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Mar 24, 2018
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Araka Dives into the Craft Cocktail Scene
By By Matt Berkley | Photos by Ashley Gieseking
Posted On: 09/01/2011   

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.

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.

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DATE: 10/12/2011 11:49PM    POSTED BY: craftynoob
What is really ironic, us real bartenders are laughing at their lack of experience, knowledge, and skill and will not welcome them with open arms when this trend is over. I will put together a list of "craft bars" and "bartenders" so we can easily identify the people who were part of this trend and make sure they don't try to be double agents when this trend ends.
DATE: 10/12/2011 11:48PM    POSTED BY: craftynoob
If these crafties were so good at what they do then why do you have to not stock drinks you know people want to order? I think everyone can see that these guys are not bartenders and should never be perceived as such.
DATE: 10/12/2011 11:48PM    POSTED BY: craftynoob
What is sad is, they know their "made up, fairy tale" drinks are horrible filled with vermouth, and people would never order them if they had a choice. But they have no choice because these craft bars do not stock any thing to make any real drinks, as if they would even know how to make half the tried and true calls. They are forcing people to order off thier "speciality" menu
DATE: 10/12/2011 11:48PM    POSTED BY: craftynoob
And there is a new "Against Mixology" movement going on right now, which emphasizes that these mustached, vest wearing, chefs, are just rude and snobby. Snickering at anyone who wants a drink they like. So what if they like dirty martinis, amaretto sours, cosmos, and apple martinis, who are these crafties to deny them a drink?
DATE: 10/12/2011 11:47PM    POSTED BY: craftynoob
After business was so bad and took on another job at another craft bar, so you run one bar into the ground to go run another into the ground? These crafties call themselves consultants, but what they really are is death squads. Jon Taffer is the only real consultant, all others are jokes. If you want to close your doors to your bar, hire one of these clowns and you'll get your wish.
DATE: 10/12/2011 11:47PM    POSTED BY: craftynoob
What do crafties do? Ridicule and try to poke fun at people that do flair or magic and even hold a great conversation with their guest. They seriously have no clue, although there is hope. Recently, PKNY was shut down for making a copyrighted drink incorrectly, using their own illegal bitters i'm sure. California is cracking down on these craft bar for making spirits and selling them illegally. Mindy Kucan, or whatever her name is from Anvil (a craft bar in Houston) recently left anvil
DATE: 10/12/2011 11:46PM    POSTED BY: craftynoob
They line their bar with new age bitters, then bitch when someone orders a drink using all of them. These chefs don't realize that even if you make the best drinks in the world, and even if you know all the correct history of every drink, you are only being a small part of what a bartender is. A real bartender spends about 10-15% of their shift making drinks, and the other 85-90% entertaining their guest.
DATE: 10/12/2011 11:46PM    POSTED BY: craftynoob
They find one recipe in one vintage book and think it's a classic, as if that's what constitutes a classic drink. And when you call them out on their false cocktail history, they respond "well if someone is more concerned about making drinks, then this isn't the industry for them". Wait a minute? I thought you guys were all about "crafting" 10 minute cocktails? Who are the ones more concerned about drinks?
DATE: 10/12/2011 11:45PM    POSTED BY: craftynoob
They order classic liquors like strega, and chartruese, and 17 different vermouths, but instead of finding out what these drinks were used in, they just make up drinks, As if it were some kind of skill! It is far more difficult to create a drink that taste bad if properly portioned than one that taste good! Even the guest with no real knowledge of drinks can do this, and they do this at home, as should you mixology trend people.
DATE: 10/12/2011 11:45PM    POSTED BY: craftynoob
They claim to be about classic drinks but do every else but classic. They use vermouth like it's a base spirit, seriously. Heaven forbid you should ask for a stinger or any other real classic drink, they'd have no clue, even though I make them on a regular basis at an over a century old bar. Then they all start blogs and bitch about having snobbish guest like they didn't create that problem. And have the balls to say things like "guest don't know what is classic or not" I can't believe it!
DATE: 10/12/2011 11:45PM    POSTED BY: craftynoob
They are against things like Vodka, Peach Schnapps, Blue Curacao, Amaretto, neglecting unassuming patrons of their drinks because they have personal bias against these liquors. Not realizing Vodka is the number one spirit in america and has been since 1971. Vodka is not going anywhere.
DATE: 10/12/2011 11:44PM    POSTED BY: craftynoob
They make sours with egg white, unpastuerized at that, like it was the first sour, not realizing the sour exist atleast a century before thomas wrote his first book. He did not make the first cocktail book. Even famous writers like Charles Dickens wrote dictionary of thames, a guideline to drinks separating drinks by families in 1855, shows how much literature they actually read.
DATE: 10/12/2011 11:44PM    POSTED BY: craftynoob
They follow books like "Jerry Thomas" like his books are the end all be all. Many, Many drinks were created several hundred years before he was even alive, So the only drinks he was the "first" to print were his own "speciality cocktails". But they don't know that.
DATE: 10/12/2011 11:44PM    POSTED BY: craftynoob
They look up to people who blatantly lie about cocktail history like like Gods. I guess they are not as individual and creative as they thought, because if they were they would have looked into these drinks themselves.
DATE: 10/12/2011 11:43PM    POSTED BY: craftynoob
First, real bartenders know that it is illegal to make your own unapproved bitters and enjoy their occupation so they abide by federal and state liquor laws. Real bartenders also know that it is illegal to transfer liquor into spray bottles and eye droppers. Look at what is happening in Los Angelos, ATF has started to crack down on these places. If I was vengeful I report every single craft bar to the authorities and encourage others to do the same, however, karma is good.
DATE: 10/12/2011 11:43PM    POSTED BY: craftynoob
I can say this for certain, anyone who has spent 15 years or more in this industry would never turn their back on the people who keep them employed. Never in my entire professional career have I met anyone who follows this trend who has been really bartending for 15 years or more, not once. These "chefs" claim they've been bartending 20 years, but if they had they would never do these things crafties are doing.
DATE: 10/12/2011 11:42PM    POSTED BY: craftynoob
Let's start by taking a look at the Mixology Movement, First it was originally called the "Modern Mixology Trend", after realizing what trends actually are, they quickly changed the name to movement. These people who claim to be bartenders have actually spent a majority of their career in the kitchen, away from interaction with the guest. The have no idea what real bartending is all about.

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