Do Savannnah

The Proof: Going retro at El-Rocko

  • El-Rocko is the latest project of the proprietors of Hang Fire.
  • The new space nods to American mid-century style at every turn, with a healthy dose of kitsch to boot. The bartop is glittered in faux gold
  • The rest of the seating is a minimalist mix of straight lines and quirky, tiny tabletops, barely big enough for a single drink.
  • Yes, those taps behind the bar are for cocktails, not beer.
 

The Proof: Going retro at El-Rocko

18 Aug 2016

Even if El-Rocko Lounge, on the corner of Whitaker and State streets, weren’t the closest bar to my office, it would still be one of my favorite spots to stop for happy hour.

El-Rocko is the latest project of the proprietors of Hang Fire, the longtime Savannah bar and music venue that was forced to shut its doors at the end of last year. Besides the music-centric business model, however, El-Rocko bears little resemblance to its predecessor.

The new space nods to American mid-century style at every turn, with a healthy dose of kitsch to boot. The bartop is glittered in faux gold. Three of the walls are covered with three different designs of foil-coated paper, and the fourth is lined with brass-tinted mirrors. Burnt orange barstools give the room its main flash of color. The rest of the seating is a minimalist mix of straight lines and quirky, tiny tabletops, barely big enough for a single drink.

In short, the space is cool, with that word connoting vintage Vegas, something deliberate and effortless at the same time.

In a bar like El-Rocko, I definitely want a drink that matches the décor. Fortunately, the bar offers a wide selection of cocktails on draught. Yes, those taps behind the bar are for cocktails, not beer.

I select The Quiet American, a cocktail that after a couple of minutes of reading the ingredients makes me realize is their version of a gin and tonic.

Like all the draught cocktails at El-Rocko, the main ingredients are aged in charred whiskey barrels for six weeks. The bartender pours a shot from the tap, adds ice and then tops the cocktail off with quinine water (tonic) and a couple of splashes of grapefruit bitters.

I’m actually not a huge G&T fan — the taste of quinine a little too grating on my palate — but the barrel-aging and the citrus-infused bitters soften the flavor just enough. This is still clearly a version of the classic cocktail, but with a mellow, lounge-worthy twist.

As much as I love a good cocktail, I can never resist trying a new whiskey, so I’m pleased to see an unfamiliar label in the rack over the bar: I.W. Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

For a whiskey I’ve never heard of, I.W. Harper has a long history, stretching back all the way to 1872. But in the mid-’90s, before I was legally allowed to even sit at a bar, the parent company Diageo pulled the drink from American shelves and focused its marketing in Japan.

After a sip, that geographic focus makes sense. I.W. Harper’s flavor is surprisingly dry for a bourbon, and the most obvious characteristic is char, though even this comes in moderation.

This bourbon is smooth in a way that reminds me of classic Japanese malt whiskies; easy to sip and share with just about anyone. The big surprise, which took me half a glass to finally figure out, is a late finish of mint. No, whiskey will never leave you with that fresh-from-the-dentist feeling, but I.W. Harper is among the most minty I’ve tried.

While I may not always feel cool enough for El-Rocko’s vibe, know that they gladly offer a seat to anyone who’s up for a classic drink and a chill evening.

 

Zach Powers is a writer and novelist. When he’s not busy imbibing, he helps run the literary arts nonprofit Seersucker Live. Get to know him at www.zachpowers.com.

 

EL-ROCKO LOUNGE

Address: 117 Whitaker St.

Hours: 5 p.m.-midnight Monday-Wednesday; 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday-Friday; 2 p.m. to 3 a.m. Saturday; closed Sunday

Info: www.facebook.com/pachinko21

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