Arizona snowbirds arise! Lorri and I fled the Covid+Cold combo of New England this winter for Arizona and are currently in Tucson where the outdoor dining & drinking options are numerous. While lunching at Vero Amore we noticed an ad for their hidden-in-the-back-of-house speakeasy (“The Still“) and grabbed a Valentine’s Day reservation.
The Still is the eminent domain of bartender Cass (@pinupbartender), a nonstop fountain of energy and cocktail creativity and an excellent reason to get (properly COVID-spaced!) barstools if they’re available – outdoor seating on a patio in the back is also available. It’s a great space for a speakeasy-style bar, cozy but not cramped and featuring an impressive back bar with some notable whiskey selections (Cream of Kentucky, Old Elk, Rabbit Hole and the local single malt Del Bac).
My first selection was the Queen Anne, a Valentine Day’s special that Cass irresistibly described as tasting “just like the dessert cherry”. Oh, the nostalgia! When I was young, my professor father often received gifts from his students and a few times he got boxes of those precious cherries floating in fruity syrup encased in dark chocolate. Now I’m afraid to look up what kind of chemical nightmare was lurking in those synthetic bon bons … but to a tween in the 70’s inhaling a box of Queen Anne cherries was the height of decadent luxe!
It’s a tall order to recreate such a vivid and taste memory, but Cass’ rich, creamy, fruit-accented dessert concoction nailed it with frightening precision. The ingredients read like a mad scientist’s nightmare but somehow it all worked: Frangelico, Orange Brandy Liqueur (from local winery Flying Leap, an Amaro, Dulce de Leche and cleverly, the syrup from a jar of Amarena brandied cherries (a departure from the ubiquitous Luxardo cherries).
Always hankering for mezcal (Tucson is just 30 minutes from the Mexican border, so the agave spirits are well represented here – tequila and mezcal but also bacanora and sotol) Lorri went with the Cha Cha. A mezcal/tequila split paired with sweet vermouth, Bittermen’s Burlesque bitters and Luxardo syrup (the cherry brandy syrup theme was strong on this V-Day!) and served up! It reads like an agave Manhattan but was far more subtle and interesting – beautiful color, too!
While we snacked on steamed mussels (the Still offers Vero Amore’s entire menu!), Lorri got a daiquiri while I pointed out a rarely seen bottle of Meletti Anisette (their absinthe-like offering, not the typical Meletti amaro) and challenged Cass to use it. She went in a martini-like direction with a Tanqueray’s Seville Orange gin, vermouth, and a bit of lemon. Unexpected, complex and original – it’s for these bespoke experiences that we go to these kind of bars for!
The Still is open nights on Thursday through Saturday (reservations through the website recommended) and during Sunday brunch with full cocktail menu (rare for speakeasy-style bars) – we’ll definitely be back before returning to a (hopefully) thawed out Boston!