Behind-the-bar inspiration doesn't just come in the conventional form of brews and booze. As more local beverage makers unveil their own twists on standards such as sodas, juices and teas, resident bartenders and baristas throughout the city are getting creative in the ways they shake up traditional elixirs. Whether it's a swig of bourbon, a bit of champagne, or a splash of agave, restaurants and coffee shops are taking advantage of our growing drink options.
El Carnicero | 16918 Detroit Ave., 216-226-3415, elcarnicerolakewood.com.
The Drink: Smoky Paloma, $9. In the Mix: Old City Soda Grapefruit, Del Maguay Vida Mezcal, agave, lime, twist of grapefruit.
Mike Gulley's time spent bartending around town did wonders to keep his name on the circuit while he prepared to launch Old City Soda, his line of fizzy drinks made with cocktails in mind. Such was the case when Tony Kost, colleague and bar manager of El Carnicero, began experimenting with the sodas at the tamale-based Lakewood restaurant.
"The soda has such a clean grapefruit flavor with a nice effervescence in the carbonation," says Kost. "It just helps to blend all the flavors together even for people who don't usually like the smokiness of mezcal. His sodas aren't syrupy, so even with adding the agave, it doesn't make it super-sweet — just tart with an element of the sweetness in the finish."
Grovewood Tavern & Wine Bar | 17105 Grovewood Ave., 216-531-4900, grovewoodtavern.com.
The Drink: Cider Smash, $10. In the Mix: Patterson Fruit Farm's apple cider, Knob Creek Bourbon, lemon juice.
After proprietor Beth Davis-Noragon began partnering with nearby Patterson Fruit Farm for catering gigs, she says it seemed natural to integrate their fresh-pressed apple cider into the bar's diverse seasonal cocktail repertoire.
"Patterson's apple cider and bourbon together seems so very Americana," David-Noragon explains. "There's a Johnny Appleseed feel to it. It's perfect for fall."
Jukebox | 1404 West 29th St., 216-206-7699, jukeboxcle.com.
The Drink: Mimosa, $10. In the Mix: Beet Jar Juice Bar's pineapple-orange-lemon cold-pressed juice, brüt champagne.
When a music-themed watering hole opens up next to a juice bar helmed by two performers, there's chemistry in more than proximity. Jukebox owner Alex Budin uses Beet Jar's fresh juices in his rotating signature cocktails, but the mimosa featuring what he glowingly describes as "an ideal base" has become an ongoing feature.
"There's a unique relationship in that at one time in this building we were both getting ready to open as first-time business owners," Budin says. "We all came into this not knowing one another and went through these growing pains together, so we see the opportunity to bridge the gap between our customers."
Pour Cleveland | 530 Euclid Ave., 216-479-0395, facebook.com/PourCleveland.
The Drink: Almond Milk Latte, $4.75; In the Mix: forty.one's specialty almond milk.
While forty.one's Hunter Harlor has been peddling his dairy-free "milks" to restaurants throughout the city, Pour stakes a claim on an exclusive blend of his almond, hazelnut and macadamia nut. It was carefully devised for the coffee aficionado, like founder Charlie Eisenstat, who prefers not to stray too far from undiluted purity.
"We've always been about putting the spotlight on the coffee itself," says Eisentat. "We found his blend complements the flavor notes we're trying to put forward without changing the character too much. It has a really good texture and it's not overwhelmingly nutty, which I wanted to avoid."
Toast | 1365 West 65th St., 216-862-8974, toastcleveland.com.
The Drink: Vesper Revival, $11. In the Mix: Cleveland Tea Revival's Holy Lemongrass, Plymouth Gin, 360 Vodka, dry vermouth.
For a twist on the 007-conjuring classic, bartender Amy Williams called on Toast's fondness for sustainability, including hyper-local sourcing, and wedded it to their focus on pre-Prohibition era cocktails. It's one of many new drinks that use the organic tea, blended in-house just blocks away, as a centerpiece.
"The Holy Lemongrass adds a bright, lemony citrus note and then you get this licorice flavor coming from the basil they use," says Williams.
The Wine Spot | 2271 Lee Rd., 216-342-3623, thewinespotonline.com.
The Drink: Bloody Mary, $7. In the Mix: Clark Pope's Bloody Mary Mix, Watershed Vodka, lime.
When Wine Spot owners Adam and Susan Fleischer discovered Clark Pope's mix at an outdoor market, they were immediately drawn to its kick and paired it with Watershed Vodka from Columbus. Since partnering with Pope, the Fleischers have continued to stock locally, recently announcing they'll soon dedicate hefty shelf space to Cleveland Culinary Launch & Kitchen upstarts beginning late October.
"It packs a really nice spice to it and the freshness of the jalapeño he uses comes through," notes Adam Fleischer. "We like that he uses local ingredients and, unlike a lot of other mixes, Clark doesn't add any water to his: it's hearty."