spicy notes. There is some heat from the alcohol level, but nothing a few drops of water can't handle. Or you could just use it in a cocktail.
A Worthy Washington Whiskey.
Nikka Whiskey for a review of this whiskey and more info about the distillery.
Six different single malts are used to produce this blend, with only two being the same from blend to blend. Manny aims for consistency even though different single malts are used. The particular blend I tasted had been bottled about four days prior, and was about 46 proof. Manny did an excellent job as I found this whiskey to be delicious, smooth, and complex with an interesting melange of subtle flavors. Though blended whiskies sometimes get ignored by whiskey lovers, the act of blending is an art that should not be ignored.
A.D. Rattray Cask Collection, which bottles whiskies from Scotland and Ireland, though they generally don't disclose the origin of the barrel. We had their 12 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey, and the talk is that it might originate from Bushmills. With an ABV of 57.5%, this is a whiskey that would benefit from the addition of a little water. It possesses a bright taste, with fruity notes, hints of caramel, and intriguing herbal notes. It is complex and light, a whiskey to slowly savor, appreciating all the subtle flavors and aromas which can be found. Highly recommended.
Wigle Landlocked, a "distilled honey" which is pot-stilled from buckwheat honey. It had an intriguing taste, a sweetness enhanced by earthy and herbal notes and hints of vanilla and dried fruit.
Overall, my first impression of Saloon was very positive. Delicious food, with interesting variations of the usual bar far, complement the excellent whiskey and cocktail program. With its large and diverse whiskey list, this is definitely a whiskey lover's paradise, and they know how to make an excellent cocktail too. I will certainly be returning soon, to try more of their food, and to investigate more of their whiskies. I'll report back on my further experiences.