Ever since the gals at Montana on Capitol Hill put their Negroni on tap, a bar where one can order up something like a pitcher of cocktails for the whole table seemed inevitable.
Yet I hadn’t seen it in practice (save for cocktails ending in “rita” and “gria”) until I dropped by GROG this weekend for a media preview of the new chic snack bar in the back of Ballard Annex Oyster House (and by media preview, we mean all the food was covered, gratis).
We’ll get to the snacks in a moment, but by far the most distinctive and exciting invention offered at GROG are cocktails – two hot and two cold -- that can be ordered up for tables of two, four or eight.
Ordered for two, our steaming Ben Nevis was served in a small white ceramic tea pot, which our server poured into tea cups set before us. Maybe it’s a gimmick, but it gave the drink a communal feel that fit with the literal warmth of the drink. The Ben Nevis is a straightforward hot toddy, with a slight twist in that the whiskey is scotch, which cut through the tea and honey in a wonderfully peaty way. The pot is $15 for two, which in an age of $10 Old Fashioneds felt like a good deal.
We followed our hot drink with a cold one, a sweet gin punch called a Dainty Canal. Again served for two (this time in a stopper bottle), my enjoyment of the drink vacillated based on how forward the gin was, which oddly seemed to vary sip to sip (the stronger the gin flavor, the better).
I’ll say here that anyone who mourns for Old Ballard will find no comfort in GROG, which is thoroughly hip. It’s maritime to a point: By definition, GROG is a rum and water drink popular with sailors, and the menu includes a brooding Joseph Conrad quote about the enigma of a passing shoreline. But one of few decorations is a mounted impala that dominates a cinder-block wall, hardly a sea-loving creature, and a single crab dish makes up the bar’s seafood offerings.
The food menu, which tops out around $7, purports to be inspired by the spice-trade; according to my tastebuds that means a fusion of traditional bar grub and well-executed Asian seasoning.
We were warned that if we didn’t like fish sauce, the popcorn chicken wasn’t for us. Indeed, my wife who loves the stuff loved the chicken; I was put off. The deviled eggs tasted like delicious Thai delicacies, filled with hot and sour blue crab; the short-ribs were fatty and tender vessels for thick peanut hoisin sauce. Perhaps my favorite dish was the shredded pork steam buns, which were refreshingly dominated not by the meat but by the loads of fresh vegetable garnish.
Still, none of the food stuck with me the way that first pot of hot toddy did. If I return, and I think I will, it will be to get out of the rain and share a drink with a friend. If we get hungry, there’s plenty to nosh on.
GROG, 5405 22nd Ave. NW, is now open, Thursdays through Sundays, 5 p.m. to close. Ballardgrog.com.