This week we visited The Traveller Bar as it wraps up its stint at the Loews Atlanta Hotel. If you don’t know about The Traveller Bar, here’s a link to their website explaining the whys and what-fors. A quick summary is this: The Traveller Bar is a pop-up bar concept by Loews Hotels that brings back the golden age of the cocktail – by and for cocktail enthusiasts. Fantastic concept, yes?
The Traveller Bar Arrives
We’ve watched the nationwide progression, waiting patiently for it to come to Atlanta. Finally, it arrived in March. Last week we were downtown for a meeting and stayed in the city to visit the unique bar built from an old elevator car. We checked with the host stand to verify when the bar would open, then sat in the lobby for a little while people watching and checking out the eight drink menu online. When 6:00 rolled around and there was no movement in the bar area, we checked with the on duty restaurant manager only to learn that the bar was actually closed that evening. Bummer! So off we went with promises of returning before the bar leaves in early April.
Second Time’s The Charm
Fortunately, we had an opportunity to head back to the city a week later. Double checking to be certain the bar would indeed be open that evening, we headed out. When we arrived at the hotel at around 8:00, the lobby bar had a convivial group and was hopping. The Traveller Bar was also busy but in a more understated fashion. Mind you, there are only four seats at this tiny pop-up drinking hole and all four were in use by patrons who seemed to be in it for the long-haul. We arrived about the same time as two other groups. The first, a couple visiting Atlanta, was enthralled by the concept. After a brief exchange with the bartender regarding how the bar works and learning they could take their drinks anywhere on property, they ordered their drinks and headed off to find a quiet corner to enjoy them. The second group was five businessmen who didn’t quite understand the concept. After finally figuring out they would be better served by the lobby bar, they headed off.
What’ll Ya’ Have?
Finally, our turn. Reading through the cocktails again, we decided on the Gin Fix and the Fedora. Shortly after ordering, a couple of seats came open and we scooped them up. As we watched our bartender making our drinks, we noticed that she didn’t seem terribly versed in the recipes and was checking under the bar throughout. After another patron asked if she traveled with the bar, she indicated that she did not. There was a training session with a bartender that travels to the city when the bar is installed, but he doesn’t stay on. The local bartenders are taught to make the drinks and they get to try them. Then they are left to their own devices and it is luck of the draw who works the temporary bar. This was our bartender’s second time slinging these particular libations, so it was understandable that she had to double check how to make them.
On to the drinks themselves. Beginning with the Gin Fix – a sweet yet balanced cocktail made with The Botanist Gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and raspberries – we were instantly refreshed. The pale pink color contrasting with the bright reddish-pink of the raspberry garnish was visually appealing. The aroma and taste were nothing short of brilliant. The Botanist Gin is a fantastic choice with the raspberries as it has a crisp, clean, and delightfully complex flavor on its own and the flavors blend beautifully. The recipe came from the oldest known cocktail book, The Bartender’s Guide (1862) by “Professor” Jerry Thomas.
Our next choice was the Fedora. Our bartender warned us that this was going to be quite strong, and she wasn’t wrong. Made with Remy Martin 1738, Cointreau, Mount Gay Black Barrel, and Basil Hayden’s, this cocktail would, as my father used to say, “put hair on your chest.” Strong as it was, it was still quite a tasty drink. This mix of spirits is, for ease of service, mixed in a small wooden barrel and poured out to order. After stirring with ice, it is garnished with a healthy lemon twist. Harry Johnson included this in his Bartenders’ Manual (1900) which also includes how-to’s of the bartending business.
The Basics of Service
Disclaimer: We don’t know if the issues we experienced are widespread or limited just to the Atlanta experience. As they say, “mileage may vary.”
As much as we love the idea of the pop-up bar, and the aesthetics of The Traveller Bar in particular, there were a few things we would do differently. First, the bar looked a little unkempt. Of the three garnish jars, two were empty, the third holding the raspberries for the Gin Fix. The iPads, that are used for everything from the explanation of the concept to the interactive menu, were sticky. There was a visible picture frame lying down in plain site. And finally, again due to the limited amount of time with this bar and these drinks, the bartender seemed somewhat flustered.
The bar itself was missing ingredients which caused our intrepid bartender to have to leave for a refill of simple syrup. This and the earlier confused guests, who she had to move to another part of the lobby bar herself, made the experience disjointed in the beginning. She was, however, quite lovely to speak with once she was able to settle. She told us a little about the bar and wistfully talked about how cool it would be to actually travel with the bar. When we asked her about the vintage collection of old bartender and cocktail books in the mini-library, she said they were locked up (makes sense, there are rather valuable) but there were extracts in the iPad. Unfortunately, though we could read about the cocktails, the Collectif 1806, and view the map, we were unable to view the pages of the books as there was no wi-fi connection setup for the iPad. Well, rats!
We don’t want you to think we didn’t enjoy ourselves. We most definitely did. The drinks are amazing. The bar is super cool. Our bartender was warm and inviting. It was a winner of a night. When it comes to your city, you should definitely take a moment to go visit (the map is on their site, so check to see if it’s coming to you). If you’ve missed it or it won’t be coming to your town, it appears it will be installed in Orlando at the end of 2017 and for the foreseeable future. Go. You’ll enjoy it!