The well-disguised, sunlit Alley Light proves not all good speakeasies need to live in the dark.
Overall Rating: 4.25
Finding the Alley Light, a superb speakeasy smack-dab in the heart of Charlottesville, requires a bit of detective work. Or a smart phone, that works too. The bar features no sign, the only adornment being some nice plants and a blockbuster of a power panel. At the door, you’re faced with that decision – should you open this fine wooden portal, not quite sure where it leads? Be adventurous friend, and turn the knob – climb the stairs and enter the surprisingly bright and energetic bar/lounge, electrified with a hot playlist of 20’s jazz hits.
Unlike the spectral speakeasies of which I am so fond of, the Alley Light is drenched in sunlight, illuminating the beautiful, classic bar. The Alley Light also features a smartly furnished lounge area fit for for horse-country gentry, featuring stately leather couches and a fireplace. Perfect for group events, I thought. Service was friendly and excellent.
Look at that scene, all class, just like me. Drink-wise, the Alley Light offers some classics, some house, and some seasonal cocktails that span the complexity spectrum. Lot of fun citruses, rhubarb, and springtime spirits. Out of the eight cocktails sampled, I thought four were standouts, which is a money ratio.
Party began with “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” with Barr Hill gin, house lime cordial, and hopped citrus bitters. As a gin kid I expected a lot out of this one, but I thought the cordial and bitters were somewhat out of balance, making for a slightly “off” citrusy sweet and bitter mix. The aftertaste was fresh but it didn’t quite click for me. Not bad, but didn’t knock my socks off. On to the “Mary Lou Mule” with vodka, house ginger beer, and house bitters. Me and Moscow Mules go way back, it being the drink that got me into this whole mess. So my bar for mules is high – Mary Lou’s variant was a little more gingery, spicy, and harsher than your standard mules, with an ultra-rich natural root burn. Oh, and there was plenty of room for more ice 🙂 Good stuff.
“A Rum and Tonic” came next with Mount Gay rum, house Malacca tonic, and muddled citrus. This was a nice drink, well-balanced, with a light rum and citrus touch. A little too simple though, I didn’t get much real character from it, no real pop. Fine. The Alley Light’s game stepped up big time with the “Gazossa” with Bombay gin, Dolin blanc, lemon peel, and carbonation. Oh heaven, loved loved this one, with a peppy and sophisticated gin and lemon touch that plays so well with the Dolin blanc. A sparkling looker, this drank perfectly clean with a great fizzy burn that didn’t quit. A great one for a hot summer day, I loved this cocktail.
I started in on Alley Light’s seasonal cocktails with the “Classic Seasonal Punch” with rum, gin, chamomile, lemon, water, sugar, and passionfruit. This was great, a two-stage killer that ramps up the tropical juice on the front-end, then goes into high gear with a perfect chamomile touch. The perfect kind of punch, refreshing but intriguing, complex. A rich, passionfruit aftertaste seals the deal on this excellent summertime cocktail. Then I welcomed an outsider with the “Carpetbagger” with Old Overholt, pineapple, lemon, Fernet, and local mint. This was my favorite drink of the evening, presenting a superb, perfectly balanced, magnificent pineapple taste. The mint along the borders is sublime evening out the rye just right. Lovely, just lovely.
Finished out with the “Lord of the Flies” with Navy-strength gin, Cappalletti Aperitivo (a red wine-based Italian aperitif), and Ransio Sec (French wine). A bitter little guy, this challenged my palate with some heavy aperitif overtones. Not quite my cup of team, but I respected the power and complexity of the cocktail. Our finale was the “Rose Hill Ruby” with Vitae Platinum rum, rhubarb, guava, manzanilla sherry, and lime. A delicious way to conclude the proceedings, I loved the rhubarb and guava, which trick you at the front-end, conveying a simple and sweet taste. Then the sherry and rum hits, and the drink becomes something different, more intriguing and resonant. Effervescent, the Rose Hill was a nice way to end a celebratory Friday evening at the happy-go-lucky Alley Light. Until next time.