Sarah Rolstad and Blythe Oliver, foreground from left, drinks cocktails at 1022 South, a Hilltop bar that recently opened at the former Monsoon location. Photo by Janet Jensen/The News Tribune.
By Ernest A. Jasmin
The News Tribune
The scene: 1022 South is the thinking person's watering hole. New Frontier owner Neil Harris opened the hip Hilltop hangout at 1022 S. J St., formerly the Monsoon Room, in late March. General manager Chris Langston gave the cozy lounge a slick makeover, replacing the Monsoon's tiki accents with new seating, shelving and bar backing, all of them painted black for a reserved aesthetic.
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"I wanted more of a masculine feel," Langston said. "I knew that it was going to have a literary theme, so I wanted it to complement that."
Shelves are lined with classic literature, from Nietzsche to Mark Twain, a reflection of the years Langston spent studying lit and philosophy and working at King's Books downtown.
Regulars can borrow tomes or just read as they sip. And the literate aesthetic seems to fuel deeper conversation than you'll find in joints that rake it in with drop shot specials.
The menu: You can get wine by the glass, beer and nonalcoholic selections, but it's the creative cocktails that are the stars at 1022. Langston developed an exotic menu stocked with fresh, literary-themed potions, mostly riffs on classic cocktail recipes.
Death in the Afternoon is named for Ernest Hemingway's bullfighting classic, and the Bluebird (an I.P.A. served with a shot of Jim Beam) pays homage to Charles Bukowski.
Expect to spend $7 to $10 for specialty drinks, but there were recession-friendly specials on Rainier and other brews during our visits.
Cocktails sampled: The Garden of Forking Paths ($9) was marvelous. It's essentially a mojito-margarita hybrid made with El Jimador Tequila, mint, lime, cilantro and muddled jalapeno. If you have a high tolerance for heat, the jalapeno gives this drink a pleasant bite, but it might be too intense for wimpy taste buds.
Another standout was the Sorrows of Empire ($10), a sweet, creamy concoction made with St. Germain elderflower liqueur, grapefruit, Barbados rum and powdered egg white. Despite the melancholy moniker (a Chalmers Johnson reference), the drink's ambrosial, lilting flavor is made for sipping outdoors on a warm summer day.
Some drinks will be an acquired taste for many. I like an occasional Sazerac (1022's version has rye whiskey, orange bitters and Pernod absinthe), but more for the T.L.C. that goes into making them than the intense liquorice flavor. Gin-based A Rebours ($10) had an interesting balance of sweetness (from St. Germain) and acute bitterness (from Campari). But Death in the Afternoon (Zardetto Cuvee, absinthe and sugar, $10) fell flat. I'm willing to give it another chance. Langston said he'd run out of the brand of absinthe it's normally made with – but a drinking companion brutally equated the cocktail to Theraflu.
The food: The grub selection was limited to bar snacks – wasabi peas clear those sinuses right up, don't they? – and Amy's Organic frozen dinners. Microwaved mater paneer or enchiladas will run you 12 bucks.
Where: 1022 S. J St., Tacoma
Hours: 4 p.m.-midnight Sunday-Wednesday; 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Thursday-Saturday; happy hour every day until 8 p.m.
Price range: $7-$10 for specialty drinks, $12 for microwaved meals
Ernest A. Jasmin: 253-274-7389