Small neighborhood pub offers libations, relaxing environment

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Gabriella Belzer

A chef places The Texas Kobe Burger in the kitchen window for pick up at Drink. Well. American Pub, Sunday afternoon. The Texas Kobe Burger is the premiere item on the menu the restaurant, owned by Michael and Jessica Sanders.

Brittany Smith

 

Drink.well, the sleek new neighborhood pub situated in a small building on East 53rd Street, offers a refined respite from a long day at school or work. Although this is not your typical dive bar down the street (you know the type — smoky, dark, filled with questionable drinks and even more questionable men), the atmosphere is comfortable and relaxing.

The space is small and guests seat themselves. The friendly bartender might holler over the counter to let incoming diners know that they should grab a menu and sit anywhere. This is a place best left for small groups or couples, as there are only a few tables that seat more than two people.

The tall gray-blue leather bar seats and the smiles of amicable bartenders beckon diners to the bar counter, which is obviously the center of the eatery. The rest of the restaurant is welcoming as well: it is neat and stylized with a minimalist retro-chic theme. The ceilings are low, making the environment intimate but not confined. Large windows at the front of the restaurant let in sunlight and prevent the space from feeling too crowded.

It would be impossible to write about drink.well without mentioning the libations. The beer list is extensive, and they offer eight craft beers on tap that rotate with availability. In keeping with the spirit of an unfussy neighborhood watering hole, they also offer Bud Light, Coors and Lonestar beneath a heading that says, “Hey, We Don’t Judge.”

The wine list is categorized by style of wine, rather than simply “red” or “white.” By breaking the list down into “Earthy and Fruity,” “Bold and Sultry,” “Cool and Crisp” and “Sleek and Soft,” drink.well alleviates the need to Google every bottle of wine while your date’s in the bathroom so as to appear to know the difference between a Bianco and a Chardonnay. All of their wines are from the United States and a couple feature Texas-grown grapes.

The cocktails are at once classic and inventive. The Royale with Ease, mixed with Tenneyson Absinthe Royale, fresh Texas grapefruit, hibiscus and lime, comes accented with a sprig of mint and a twist of grapefruit rind. The ingredients are fresh and bright, and the mint pairs perfectly with the grapefruit. There was an unexpected taste of licorice that was not unpleasant, but perhaps at odds with the grapefruit, which should have been the prominent flavor in the drink.

The Communist (“it’s better to be red than dead”), a drink of gin, orange, lemon and cherry brandy, was a muddled and seductive amber color. It was citrusy, but subtly so, and the gin was not overpowering.

The food menu is compelling. Separated between “Teases” (small plates between $3-6 including pickled eggs, fried Brussels sprouts and house-made chips and dip), and “Commitments” (larger dishes including sausage and waffles, a Kobe beef burger and crawdaddy and grit cakes), it was hard to choose.

After waiting a short time, the food arrived. I was taken aback by the Crack and Cheese because it was a tiny dish served in a personal cast iron pan. As a “commitment,” I envisioned a somewhat larger portion. It was heavy and rich, however, so anything more may have left me satiated.

The previous dish was good, but didn’t stand out in comparison to the Kobe beef burger, which was outstanding. The patty itself was juicy, moist and flavored strongly by cracked black pepper. The spicy, dusty taste of the pepper in the meat was offset with a sweet onion marmalade that dripped from either side of the burger and melded with a slice of sharp cheddar cheese draped over it. It was small but manageable, and not quite as messy as it may have otherwise been. The bun was flaky and substantial — not dense, but hearty. It was easily among the best burgers I’ve ever eaten.

Drink.well is a nice place to relax after a few hours of studying down the road at Epoch Coffee. Pack up your bags and walk over for a relaxing drink and good eats. Reward yourself with the homemade Twinkies (yes, Twinkies), but be sure to get there early because they only make 24 each day. And please, try the burger. You won’t be disappointed.  

Printed on Monday, April 2, 2012 as: Retro bar offers broad selection