Cocktails on the Corner – The Royal

A thriving and elegant neighborhood bar/restaurant, the Royal serves up superb cocktails and friendly vibes.

Ambiance: ****

Decor: ****

Service: ****

Cocktails: ****1/2

Overall Rating: 4.25

It was a dark and stormy night as I sauntered past the unfamiliar sites of Florida Avenue.  Hark, a well-lighted and exceptionally well-furnished beacon: The Royal! Part coffee-shop, part-bar, part Colombia restaurant with a fun backstory, the Royal’s atmosphere is city/friendly, sophisticated enough to support a third date but with a cheery, neighborhood vibe that hints you should stick around for a while.  The drink list was great and creative including seven featured cocktails, of which three were standouts that I really, really enjoyed.  The cocktails leveraged some intriguing South American ingredients I hadn’t tasted before which is saying something, given my ever-broadening and eclectic “I drank this” list.  Bar service was excellent, which is particularly impressive since the Royal doesn’t use waiters or waitresses, just bar service.  Competition was fierce but I always had a water or a drink in my hand, and any questions I had were succinctly and warmly explained.

Drinks drinks drinks – we started with the “Yucantan Sling” with el silencio mezcal, ancho reyes, grapefruit, honey, and habanero shrub.  This was a good, relatively easy mezcal sipper with the standard burn up front and some nice peppery heat on the back end.  Decent citrus pop as you swallow and the honey smoothes it all out nicely.  Also a great use of grapefruit in this drink – I’ve never been a fan of that somewhat stringent taste in cocktails, but here it’s symbiotic, helping to deliver the heat in a pleasant fashion.  Good stuff.  Then, it was on to my favorite drink of the night, the “Westminster” with pumpkin-infused four roses bourbon (!), el dorado 8 year rum, maple, and lemon.  We’re post-pumpkin season but IDGAF because I’m pumpkin fan #1.  It’s perfectly wielded here as a collaborator, not dominator; very subtle pumpkin tinge to the bourbon leads to a great lemon and maple sensation in the middle.  Just a superb fall cocktail that shines ever brighter in winter.

Onward to the “Hancock” with apple-infused cachaca, Fords gin, maraschino, cocchi di torino, and bitters.  This came across as the most interesting taste as the night, with a heavily apple and cocchi conformity.  A measured taste, the gin is pretty light here and the maraschino pops a bit in the background, but this is an apple, aperitif-ish show.  Nice drink.  Then I relaxed the mood a bit with the standout “Aguardiente Punch” with antiqueno aguardiente (a popular Colombian liquor), cardamero, chamomile, fig syrup and cinnamon.  Due to the work of Ms. Chantal Tseng, I’m falling deeper in love with tea in cocktails, and it’s utilized superbly here.  A wonderful winter drink, the cinnamon and fig helps relax you, the chamomile adds nice herbal tones to the mix, and the antiqueno wakes you up.  Awesome, awesome drink – if you’re interested, ask the bartenders to give you a sample of it hot with Earl Grey, it’s rich and delicious.  Also, read up on Aguardiente, it’s an interesting spirit.

Got back to the harder stuff with the “Marianas” with milagro blanco tequila, rosemary, apricot, grenadine, and lemon.  This wasn’t a favorite, as I thought the tequila and the apricot didn’t gel well here, giving the drink an “off”, overly sweet kick.  Not horrible, just not for me.  Then I went with a standout, the “Newburn” with Monkey shoulder scotch, tamarind pulp, cardamom, cinnamon, and lemon.  This was really spectacular and probably the best cinnamon-laced cocktail I’ver ever had (read more about my adventures in cinnamon).  A perfect flavor combination with the subdued scotch  that concludes in a rich, earthy and full-bodied burn with just the right amount of herb and sweet notes from the lemon.  Loved how the cinnamon seems to nicely envelope all the other sensations.  Great, great winter cocktail.

Like any late-night diner visitor, I saved the “Colombian Coffee” for the nightcap.  Interesting hot cocktail, the coffee and cream are the strong points and dominate the flavor but the rum brings up the rear, giving you a nice latently sweet burn.  Powerful coffee though, don’t plan on sleeping a few hours after this one (I sure didn’t).  A stylish and delicious way to end a fun evening out at the Royal!

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