Published on March 29th, 2012 | by M.L.Flanagan


Cocktail Roundup: Marrow & Maxwell’s

All photographs by Adam Morrell of Gritty City Food

Tacoma’s craft cocktail lounge 1022 South has received a good deal of positive media coverage in the past two years, including pieces in the NY Times Magazine Blog , The Seattle Weekly, and most recently by Cult Tacoma.

1022 South excels in nationally recognized cocktail nerdery to the highest degree with an inventive menu comprised of infusions and botanicals, quality (and often house-made) ingredients, and thoughtful consideration of details down to the type of ice the bartenders use. It is no surprise that the bar is often packed with locals and out of towners alike who are seeking a well-crafted drink.

As Tacoma’s food and drink scene evolves, it brings with it an increasingly invested group of consumers who want something more than Major Label booze and soda, martinis that involve candy, or shots suggesting body parts. 1022 South doesn’t just appeal to this group, the bar actively cultivates this culture by raising patron expectations as to what a bar should be able to offer.

Others have articulated that Tacoma has strong, raw potential for becoming more widely renowned for innovative, forward thinking food and drink and I agree.  Aided by national trends of eating and drinking locally, seasonally, and generally more thoughtfully, 1022 South and to a lesser extent, other bars and restaurants like Marrow and Maxwell’s have begun to cultivate a robust culinary and cocktail resurgence featuring the flavors of Tacoma.

Although this movement in still minor in scale in the face of Tacoma’s much loved greasy spoons, it is a dynamic, growing shift in the city’s culinary milieu.

1022 South releases their new Spring menu on March 29th, their third anniversary, and this event inspired me to visit several other favorite drinking establishments to get a sense of Tacoma’s current cocktail culture.

Menus at 1022 South. Photograph by Adam Morrell.

The results of my excursions included several hits and a couple of misses, but I remain optimistic that the demand for well-crafted drinks will continue to increase, forcing restaurants and bars to respond with unique and mindfully prepared cocktails.

The famous Bulleit bottle installation at Marrow. Photograph by Adam Morrell.

Marrow is home to one of the best food menus in Tacoma and has filled a significant culinary gap with its use of wild game and diverse proteins. The restaurant also offers an entire menu of complex vegetable-based dishes that intrigue both meat-eaters and vegetarians alike. I only wish Marrow’s cocktail menu took similar risks.

Marrow’s use of fresh squeezed juices and herbs should help to create a more flavorful, complex drink however the nuances in a couple of the cocktails I sampled were overpowered by sweet syrups which dominated the flavor profile.

A Marrow cocktail. Photograph by Adam Morrell.

The Juanita is tequila based drink with Campari, lime, and agave syrup served on the rocks. I was hopeful that the herbal, bitter Campari would help to accent the peppery notes of the Cazadores Blanco tequila but ultimately, the heavy handed pour of agave syrup overwhelmed the cocktail completely.

However, not all of Marrow’s cocktails suffer the same tooth-aching fate. At the suggestion of a friendly Marrow bartender, I found a hit with the Ruby. Inspired by Portland-based bartender/mixologist Lucy Brennan’s recipe of the same name, the Ruby is concocted with beet infused Monopolowa vodka, a touch of lemon, lime, and simple syrup.  Marrow’s version of the cocktail is well balanced, with heavy earthy undertones and a beautiful deep red color from the beets. I’m hopeful that Marrow will experiment more with infusions like this when summer produce gets into full swing. For now, Marrow will keep me coming back because of the creative food and fantastic service, but I am excited to see how their cocktail menu develops.

Maxwell’s Speakeasy & Lounge is thankfully not, as the name suggests, an overdone novelty bar requiring a secret password or special knock for entry. Although refreshing that Maxwell’s doesn’t rely on kitschy tropes of the speakeasy found in many trendy bars throughout the country, I would like to see some of the contemporary themes of revisiting and refreshing historical prohibition-era cocktail recipes reflected in their bar menu. The lounge boasts only a small number of craft cocktails on the winter bar menu and has a focus on bourbon-based drinks.

Maxwell’s exterior. Photograph by Adam Morrell.

On my visit I tried Maxwell’s Man in the Suit, a take on a Rusty Nail, (3 oz. scotch, ½ oz. Drambuie) with the addition of cardamom bitters and an orange twist. Scotch serves as the drink’s base, and I would prefer something a little less malty than the Johnnie Walker Red that Maxwell’s uses–a slight upgrade to Johnnie Walker Black would do the trick. The Drambuie provides a honey-sweet backdrop to the scotch and adds a more complex herbal note. I would have also liked to taste more of the cardamom bitters, however, the ice melted so fast in my drink that it was quickly watered down and the delicate flavor was unfortunately lost.

I was drawn to the Paris on a Shoestring cocktail because of the house infused Earl Grey vodka, but it also includes Stolichnaya vanilla vodka, and agave and lemon. The bartender used more vanilla vodka than Earl Grey, making for an overtly sweet cocktail when paired with the agave.  The bergamot flavor of the tea-infused vodka was pleasantly prominent and added a deep complexity that played nicely with the vanilla. The experience was made better by serving the cocktail in a snifter that helped to trap the citrusy aroma of the Earl Grey vodka. Despite its sweetness, the creativity and playfulness of this cocktail made it a menu standout.

