Luckily, we know better. We walk through the door and a hostess leads us down a dark hallway to Aloi’s dining room (and bar), which is not deserted at all. It rarely is, and neither is the lounge, as we learn later on a busy Saturday night, when we spend 20 minutes in the blustery entryway waiting for a coveted seat.
Aloi is a hot ticket in town, and its inventive cocktail program may have a lot to do with that.
Aloi has a dark, sexy vibe with an Asian twist, not surprising coming from the crew who brought us Sabai. (After four cocktails, I scrawled “Beijing bordello” in my notes. I’m still not sure how I feel about that.)
The bar itself is compact but accommodates a decent crowd thanks to its U shape and petite low-backed stools. It’s made from a warm, polished wood that’s echoed throughout the restaurant — even on the ceiling. No surprise, this used to be owner Brandon Pearson’s woodworking shop. There’s a modest but respectable selection of liquor bottles lined up on floating shelves hung facing two large windows into the kitchen.
Adan Velis, who runs the Speakeasy at Sabai, is the beverage director here. And Tim Quinn, who spent five years tending bar at Heritage, is usually the guy behind the bar. Cocktails are the focus here (after the food, naturally), and they’re not afraid to play with ingredients, such as aquafaba and CBD bitters. On our first visit, we got some insight into the new cocktail menu, which Quinn was developing. But a few drinks from the original list will stick around.
The Mother-in-Law ($13) is a crowd-favorite, and it’s easy to see why. With Old Forester bourbon, Luxardo Maraschino, Averna, Cointreau, and Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters, this little tipple has a lot going on — but it works. Would it also work with half the ingredients? Possibly. But that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable to sip.
Another stand-out that’s staying on for the time being is the Mindful Martinez ($15), which stars lemongrass CBD bitters from Boketto. Its base is Ransom barrel-aged Old Tom Gin, a pre-Prohibition-style gin with a maltier, sweeter flavor than most modern gins. Two kinds of vermouth (Punt e Mes and Cocchi Torino) and Luxardo Maraschino round it out.
Will the CBD bitters help to ease your anxiety any more than simply sipping this highly boozy beverage? It’s hard to say, especially if this is your second or third drink of the night. I will say that my drinking companion was significantly more relaxed than usual after finishing off this one.
Some newer additions to the menu include a draft cocktail called the Mahogany Wasp, which has Bluecoat gin, Mosaic hops, cinnamon honey, citric acids, and a Red Zinfandel float ($12). Served in a tall glass over crushed ice, it’s almost like a brighter, boozier version of a kalimotxo (a Spanish cocktail made with red wine and Coke).
The My, My, Meyer ($12) is also new, a split-base cocktail with Prairie vodka, Plantation dark rum, Aperol, and a house Meyer lemon-white chocolate cordial shaken until nice and fluffy. The pretty Meyer lemon garnish might hit you right in the schnoz when you take your first sip, but you won’t mind because it’s such a sweet little thing. I’d recommend this one for dessert — it’s like a cookie that’ll make you tipsy.
Cocktails are the star here, but there are 11 wines by the glass (including an orange option). Most are American (West Coast, mainly), with two French wines thrown in the mix. There are four beers on tap.
At 9 p.m. on a recent Saturday, Aloi’s barstools are carefully guarded by the hostess, but she leads us to a pair, conveniently, just before we decide to bail for somewhere less crowded.
The crowd represents a range of ages, from a retired couple enjoying a multicourse meal and discussing music to a boy-girl-girl threesome in which one girl is wearing the biggest earrings I have seen and the other girl seems hopelessly left out of the conversation. Quinn and a second bartender with a nose ring are frantically mixing a steady stream of cocktails without skimping on the all-important smoking of herbs or attaching of garnishes with the tiniest little clothespins.
Between the bartenders and the quick-moving kitchen staff just visible through the windows, it’s almost more interesting to watch Aloi doing its work than it is to pay attention to anyone else at the bar.