Review: Blood & Sand in St. Louis
Set a block from the traffic and neon of Washington Avenue, through a dark side street juxtaposed with dumpsters and nearby loading docks, Blood & Sand – a private, members-only drinking and eating club – is one of the smartest additions to downtown’s burgeoning cocktail and nightlife scene. Well conceived. Impeccably designed. Hard to locate. Cleverly unavailable, yet not at all snobbish. But what makes this exclusive urban booze den stand out is an astute devotion to classic drinks.
The Look: Blood & Sand is every part a swanky, aristocratic clubhouse smartly designed to cater to all the senses. It’s equal parts understated and plush. Crystal chandeliers throw streams of light from an enormous ceiling onto the slick, hardwood floors. The main room is dominated by the dining area, lined with chic, wrap-around red leather booths. A row of these sit opposite a main bar decked out with so many fresh ingredients, garnishes and mixers that bartenders become chefs. A seductive, urban, loft setting beckons upscale (but hardly pretentious) 20- and 30-something patrons interested in avoiding the typical bar scene.
The Booze: Rarely are cocktails such a feast. Owners T.J. Vytlacil and Adam Frager, both mixologists and veterans of the St. Louis restaurant scene, have spent the last year putting together a premier kitchen and bar staff, even poaching some talent from other St. Louis hot spots. The result is a mass of knowledge not only of slinging booze but also choosing vendors, stocking good brands and designing innovative and appealing food and drink menus. Simple drinks are served up strong and fast, and the wine list has clearly been crafted to the personal tastes of those behind the bar (rather than increased profit margins). The beer list needs serious reconsideration (nothing on draft either, unfortunately), but at this bar, cocktails are the order. “Conceived as a laboratory for creativity,” Blood & Sand offers a fusion of classic and original cocktails – a must for first-timers. The bar’s namesake – a mix of Scotch, orange juice, sweet vermouth and cherry brandy – is a playful little number with a nice finishing kick. Even more substantial is the Grounds for Divorce, which blends bourbon, vermouth, Campari, amaro and bitters. Increasingly popular beer cocktails also poke their head out at Blood & Sand. Try the Dust and Summer: a combination of gin, lemon, Punt e Mes (an Italian vermouth), Witbier and lemon bitters.
The Concept: Indulgence, tailor-made and custom-poured for each member. That’s the goal at least for the team at Blood & Sand, who places and tracks orders with iPads, noting members’ preferences for return visits. Here are the specifics: For a monthly $15 fee, members are given unlimited walk-in privileges with up to three guests (no limit with a dinner reservation). One house rule includes making discerning choices when deciding which guests to bring (no rowdies or street toughs). Another was resurrected from an age gone by: Members are required to consult with the bartender on duty before soliciting someone’s company at the bar. Not that you’ll ever be waiting around for a drink. Service is impeccable. The wait staff is both outgoing and casual, offering up great drink recommendations (even if they happen to be up-selling). You get the feeling that this crew wouldn’t hire someone they wouldn’t want to drink with themselves. And a few days following the first visit, members receive a personal email from the owners thanking them and asking about their experience.
The Verdict: It’s easy to be put off by gimmicks, and Blood & Sand has plenty. But there’s something special here. A heavy dose of strong spirits in a gorgeous setting, personal touches that are well worth the healthy prices. Whether our fair city is ready to support an exclusive club like this is questionable. But this is one cynic who is holding on to his membership. Judging by Blood & Sand’s instant popularity, it’s possible that by the time this article runs, the 400-member maximum will be met.