sandrina's bar photo by jonathan gayman

Review: Sandrina's in St. Louis

Part corner bar, part gourmet drunk-food mecca, and part booze-soaked 3 a.m. industry clubhouse, Sandrina’s is a few-frills drinking hole that makes staying out late seem like your best idea yet. If your ideal evening involves indulging in a duck quesadilla with a stiff Gibson cocktail to a heavy metal soundtrack, this is your spot.

According to owner Trish Erwin, the building itself has a storied past – first a 19th-century tavern and later a Prohibition-era “pharmacy.” (Wink. Wink.) Yet, the only trace of vintage décor is a grand, old wooden bar (no worse for wear after generations of revelry) that dominates the checkered floor of the main bar area. Off the bar, through a pair of sliding doors, is a sparse dining area with a low cove ceiling, rickety chairs, worn tables, dim lights and a bit of a musty stench. The back and side walls feature kitschy drawings of local celebs like Mark Twain, Stan Musial and Tennessee Williams – probably more visible now that there isn’t a thick haze of cigarette smoke. Today, smokers have to decamp to the patio tables that claim space on the wide strip of sidewalk out front.

the bay rye cocktail and irish coffee // photo by jonathan gayman

What Sandrina’s lacks in aesthetic appeal, it more than makes up for behind the bar with affordable and quality drinks. Classic cocktails with clever twists mingle with innovative shots served up thoughtfully, yet form still follows function. This crew takes no shortcuts when getting you slammed. Case in point, the Sandanista – a shot of Jose Cuervo shaken with lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, Sriracha and white pepper. Wash this spicy bad boy down with a draft of local craft beer or, better yet, a Bay Rye martini made with Jim Beam Rye whiskey and hints of Campari and sweet vermouth. Freshly shucked oyster shooters, laden with vodka and Worcestershire, are available when in season. But always available (thankfully) is Sandrina’s’ house bloody mary, which comes spiked with A1 Steak Sauce and Sriracha along with the usual suspects. On the sweeter side is an Irish coffee martini with a triple threat of Jameson, Baileys and espresso liqueur.

duck quesadilla with gouda sauce // photo by jonathan gayman

Every great kitchen has a secret weapon; Sandrina’s finds one in its smoked Gouda sauce. Bold, creamy and devilishly indulgent, Gouda is available on request and goes well slathered on anything and everything. Definitely do some slathering with two of the small plates: fried artichokes and the aforementioned duck quesadilla. Both are welcome treats from a kitchen that stays open until 2 a.m. What’s also surprising are the rotating fish specials, such as roasted red snapper with “truffled mashers” and even the occasional mussels with cream sauce. Even better, this is the kind of elevated bar food that isn’t overpriced.

While Sandrina’s is open until 3 a.m., it’s not your typical late-night, cheap-beer chugging spot. Quality trumps quantity, and flavor counts for more than presentation, hence the popularity of the bar among a steady industry crowd of discerning drinkers who mix and mingle with shorts and flip-flop-wearing regulars from the Southwest Garden neighborhood.

Sandrina’s is certainly not the kind of place to start your night. It’s not the kind of place to take your mom (unless she’s in a biker gang). And there’s the smell. But through the smoke-stained walls, Sandrina’s shows how a little focus and the right ingredients equal a late-night feast.