Charlottesville Cocktail Crawl – Lost Saint

The omnipresent shadows found in Charlottesville’s exquisite Lost Saint can’t mask the bar’s the wonderful service and superb cocktails.

 Ambiance: *****

Decor: *****

Service: *****

Cocktails: ****1/2

Overall Rating: 5

It’s only been a week, but I already miss Charlottesville. Last Saturday, on a clear, warm evening (that can still happen folks) I strolled through the beautiful UVA campus into the historic downtown, which is a sublime community space perfect for outdoor drinking and socializing. Amidst legions of college kids and their J. Crew-clad families, I went into clandestine mode, hunting for a low-profile speakeasy that was recommended to me by a friend. Tucked beneath the nice Tavern and Grocery restaurant, the subterranean Lost Saint is a tad hard to find but oh boy the search is worth it. I just loved this bar – from the service, to the setting, to the superb drinks, Lost Saint is the sort of bar you’ll quickly fall in love with. A perfect addition to charming downtown C-ville.

“Ambience” gets thrown around a lot (including by me) but Lost Saint has it in spades. Housed in a historic landmark building built in 1820, the bar features dark brick and Yankee furnishings, rustic country tables and chairs, and a beautiful circular light fixture that offers soft illumination. My low light pictures definitely don’t do the setting justice.

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Since I was there early, I got to have a nice long booze-related chat with the bar staff, who we very friendly and ultra passionate about cocktails. Worth noting here that, in my learned opinion, there is a strong correlation between bartender passion and the quality of the drinks! That enthusiasm translates to a creative and fun cocktail program that utilized unique combinations and lent real verve to the charming setting. Of the seven drinks featured I thought four were standouts, a solid ratio.

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I started the proceedings with two standouts, the first my favorite drink of the evening, the “So I Married a Canadian” with Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, Laird’s Applejack, maple syrup, lemon, and a striking smoked apple. As explained to me by delightful bartender Carrie, Crown Royal’s Rye is very smooth, making this drink such an easy sipper, an excellent, ultra-smooth, wonderfully measured cocktail with this wondeful tint off the apple. There’s a great sweetness from the syrup and the lemon plays so well – I loved this one, and it set the tone for the evening. Next was another standout, the “Blessed by Thyme” with Campari, Cointreau, Cocchi di Torino, and strawberry shrub. Loved the combinations in this one – even with some standout, strong liqueur and bitter influences, this flows so evenly, and I loved the thyme fragrance and a subtle strawberry taste that brings it all together. Really excellent.

You’ll always remember your “Last Night in Jerez” with Rittenhouse rye, Valdespino amontillado, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Not bad, with a definitely heavier rye influence that overwhelms a bit, but doesn’t drown it out. Still, I didn’t love that kick with the other tastes, and this was only ok for me. Back to the standout streak, the “Seven Years a Baker” with Baker’s bourbon, blueberry shrub (!), lemon juice, pink peppercorn tincture, and tiki bitters. I’ve always been hunting for a cocktail that uses blueberry well and I hit the jackpot here; a superb cocktail, the borbon synchs well with the other influences as it goes through one or two taste levels. What crushed it was the blueberry and peppercorn tincture, which has this resonant fruit flavor, smooth bourbon teamed with a little spice. Such a gorgeous and sophisticated taste.

Carrot juice?! Carrot juice!? Yes, “Stranger in Paradise” has Barbancourt rhum, carrot juice, Demerara syrup, and chocolate bitters, and was a surprise standout. My tastebuds were on red alert for a taste I never through would work, mixing a vegetable influence with savory and sweet ingredients. But never judge a book by its seeimingly conflicting flavor influences – this was a one of a kind taste, a wildly different sensation that has that earthy, slightly stringent carrot hit on the edges while being powered through a really resonant, darker bitter taste. Admire that game, and enjoyed drinking it. Then the “Undaunted” with Ketel One, Plymouth gin, Bacardi Ocho, Demerara syrup, lemon, and Averna soda. It was a nice drink, pretty relaxed surprisingly, given its broad range of ingredients. Just at the right level of syrupy flavor and spiced up with some soda, this tasted almost like a strong alcohol/coca cola mix. Good drinking.

The finale was the “Green, Airplane, Happiness” with Tanqueray, Luxardo maraschino, lemon juice, and absinthe. I loved the look of this light drink and was tempted to embrace it from that first hit of gin, but I felt the maraschino came on a bit too strong and washed the other flavors out. There are other hits, you can still sense the herbal essence of the Tanqueray and the sharp cut of the absithe, but the maraschino was a bit too dominant for my tastes.

So that was all she wrote for my stay at Lost Saint, a wonderful establishment that evokes the charm of the past while whipping up some cutting edge drinks. On my next trip to Charlottesville, this will be my first stop!

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