Bars and restaurants are playing it fast and loose with the word “experience” these days. Calling a dimly lit bar a speakeasy and charging $20 for a cocktail does not an experience make. But over at the Century Grand compound on Indian School and 36th Street – the playground of cocktail innovators Jason Asher, Rich Furnari, Jeff Holland, Mat Snapp, Kailee Asher and Jax Donahue – true experiences abound. At each of Barter & Shake’s three concepts – Platform 18, UnderTow and Grey Hen – visitors are truly immersed in all-encompassing other worlds, away from the pesky and depressing realities of our present one.
My partner and I were invited for media happy hours at all three, back-to-back, and we couldn’t book our Ubers fast enough. It was a boozy blitz of escapism that was most welcome on a hot summer eve when it felt like society was melting down all around us. I’ll be writing about each concept over the coming weeks.
Today we start with Platform 18, the long, narrow bar fashioned into a Pullman train car in the Roaring ’20s. Our menus boast the fanciful narrative The Man Behind the Curtain, a suspenseful tale of bootlegger Hollis Cottley Pennington and his train stuck in a winter storm. Look outside the bar’s “windows” (TV screens) and you’ll see stunning scenery whiz by – snowy expanses of land, rushing streams and powder-covered forests. The “conductors” (bartenders) wear button-ups, bow ties and suspenders. The glassware has an old-fashioned decadence, like it was boosted from the Vanderbilts. There’s a glamorous freneticism in the bar, glitzy and dizzying, like Champagne going straight to your head.
No food at the Century Grand complex – unless you count the house-made alcohol-infused ice creams and sorbets. At Platform 18, you can indulge in the Bootlegger: vanilla bean ice cream infused with Westland Sherry cask American single-malt whiskey and Lustau Península Palo Cortado Sherry, finished with 18-year-old balsamic vinegar and toasted hazelnuts ($8), or the Civility is Champion: passionfruit sorbet infused with Mount Gay XO aged Barbadian rum, Peychaud’s aperitivo lime and grapefruit, finished with 20-year-old Sherry vinegar and a petite pour of Perrier-Jouët Champagne. Two other options tempt, one with gin-infused strawberry sorbet and another with bourbon-infused coconut milk ice cream.
If you need heartier sustenance, pre-game with appetizers at one of the many restaurants in the area, with a burger at The Stand or with a slew of sliders at Chicago Hamburger Co. Who doesn’t like a little cheesy, greasy base for their boozin’?
Happy hour is a newer offering at the Century Grand spots, debuting just this year. Select cocktails are discounted 20 percent. Five at Platform 18 enjoy happy hour pricing: The Man Behind the Curtain, Silver Dollar, Star Shaped Scar, Linen Closet and Philanthropist. “We chose cocktails that were already popular,” says our conductor Courtney, who’s wearing dehydrated citrus earrings she made herself – so cute, and so perfect for a mixologist.
I go for the Silver Dollar, a refreshing, gorgeously pink gin number garnished with a perfect red rose. It’s fruity from Giffard Crème de Pêche and strawberry, herbal from Nolet’s Gin and thyme, and bright from lemon and Perrier-Jouët Champagne. It’s sweet, but in a restrained, perfectly balanced way. “Who doesn’t want a strawberry French 75?” Courtney says.
My fella opts for the Philanthropist, an amber concoction served up in a martini glass. It has deep, dark and rich flavors of coffee and chocolate from chicory and cacao bean-infused Hennessey Privilege Cognac. Coconut essence, orange oils and Bittermen’s Tiki Bitters bring subtle tropical notes. Martini & Rossi Ambrato Reserve Vermouth, Campari, Giffard Abricot du Roussillon and Averna round it all out. “It’s tiki flavors, with sophistication,” Courtney explains.
Next time, I have my eye on the Linen Closet: Bacardi 8-year-aged Puerto Rican rum, plum brandy, Luxardo maraschino, hibiscus-infused Cointreau Noir, mint, pineapple, lime and Angostura bitters. And my sweet-toothed beloved will no doubt order the Bootlegger (see The Food, above) next time.
Update: Since my visit, Platform 18 has debuted a new menu! The drinks above are no longer available, but they represent the spirit of the bar. On your next visit, look for exciting new cocktails like the Clover Club (Nolet’s gin, Carpano dry vermouth, raspberry, lemon and egg whites) and the Crescent (Maker’s Mark 46 bourbon, Carpano Classico sweet vermouth, Bigallet Amer, raspberry and lemon oils). Check the website to see which cocktails will be discounted for happy hour. Similarly, the ice cream and sorbet menu has been updated. We have our eye on the Last Word Ice Cream (Citadelle gin, green Chartreuse, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, lime, cream, eggs and absinthe waffle cone) and the Singapore Sling Sorbet (Hendrick’s gin, Benedectine, Rothman & Winter Orchard cherry liqueur and lime).
Happy hour runs Tuesday-Thursday from 4-6 p.m.
3626 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-739-1388, centurygrandphx.com/platform18-cocktail-bar