South Restaurant on Old Seward Highway hasn’t been around that long. This summer will mark the locations fourth year in business, but it seems like it always should have been there. Bartender Samantha Lavin agrees, “It was filling a void that needed to be filled.” she said. Between the fresh baked goods, the coffeeshop, and the menu that offers different choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner, South is consistently busy, and with good reason. With timeless décor, an ever-changing menu featuring adventurous cuisine, and events that will stimulate and educate, South seems to be always doing something right.
When the restaurant was first being conceived, the rumor around town was that much like it’s sister business, Spenard Roadhouse, the bar would be well stocked, but focus on one spirit. While the Roadhouse is known for whiskey, South’s specialties come from one of the most misunderstood of all hard liquors, gin.
As one of the broadest categories of spirits, gin can have many different origins, flavor profiles, and styles. Each of these revolve around juniper as a common ingredient. After this there are several botanicals and flavors that may come into play including spices like pepper, or herbal and plant flavoring such as cucumber, lime, or tea.
While Lavin is still just shy of her one-year anniversary as being an employee of South, she has been bartending on and off for almost two decades. She has found happiness working behind the bar at South, and much of that is because of her coworkers and the company itself. “I love that they encourage our creativity, they want us to try new things, and create new drinks and give us the resources to do that. I love that they support their employees in other ways too. They have worked with my schedule, we have a lot of students, people that come back for the summer, they have a lot of people that just love working here, and it’s just fun!”
Much of that fun is derived in the making of delicious and beautiful cocktails for the customers, especially those that use the signature spirit. “I think my favorite thing about working with gin, is being able to pair with the different flavors. Each gin is so unique, and has so many different botanicals, and thoughts, and philosophies behind it, that some of them become a challenge to mix with, but that’s what makes it fun! It’s not just a neutral spirit that you can mix anything with. It’s more of a challenge.” The bar has more than forty types of gin at last count and carries a wide selection of specialty tonics as well. Around the border of the bar top are small jars of spices and extra botanicals as well as fresh fruit that are used for each of the unique cocktails on the twelve-page drink menu.
Another aspect that creates a unique cocktail experience at South is the method they use to make their gin and tonics. Lavin said “We make a Barcelona style gin and tonic. So, we add the botanicals, and then add the gin, and then the ice, then the tonic.” The last ingredient is poured down the twisted handle of a long bar spoon, as much for presentation as it is to preserve and enhance the complicated flavors that are meant to stand out in each beverage. Flavor is an important thing to the mixologists behind this bar, and like Lavin said “We don’t have any artificial flavors here. You don’t see premade raspberry vodka here. If we want that, we are going to take vodka and add fresh raspberries to it. We make a few of our own infusions, some of them are for specials, some of them are on our regular menu. The specials change every month.”
Those specials are also affected by whatever happens to be in season. During the summer months they will be creating new cocktails specials depending on what local ingredients they can get in stock. Some may be used for gin and tonics, or some may be used to enhance the great selection of other spirits that they keep on hand including an expansive whiskey menu or making juices for a special mimosa. The bar also puts a focus on supporting the local craft brewery movement with rotating beer selections that are listed on a board directly beside the bar. While some of this may seem intimidating for those not accustomed to such a range of flavors, Lavin says to come in anyway, and she will enjoy helping you find something you will enjoy. “It’s fun getting people that want to get into gin. They get to try out a bunch of different stuff here.” And continued “This is not a starter bar. If you are starting out, Levi our bar manager, makes sure that there are people here that can help you.”
This cocktail starts in the Spanish style with a grapefruit wedge, green cardamom, and star anise. Add a lemon and lime peel, and top with Drumshanbo Gunpowder Tea Irish Gin. Top with Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic.