Monday, November 20, 2017
Bars & Spirits

Bar review: Tiki drinks and more at Ché, under Ceviche in St. Petersburg

RECOMMENDED READING


On an ordinary, balmy night, Geneva and I parked near the seawall and walked across the street to the Ponce de León Hotel, a 1920s-era landmark that was St. Petersburg's first major hotel on the waterfront.

Nowadays, the hotel is just as well known for Ceviche, the restaurant located at its base. We followed the bright red glow emanating from the thin, street-level windows of the lower-level bar and descended a small brick staircase into Ceviche's new cocktail lounge, Ché, which opened late last month.

Normally, I like to wait at least a few weeks after a new place opens before I visit (to give the staff time to work out the inevitable kinks), but Ché is not entirely new; Ceviche has run popular live music nights in its "basement" bar for years now, with Ché representing a remodel/rebranding more than anything. I got a tip that Ché had launched a new Latin-inspired cocktail menu, and I could hardly think of a better fit for the current weather, so it was an easy exception.

Inside, the place was dark. It reminded me of the Peppermill Fireside Lounge in Vegas, only with red neon instead of purple. Dark, intimate, and cool, in a way that's hard to build into a place by design. In Ché's case, this is partly due to the unusual building structure, with a lower level more akin to something you'd find in Chicago or Brooklyn than in St. Petersburg. It felt a little "underground," in both the literal and figurative sense.

The interior shot straight back, leaving room for a bar along one wall, lantern-lit booths along the other, and a large dance floor in the middle, facing a tiny, low-ceilinged stage where local singer and guitarist Hector Mayoral was setting up.

We'd been to Ceviche's underground bar before to check out the live music, and I've frequently been blown away by the caliber of musicianship and sound. That tradition has carried over into the new Ché lounge, featuring live music five nights a week, with regular performances from Mayoral, Jose Maria Moreno, Havana Blue and the Sombras Flamencas flamenco show. These live shows can get pretty packed and sweaty, which is even cooler with Ché's new red neon look.

Our bartender arrived, dressed in what appears to be the house uniform of floral print collared shirts, just like in the hotel bars of the Caribbean that Ché takes much of its inspiration from. While Ceviche has many great house cocktails, a full new menu has been designed for Ché, drawing from the early tiki scene of Southern California, as well as the tropical cocktails from Haiti, Puerto Rico and Cuba.

The cocktail menu — designed by local ad and design company Pyper Young — is absolutely gorgeous, consisting of thick, ring-bound cards, each of which has a cocktail on the front with tasting notes, ingredients and history on the back. It may seem odd to focus on the physical menu itself, but between the fantastic, functional design and the historical background details of each cocktail, I could've spent a lot of time working on the thing.

We started with the Tropical Itch, a Joe Scialom creation for the Caribe Hilton from 1957, and the East 8 Hold Up, a more recent vodka-Aperol-pineapple-lime-passionfruit affair created by London-based bartender Kevin Armstrong. True to form, the Tropical Itch had the spirit-forward potency of the classic tiki cocktails, while the East 8's inclusion of Aperol as a foil to the otherwise fruit-heavy taste gave it a refreshing complexity, with just a slight bitterness.

Next up was the Zombie, the 1934 classic borrowed from Don the Beachcomber, and this, we were told, has a one-per-customer limit. It took a while to come out, but when it did — complete with tiki statue-shaped glass — we found it worth the wait. It's an authentic Zombie, and the one-per-customer thing is probably not a joke.

Finally, the M-1, another Scialom libation, but this time created for the London Hilton in 1964. This was an interesting mix: Famous Grouse Scotch, Cointreau and a generous serving of fresh tangerine juice. Smoky and citrusy. I couldn't imagine it fitting in better in the London Hilton than it did at Ché during a hot May night, honestly.

Ché offers a different take on cocktail culture than you'll find at other great spots in town, like the Mandarin Hide, Cask & Ale and Proof, in a building that probably even served some of the same cocktails back in its own heyday. From its physical location, to its live music to the tightly focused theme of its cocktail program, Ché is one of the more notable spots in downtown St. Pete. After our visit, I'd say the new look and direction is off to a good start.

