Review: Atomic Cowboy in St. Louis
4140 Manchester Ave., St. Louis, 314.775.0775, atomiccowboystl.com
It’s 9:15 p.m. on a Friday, and Atomic Cowboy’s juicer is on the fritz. It’s busted. Inoperable. Man down.
The bartender shrugs. I sulk.
Under normal circumstances, I could care less about the functionality of a kitchen appliance; however, tonight its out-of-order-ness means that I can’t get one of the bar’s signature beet juice or Beetnik margaritas, which, though it may sound froufrou as all hell, has become a personal obsession.
Though I’m indifferent to beets, beet juice and actual beatniks, I love this drink. It’s a savory-sweet monster of a cocktail with a surprisingly tangy kick and a healthy wallop of tequila. It blissfully blurs all thoughts of spreadsheets and TPS reports. It makes my cheeks red. I want one again. Now, even.
As sad as the juicer fiasco is, I’m not surprised. This is the second time Atomic has deprived me of one of my favorite cocktails on its new drink menu (Last time they were out of beets.). Much like Atomic itself, this reimagined take on a classic is still somewhat under construction.
Fans of this institution, where neon lights and backyard bonfires have urged on many a boozy late night over the last decade, are starting to witness some major changes. Say hello to a new menu, drink selection, music venue and bar. Although, “newish” is a better word. Die-hard Atomic fans won’t be offended by the changes, and everyone else (myself included) will simply look around, nod in happy acceptance and maybe even wonder what took so long.
The Foxhole, the former music/burlesque/performing art venue has been recast as The Demo, which is cut from a similar cloth, albeit touched up a bit. The bigger news is the massive outdoor concert area that has doubled Atomic’s open-air space and added something of a festival vibe to what was once a secluded tropical atmosphere. There is still an outdoor metal bar, but it has tripled in size and, in terms of space, is situated in a less than ideal location. Patio drinks have always been pretty watered down. They still are, but inside, luckily, this is hardly the case.
Atomic has never been at a loss for talent behind the bar, and earlier this summer, it brought on a ringer, Lucas Ramsey of Eclipse and Blood & Sand fame, to lord over the mixers, maraschinos and margaritas. Ramsey works with frantic grace (if there is such a thing). His version of a classic Manhattan – served with High West Double Rye whiskey (which has since been replaced with a house-infused cherry-vanilla bourbon) – was a more than adequate substitute for the aforementioned Beetnik margarita. The other margaritas each feature infused tequilas and a variety of fresh juices that are also used in sangrias (red and white) and bloody marys. The new drink menu is reinforced by the spot-on mixology-MacGyver action of Ramsey, new bar manager Amanda Gaines and crew. By far the best cocktail I’ve had this summer (a tall number laden with Malibu) was seemingly invented out of thin air. For those sticking to suds, Atomic offers 20 brews on tap, plus 46 varieties of bottles. Nobody’s going thirsty.
As the sun sets on this corner of The Grove, diners file in to sample what is some of the more underrated Mexican fare in town. Adding fuel to the fire here, Atomic brought on chef Derek Holthands to build a “newish” menu. More streamlined and focused (Chorizo meatballs have ousted the lobster Rangoon.), the Tex-Mex menu with a barbecue flair now has scratch-made sauces, house-smoked meats and as many locally sourced products as possible. The results are simple but impressive: A la carte staples like fish and pork tacos wash down with a cold pint better here than some of the fashionable new taquerias across town. Likewise, a pulled pork sandwich brimming with jicama slaw served on a light, vanilla bun is reason alone to return to the Cowboy.
At Atomic, wannabe retro punks still tilt their noses on occasion to yuppie scum like myself; women lost in text-lation still hog the bathroom lines; and college friends still huddle around metal tables out back, bumming Marlboros and downing Wild Turkey shots. But while many of its clientele have refused to grow up, Atomic Cowboy certainly is coming of age.