I hesitated as I stood in front of the door, like a nervous, awkward kid gathering enough courage to ask out someone clearly out of his league. I was wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and four days worth of facial hair, the point at which the wild mix of thin and thick patches of stubble give me an appearance that betray my illusions of "rugged cool" with suggestions of mange. I was noticeably under-dressed as I stepped into Quince's lounge, a space so dark and sexy I wanted to run out and buy a suit, not because I felt uncomfortable, but because I knew I'd look awesome in there with one.
The bar has a precise and confident elegance oozing from the gleaming antique glassware and the dark stone bar, to the heavy and plush bar stools you literally sink into. "Stay here for a while and have some drinks," their cushions seem to say in their comforting embrace. Who am I to argue with a chair?
Immediately the bartender made me feel comfortable and welcome, the hallmark every barkeep should aspire to regardless of the kind of bar. The cocktails helped too. The Before and After ($14, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Aperol, Luxardo Abano Amaro) seemed like the perfect place to start, an aperitif cocktail that is a slight twist on a Boulevardier (the Negroni's whiskey-based cousin). A few sips in and I immediately felt at ease, the amaro's gentian bark giving the drink a dark duskiness and slight medicinal edge that supported, rather than contrasted with the bourbon. The Aperol's sweetness and the amaro's faint bitter fluttering add just enough to the cocktail to let it function as both aperitif and digestif (and the source of the name).
Lead bartender Kristin McArdle was inspired to put together the drink after a visit to Italy for a Slow Food conference. During the visit she was impressed with the customary enjoyment of liqueurs like Aperol as aperitifs and the Italian bitter liqueurs and amaros after dinner and sought to utilize both.
But this being Quince, don't miss out on the more seasonal cocktails like the outstanding Tory Farms Bellini ($12, white peach, crème de peche, anise hyssop, absinthe, prosecco) where the fresh peaches get a slight accent of sweetness and brightness from the small amount of absinthe. The balance of fruit and tartness with the alcohol is a far cry from the cloying versions you've endured before. The same perfect produce that hits the plates, also make their way into the drinks.
Even so, it's hard to deny the simplicity and grace of the house drink, the Quince Martini ($14,chamomile-infused Plymouth Gin, Dolin Dry and Blanc Vermouths, bergamot tincture). Fragrant from lemon peel and bergamot more than the chamomile, the bright cocktail makes a soothing way to ease the jitters. And looks perfect with a suit, or even a T-shirt and four days of not shaving.
Before and After
1 ½ oz. Buffalo Trace Bourbon
¾ oz. Aperol
½ oz. Luxardo Abano Amaro
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir until cold and strain into a coupe or martini glass. Garnish with orange peel.
Quince, 470 Pacific (at Montgomery), 775-8500