Travel anywhere, and you will find Little Rock is a bit of an anomaly in the cocktail scene. The strength of the market is in restaurants, not the average bar with a few exceptions. This is in large part due to the food requirements set on establishments that make so that if you want to build a bar you practically have to have a full restaurant along with it.
A good number of restaurants have stepped up their game in the last few years and have built amazing bar programs. You can now easily add Table 28 to that list.
It was not always the case, early on their cocktails were lacking. Just a short cocktail list that was just a second thought compared to their great wine selection. That all changed when now manager Alex Horvath took over the bar.
“Our food here is so perfectly crafted, bringing together flavors and unexpected combinations to make a perfect dish,” Horvath says. “I feel like the bar program has to match that level of craft. So we have spent the last couple of years getting there. Now we have a great, creative bar staff that can develop and execute well.”
It has indeed been a progression, but the latest menu is hitting on the same level of quality as the food menu. It comes by taking some risks, very similar to how the food menu stands strongly among other menus in the same category across the city.
One of my favorites is the Tequila Me Softly. It is like a tequila-based tiki drink with an approach you have not seen. They use Pineapple Kombucha as the key mixer, something I’ve not come across before. It is light, a little funky, and overall a quality drink for any tiki lover.
They are also experimenting heavy with fat washing. The Thank You, Mr. Lee pays homage to the technique of fat washing’s founder, Don Lee. It is the more traditional approach to fat washing using bacon to impart a strong bacon flavor and aroma onto a Rock Town whiskey based old fashioned style cocktail.
The Buttery Perfection takes the same technique, only using brown butter as the fat base with the Rittenhouse Rye for an extremely flavorful Manhattan-style drink. To me this is the one where the technique really shines, the butter comes through heavy on the nose and smooth on the finish. It is also not the traditional use of this method, which pairs well with other non-traditional uses of ingredients and techniques found throughout the restaurant.
There are other non-traditional takes on classics. For example, the MacElhone 75 is a different take on a French 75 using a Calvados Original which is a brandy instead of the traditional gin. It changes the entire dynamic of the drink.
It is a cocktail menu worth exploring, and, along with their amazing happy hour specials on food, it is one that should even be a destination for a pre-dinner drink and snack regardless of where you go.