Review: Araka in Clayton
Were it not for actually stumbling across a crowded weekday happy hour at Araka during an evening jog, I never would’ve put this bar on my hit list. But something about it stood out, so I made a mental note; I’m happy I did. I’m also happy it’s within reasonable walking distance to my apartment; the drinks are stiff.
The space at Araka has been universally well regarded since its opening in 2007. The gorgeous, mammoth front room rises to an immense ceiling, giving the main space an expansive, wide-open feel. The crescent-shaped bar is flanked by a giant wall collage of wine bottles, backlit in colors that casually shift every few minutes – fun but a bit disorienting after you’ve had a few. Across the room, a collection of private bottle service booths serve as home base for groups of girlfriends who sip on high-stemmed cocktails and eye the crowd.
The word Araka – as the menu tells – is translated as “a traditional catalyst for Mediterranean spirits made from figs, grapes and plums.” True to form, bar manager Tim Kosuge has helped usher the Clayton hot spot into the realm of craft cocktails. Attentive and knowledgeable, the bar staff makes Araka a standout for cocktail enthusiasts. Freshly squeezed juices, house-made liqueurs, sugar-rimmed glasses, garnishes, infusions, even specially made ice cubes are served up as visual and taste sensations.
This past spring, Kosuge and his crew rolled out a list of original cocktails named after historical legends. A standout among these (which have undergone a few changes over the summer) is The Secretariat: a derivation of the mint julep doused with Maker’s Mark bourbon, freshly squeezed grapefruit, orange liqueur and a few sprigs of mint. Also served straight up is The Reagan: a strong, eye-catching number perfect for the ladies made up of Ketel One vodka, freshly minced strawberries, house-crafted limoncello and lavender honey. If you’re looking for something on the rocks, ask for a Charlemagne: a naughty little mixture of Hendrick’s Gin, fresh cucumber, green Chartreuse, lime juice and sparkling water. Unfortunately, the beer selection is somewhat abridged – only a handful of domestics and a half-dozen or so imports – and all bottles, which is disappointing.
Don’t get me wrong; the bar is stellar, the inside scene impressive, but the reason to make the trip to Araka is the patio. Couple a deep, cushioned patio chair with the ambiance of Carondelet Plaza and you’ve got yourself a front-row seat to one of the most superb views in town. Throw a strong Gin and Tonic in there, and you’ll enjoy unabashed indulgence. On warm summer nights, live music wafts through the air, echoing off the circle, which serves as a nice wind tunnel to the occasional swift breeze.
Araka isn’t exactly a come-as-you-are type of joint, though. It’s a lounge, yes, but a swanky one at that. The patio is more business casual than anything else: Think stylish leather loafers rather than flip-flops. Araka is pretty much the see-and-be-seen nexus of Clayton, so dress appropriately.
Mostly empty following the exodus of the fine dining crowd around 9 p.m., the cocktail scene and people-watching patio at Araka is best enjoyed as a pre-game, happy hour spot. If you haven’t given it a shot, it’s time. Much less pretentious than it seems, this is one joint that takes its alcohol seriously.
STL AFTER DARK
WHERE: Araka, 131 Carondelet Plaza, Clayton, 314.725.6777
WHEN: Kitchen: Mon. to Tues. – 5 to 9:30 p.m., Wed. and Thurs. – 5 to 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. – 5 to 10: p.m. Bar: Mon. and Tues. – 11:30 a.m. to 9:30/10 p.m., Wed. and Thurs. – 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. and
Sat. – 11:30 a.m. to midnight
CHECK IT: Score a patio seat for unabashed indulgence, superb view, live music and people-watching.
HIPSTER OR HOOSIER: Stylish Claytonites hang to pre-game while 20-something groups of girlfriends oogle the crowd.
SUDS OR TINIS: Craft cocktails star with fresh juices and house-made liqueurs, infusions and garnishes.