I arrived at Meat hungry; that was my first mistake. As I tripped up the back stairs of The Blind Pig and into a blank door under a red light, I passed a curing room with slabs of bacon and pork dangling in eerie blue light. My mouth watered as I entered the elegant exposed brick room that is Meat, the newest coolest bar in the newest coolest part of Louisville. Butchertown is apparently the new NuLu, and Meat's interior reflects the starkness of recently minted cool. There were high backed chairs and comfy couches, an empty stage and sketches of meat cuts behind the bar. As my party sat down with our menus and strained our eyes to read in the dimness, we realized something: Meat does not actually serve any meat. Meat is strictly a bar, specializing in Prohibition era cocktails.
The concoctions at meat are so complicated they require a key beneath the menu to figure them out. Various libations are designated as well-done (peewee drinking) medium (varsity drinking) and rare (professional drinking). There are also punches, house wines (red meat and white meat, get it?) and house beer (light meat and dark meat) as well as a prodigious little selection of sparkling, white and red wines.
Meat also has a rotating caddy of free snacks on the bar, salty squares of jerky, crunchy dried green beans, chocolate covered almonds. We sated ourselves on this and ordered cocktails. This was where I made my second mistake; I ordered from a waitress rather than slinking up to the bar and staring down a bartender. This may have been why it took us fully thirty minutes to get five cocktails. When the drinks finally came, they almost washed the memory of this hideous wait time out of my mind.
The Captain's Blood, with Bacardi Anejo Rum, house falernum, lime juice, demarara syrup and celery seed bitters, was my first drink of choice. It tasted spicy and mysterious, aptly named, aromatic with a little sliver of lime and piquant aftertaste. My next selection was Brown Sugar Snow, which sadly did not taste like brown sugar or snow, but mostly like rye whiskey and lemon with a sweetish froth.
The Elegant Mess and the Viking 75 were citrusy, and the Elegant Mess left the essence of fresh-squeezed grapefruit lingering against my lips. The Viking 75 includes lingonberry jam in the mix of ingredients, and the bite of that oft-overlooked arctic tundra berry was like a cross between a cranberry and a fruit roll-up. Speaking of candy, the Puerto Rican Wingman tasted strongly of root beer and coffee bitters, again with a citrus undertone that Meat's bartenders seem to be inordinately fond of. The Queen's Tea was bitterly fizzy and dark. Every drink was layered with different flavors, an blaze of musky rum here, a sparkle of carbonation there, a tint of zest.
I wanted to try everything on the menu, including a Pisco Sour that has "egg white" listed among the ingredients. But the exorbitant price of the drinks (ten dollars+) stopped my curiosity. The next time I pay ten dollars for a mixed drink, it had darn well better get to me in five minutes. FIVE MINUTES. In general, if I pay ten dollars for about four ounces of alcohol, I would prefer it be a dirty martini flavored with baby tears. That might take a little bit longer, since they have to make the baby cry enough to flavor my gin and vermouth, but for that I would wait.
Meat was a conundrum, or rather a collection of them. How can a place with such a fabulous atmosphere be so cold that half of us had to keep our coats clutched close? How can you have an intimate chat over admittedly delightful cocktails if the nondescript music is so loud you can't hear a word your companion is saying? How can it take thirty minutes to make five mixed drinks in a not at all crowded bar? How can a place called MEAT not have any ACTUAL MEAT? Will a speakeasy that caters to the ultra hip and nostalgic alike be able to attract a crowd that's willing to fork out for a ten dollar drink?
All of that being said, I think Meat is worth a visit. Why, you might ask? Because I wouldn't be a good critic if I wasn't as picky and persnickety and crotchety as I am. Meat has some truly fabulous cocktails, and the concept is pure brilliance. The interaction of the history of the area, the popularity of The Blind Pig, and the sudden apparently hip prohibition era cocktail movement all swirl together to make a memorable experience. Also, Meat is extremely new and is perhaps just finding its feet, figuring out what works. Meat is a great concept and it produces a great cocktail, they just need to iron out some kinks and tighten up some service. Go out to meet meat, because I hope to meet it again.
Photos: 1-5 Elizabeth Orrick, 6 Lindsay Smith