Thursday, December 14, 2017
Bars & Spirits

Bar review: On Swann's eclectic drinks complement its fine dining

Judging by the packed house on a weekday afternoon, just before the restaurant closes for a lunch-to-dinner transition, On Swann's cooking up something that people want. Look at online reviews, or read tbt* food crititc Laura Reiley's restaurant review from June ("With Food and Decor, On Swann brings high level of excellence to Hyde Park Village") if you want the details. Heck, visit yourself.

I want to talk about the booze.

The reason I visited On Swann in the first place is because I was intrigued by how the drink menu was presented online. Bubbles, whites, reds, spirits, nightcaps. No beer, no cocktails?

As usual, I jumped straight to the spirit section. Some unique stuff in there, I found. Restaurants like this — "thoughtfully-sourced New American cuisine" — tend to have predictable spirit selections: big on whisky (especially single-malt scotch), a scattering of fancy Cognacs and some unique gins, and the rest is fairly pedestrian.

This selection was considerably more diverse, in all categories. A menu that pairs rhum ­agricole in a category with cachaça (both sugarcane-based) but differentiates them from ­molasses-based rum? Someone's been paying attention.

On Swann is a new addition to Hyde Park Village in South Tampa. It fits in nicely, with a smart, simple interior lined with ceiling-high windows looking out to the street corner, complementing the open-air vibe of the village.

It's sunny and open inside, with a breezy, one-room feel. The kitchen is open and tucked into the back corner, next to the bar. The dining section takes up the rest, with flat-gray exposed air ducts overhead and smooth wood floors ­beneath.

The rest of the neo-rustic look is tied together with weathered bricks, blue-black-and-brown tile work and blue wall panels. On the dining ­tables, fresh plants and flowers in metal watering cans. Straight out of a hipster wedding.

The bar area has a similarly simple look. The bottles are stacked onto high shelves, requiring a ladder. Fresh fruit, herbs and various bitters line the back counter. Although the online menu cites only wine and base spirits, On Swann actually does serve a fair selection of beer, as well as several appealing cocktails.

I went with Ella's Gimlet, a cucumber-lime cooler that features Hendrick's, Bitter Truth cucumber bitters, sage and sweet lime juice, garnished with a thin cucumber slice and served in a beautifully ornate cocktail glass.

Geneva went with the Sunrise Daiquiri, a thoroughly potent summer drink made with Madagascar vanilla-infused Bacardí, lime and demerara sugar. Like Ella's, this was very much on the sweeter side, with a delicious, fruit-sorbet flavor.

These two, and other cocktails on the list, were clearly weighted to the sweeter, almost dessert cocktail end of the spectrum.

I'm always excited by the sight of more than a few unfamiliar labels behind the bar, and there are plenty on the shelves at On Swann. Swedish aromatic bitters? Four different gins from Scotland? Rum and single-malt whisky from India's Amrut distilleries? Credit to bar manager ­Vicente Lavayen — there's lots to explore.

I settled on Brenne, a single-malt whisky from the Cognac region in France that the distillery described on its website as "full of fruit-forward and complex-sugar notes; like rich crème brûlée, burnt caramel, bananas, tropical fruits and warm spices like cinnamon and clove." It was refreshingly different: impossibly smooth, with a nose like one of those jelly-filled strawberry hard candies and a lightly sweet, mildly oaked flavor. I love trying new stuff.

At lunch, On Swann's dining area was at ­capacity, but there were several bar stools open. Don't interpret that as a sign the bar program is anything less than fantastic.

The cocktails are as good as you would expect from a swank eatery in a nice part of town, but the unique and carefully selected spirit selection elevates it to a different level, one full of new names and unfamiliar faces.

[email protected]; @WordsWithJG

   
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