Two Maxwell's cocktails. Photograph by Adam Morrell.

Two Maxwell’s cocktails. Photograph by Adam Morrell.

As 1022 South continues to raise the bar for cocktails in the Puget Sound region, other bars and restaurants in Tacoma should emulate this passion for producing innovative cocktails using high quality ingredients, as there is clearly an enthusiastic audience to support, sip, and savor such concoctions.

While craft cocktails are still a niche in the City of Destiny, bars and restaurants like 1022 South, Marrow, Maxwell’s, and others are helping to cultivate a culture of educated cocktail imbibers that is growing the demand for artfully curated drinks. As demand for quality increases with education about craft cocktails, it is my hope that it won’t be long before there is a public outcry against commercial sour mix and icky neon pink maraschino cherries that have for so long occupied space in Tacoma’s cocktail tradition.

In addition to some of the newer bars reviewed in this article, there are a number of classic Tacoma watering holes with storied traditions of stiff drinks and good eats. I look forward to trying out some of the city’s oldest imbiberies in the next edition of the Cocktail Roundup. Cheers!

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About the Author

M.L. Flanagan writes about food, drink, and more for Post Defiance. "Her faults were a trifling love of liquor, excessive filthiness, and a total disregard to all the decencies of language."

3 Responses to Cocktail Roundup: Marrow & Maxwell’s

  1. You’ve hit the problem on the head. Tacoma only has one place that knows how to make a drink. Maxwell’s and Marrow are OK. They are a step up, but using fresh juice is just part of the solution. Using fresh juice doesn’t make you a craft cocktail joint. They lack the craft. The intimate knowledge of what makes a drink sing. Last time I was at Marrow there wasn’t a single drink on the menu that used vermouth. Both places have problems with their ratios. The cocktails aren’t balanced properly and Marrows are too big. I realize this is critical, but they need to know what they are doing wrong. Until they up their game, there is only once place in Tacoma I’ll buy a drink.

  2. Man of Heel says:

    Flannagan’s perspective is refreshing, and I hope inspiring to bars and their tenders in Tacoma. I’m tired of shots being named after my body parts. Next time at the bar this commenter will be asking for “une queue de chanticleer.”

  3. Hungry for real. says:

    I wish marrow tasted as good as it looks. With such an attractive face (atmosphere, menu, servers) doing the talk, it’s certainly a dissapointmet they can’t walk the walk. The drinks are painfully sweet and there isn’t any escaping that because diversity on the drink menu is lacking. Since when did fruity bitch-drinks have anything to do with country style/peasant food anyway? Their beef cheeks were salty; the salt was actually the main flavor. I understand what they are trying to do with the dish, but they are way off. Braised meat on the bone served with a vegetable reduction can be a lovely thing. But it takes time and lots of fresh vegetables to do it right. Perhaps a bouquet garni? And when you do it right, you barely need any salt at all. Salt is there to enhance the existing flavors not to compensation for lack of real ingredients. The beef cheeks were like confused pieces of shredded BBQ beef that took a nap in some salt and never woke up. Not a tender medallion of braised meat that has laid itself out on a bed of polenta, effortlessly sauced itself in a well balanced reduction, in anticipation that your first bite will be the one that makes you want to bring your fork back for more. I also had the beet salad. Which was boring and scarry all at once. After taking a bite of soft butter lettuce I was shocked to bite into something that felt like bone, or tooth. “Did I just chip my fucking tooth on butter lettuce?!” No, that would have been way to exciting. It was ground cocoa beans. Which if you’ve ever had them you will know they have the texture of stale coffee beans. They have their culinary place, like ground up and put in chocolate. Not unexpectedly in your mouth on what you assumes was just a boring piece of butter lettuce. I found myself eating more of the salad, just trying to figure it out, with the same caution one needs to exercise when eating wild fowl that has the occasional shotgun shot to spit out. Pomegranate seeds would have been a better texture, and flavor, decision on that one. And the beets…soak those bitches in vinegar for Christ’s sake! There isn’t any distinguishable dressing on the rest of the salad. There needs to be flavor somewhere. Then, the deep fried chevre. This seemed like an idea that spawned from a white trash gone lotto winner restaurant owner- something Steve Martin’s character from The Jerk would demand. You don’t deep fry cheese, unless it’s low quality to begin with. Anyhow, this place it like watching my daughter play dress up; I like it because it’s cute, but nothing fits right and she has lipstick all over her face. And when she asks people how she looks, they smile and say “great.” Or like my daughter cooking me something she has seen me make. I’ll eat it because under it all I want to like it. Because she’s a little girl an she’s not expected to actually know what she’s doing. If Marrow opened in a city that actually had some civilization it would have a lot of catching up to do in order to compete. Big fish+small pond=easy. I could bitch more buy I won’t. The cheese plate was good. my favorite thing was the plain bread that came with that. Simple, well made, bread. The cheese wasn’t anything special but the gave me tons of it. Which was somehow kind of gross too.

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