[email protected]; @WordsWithJG.

Comments
How to make a pie from scratch: filling ideas, decorating tips, crust recipes and more

How to make a pie from scratch: filling ideas, decorating tips, crust recipes and more

Perfect your crust. Try new filling recipes. Learn some decorating tricks. And prepare for the biggest pie day of the year: Thanksgiving.   From apple to thyme You’ve got the crust down. Now it’s time to choose a filling for your holid...
Published: 11/17/17
Thanksgiving 101: Everything you need to prepare for the big cooking day

Thanksgiving 101: Everything you need to prepare for the big cooking day

From appetizers to pies and everything in between, we’re here to help you put together a low-stress Thanksgiving spread. Ideas for sidesThese recipes go beyond the traditional, with a corn casserole, Brussels sprout salad and moreSee what our food ed...
Published: 11/17/17
Thanksgiving sides beyond the classics: corn casserole, Brussels sprouts salad, pecan pie carrots

Thanksgiving sides beyond the classics: corn casserole, Brussels sprouts salad, pecan pie carrots

There are probably a handful of essentials, things you must have on the Thanksgiving table lest some family members begin to riot. But I find there are often a couple of slots open for new things, chances to get weird or creative or, gasp, healthy. ...
Published: 11/17/17
How to make solid turkey gravy before Thanksgiving Day

How to make solid turkey gravy before Thanksgiving Day

As far as we’re concerned, anything you can make in advance of actual Thanksgiving Day is a good thing, and this make-ahead gravy fits the bill. Plus, Tucker Shaw of America’s Test Kitchen says it tastes just as good as if you made it wi...
Published: 11/17/17
How to plan your Thanksgiving menu

How to plan your Thanksgiving menu

Planning a really good menu is the stealth approach to being a really good cook. Here are some tips from the experts. New York Times Put some thought into the menu What leaves an impression is not only the dishes you can make, but also how they t...
Published: 11/17/17
Everything you need to know to prepare your Thanksgiving turkey

Everything you need to know to prepare your Thanksgiving turkey

The turkey is the unquestioned star of the Thanksgiving meal. It can be the most daunting part as well. But with a little planning and care, it doesn’t have to be.   Before you start • A decent roasting pan, one heavy enough that it wo...
Published: 11/16/17
Taste test: prepared mashed sweet potatoes

Taste test: prepared mashed sweet potatoes

If you want to spend more time with your family and friends this holiday season and less time in the kitchen, our judges suggest serving Hormel’s mashed sweet potatoes. No need to wash, peel and heat potatoes. Just pop the container in the microwave ...
Published: 11/16/17
From the food editor: An expert weighs in on how to stay calm this Thanksgiving

From the food editor: An expert weighs in on how to stay calm this Thanksgiving

I can tell right away that Tucker Shaw has thought about Thanksgiving a lot, and not just as a home cook. As the editor in chief of Cook’s Country, a member of America’s Test Kitchen and the former dining critic and food editor at the Denver Post, Sh...
Published: 11/16/17
Bar review: The swank CW’s Gin Joint in downtown Tampa

Bar review: The swank CW’s Gin Joint in downtown Tampa

I was thinking a bit about the ubiquitous speakeasy trend and it occurred to me that the nucleus of the thing isn’t flapper dresses, moustaches or suspenders, but rather the suggestion of exclusivity — of being cool, in-the-know and invited to the se...
Published: 11/16/17
Local craft beer of the week: Pep in Yo Step Double IPA, Infusion Brewing Co.

Local craft beer of the week: Pep in Yo Step Double IPA, Infusion Brewing Co.

Pepper beers walk a fine line. The best ones, as is the case with most spicy endeavors, are as much about flavor as they are heat.Some, like Twisted Pine’s Ghost Face Killah, exist almost solely to push the boundaries of what one person can consume (...
Published: 11/16/17