The Watering Hole: Golden Beetle, 1744 N.W. Market St., 706-2977, BALLARD
The Atmosphere: Golden Beetle feels like a neighborhood bistro. Chef/owner Maria Hines is in the process of painting the blue walls an eggshell color. But the lighting in the place makes everything warm and pretty, so the color of the walls is secondary. A group of us arrived as soon as they opened at 5 p.m. on a Tuesday night. We weren't the only ones: A line of people was vying for a seat in the bar for happy hour. Within two hours, almost all the wooden tables and chairs in the place were occupied.
The Barkeep: Maria Hines herself. Why the hell was she bartending? "It's like playing in the kitchen with a completely different set of ingredients," says Hines, who has always liked making cocktails, even at home. "Once I owned this bar, I thought it would be fun to play behind it as much as I possibly could. This gives me a great opportunity."
Hines started tending bar weekly on November 8, so this was only the second time she'd been behind it. You can now find her tending every Tuesday until the end of the year—except November 29, when she'll be in Washington, D.C., to team with Tom Colicchio against Next Iron Chef contestants Ming Tsai and Holly Smith of Kirkland's Cafe Juanita to cook a healthy meal for a family of four for $10 as part of the Partnership for Healthier America Summit.
This Tuesday, however, Hines is joined by bar manager Andy McClellan. "I'm just kind of letting her do her thing," he says. "She's got her note cards and everything going on. She's become a student. She's picked up a lot of stuff."
Would he hire her? "No," says McClellan.
"Seriously?" asks Hines. "Maybe bar-back, yeah?"
"Sure. Yeah. Absolutely," McClellan quickly responds to his paycheck-signer, adding, "I think she's good. She's getting the basics down. She knows how to make a good drink. There's definitely a little bit of a learning curve as far as bartending in and of itself. She's going to get it, you know, but I love her enthusiasm for wanting to get back here and give it a shot. That's something I really admire about her, for sure. It's fun to work with her in this environment."
Hines says she likes the challenge. "It's fun to have such a steep learning curve again."
The Drink: Hines created two cocktails the night we went: the Kalymnos and Cap'n Manhattan Crunch. The former is named after a rock-climbing trip she took in a spot where thyme was abundant. "Typical of a cook behind the bar, I basically made a salad in a glass. It's cucumber [-infused gin], yogurt, thyme honey, and a little bit of lime juice." She finished the drink by misting it with orange-blossom oil.
After hearing Hines describe the Cap'n Crunch drink, I ordered one too. It's a creamy, sweeter drink made by placing fried hominy in a glass and pouring bourbon milk over it. It's like an adult cereal: perfectly boozy and a total wake-me-up.
The Verdict: The Kalymnos had a nice body and a wonderful taste. Skepticism ensued when Hines mentioned the yogurt, but it added the perfect balance and creaminess, making a refreshing, super-clean, tangy drink with a little touch of sweetness. Yet while I'm traditionally not a bourbon drinker, I preferred the Cap'n Manhattan Crunch to the Kalymnos purely because the former was more fun to drink (it came with a spoon). It really did taste like bourbon cream over a crunchy bar snack.
As for owning a bar someday, Hines says, "That'd be a lot of fun, but I have more ideas than I have time."