Busy Bantam has unveiled another popular feature to please its clientele, a full liquor license under the watchful eye—and hand—of bartender Greg Tavangar (who also works the tasting room at Venus Spirits).
In the interests of spiritual research, Angie and I took a seat at the bar last week and admired the colorful view of three tiers of designer liquors ranging from Leyenda mezcal and Venus aquavit to Laphroaig, Potrero Rye and Nikka Coffey Vodka. And that’s not counting the stash of more traditional cocktail ingredients such as Fernet Branca, Gran Classico and Campari. The house offers a short list of special cocktails, all of which sounded adventurous. So we were full of questions, for which Tavangar had answers as detailed as any high-proof nerd might want. A gorgeous assortment of designer and housemade bitters filled little amphorae next to jars of citrus, fresh fruit and olive additives. As Tavangar answered our questions, he didn’t skip a beat mixing up exceptionally good-looking cocktails—a watermelon fizz was particularly gorgeous. The Aperitivo involved a classic Italian-style vermouth called Alessio Vermouth Bianco, plus a pale yellow bitters called Gran Classico (think pale Campari) and a Prosecco top—all for $10. Angie, who enjoys something bubbly on a warm afternoon, was on board with that.
I needed to know more about the item austerely named Gin Cocktail. Bruto Americano (a New World Fernet), plus sweet vermouth that was not actually sweet, and orange bitters ($12). “So it’s a bit like a modified Negroni?” I asked. Tavangar nodded, but pointed out that it had depth and subtlety denied to the ordinary vermouth, gin and Campari Negroni. I adore any cocktail with both gin and bitters, and this one called out to me. My cocktail arrived in a handsome tumbler cooled by a single gigantic ice cube. An attractive blood-orange color, the concoction offered up layers of bitter orange and gentian root, all carried on the steady current of gin. A splendid cocktail that invites both contemplation and easy sipping.
After pouring the prosecco as the top layer of the three Aperitivo ingredients—the three elements actually formed bands, much like a high-spirited latté—Tavangar then briskly stirred them together in a tall, icy highball glass. I took a taste and discovered my favorite cocktail that doesn’t involve gin. It was intricate and refreshing, a perfect warm-weather quencher. As we watched the cocktails being engineered, Tavangar mentioned the acquisition of a new Japanese gin. Just released, he grinned. I expressed amazement and was immediately provided with a sip.
This was a mysterious and beautiful gin, with hints of botanicals, such as sancho pepper and Japanese yuzu, kabosu and amanatsu citrus. Nothing Dutch about this spirit, and one that would reward the postmodern purist. Bantam’s Nikka Vesper cocktail is made with Nikka gin, vodka and dry vermouth—an East-West poem for $15.
Of course we shared an appetizer of the house signature warm avocado toast topped with mint leaf and pomegranate seeds ($8). Cocktails are a portal. Check Bantam’s Facebook page for details.
Any Minute Now …
And the new Aptos installment of Parish Publick House should be online. Expect to be greeted by a classic pub experience. Also, the long-awaited Birichino Tasting Room in the heart of downtown Santa Cruz will be open pronto. From what I can see, some things are worth waiting for.
Au Revoir to Au Midi
And to the gracious Michel Loubiere and his chef/wife Muriel, who for 10 years offered the flavors of the South of France to grateful South County patrons. The Loubieres are taking their delicious act from Aptos to a new restaurant in Monterey. To which we say, “Bon chance!”