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First Sip: Flask

Oct 29, 2014 | 17:30 Wed
More than half a decade after the speakeasy cocktail craze that has swept up cities like New York, Shanghai is experiencing its own. Well, we've got, like, three or so (hey, it's a start): Boulevard, Speak Low, and now Flask.

This latest of the bunch is fronted by a panini shop called The Press. But on my visit, no paninis were being served. Guests were bypassing the sandwich counter for a Coke machine that opens up to a clandestine booze lair. Inside it's fairly non descript. It's dark, furnished with low-slung tables, armchairs, and sofas. Perhaps the most notable design cue is a rack of glass carboys full of a liquid that looks like whiskey.

The menu is antiqued with scorches and smudges, so it looks like an artifact you'd find in your grandmother's attic. Drinks are divided into three categories: Ladies, Gents (both 90rmb across the board), and Prohibition Classics for 80rmb. Selection at the moment is limited, and everybody was too busy to tell me if there were any plans to grow the list.

Whoever designed the menu has a penchant for gin and whiskey. They're the bases in the lion's share of the drinks. But that's not to say there still isn't some variety. Most of their gin cocktails, for instance, feature a different brand, which in turn imparts a different flavor profile.

A lot of the drinks are variations from the cocktail canon. They add osmanthus wine to a Vesper, or longan, jujube to a Manhattan. Some of it works reasonably well; some of it is lost on me. One drink, the Robin Hood Roy (Scotch, sweet vermouth, and lemongrass), is served in a stainless steel flask, presented in a hollowed out book alongside a martini glass. It comes garnishes with a small chip of crispy, sweet soy-glazed eel on the end of a toothpick.

I see where they're going with this, but they don't quite cut it. Garnishes aren't just frilly things we stick in our glasses to keep our fingers busy while we drink. Proper garnishes actually add something, however subtle, to the cocktail. Olives impart a pleasant savory note to a Martini, An orange peel accentuates the aromatics of a Negroni. With the Robin Hood Roy, you get none of that, just a piece of crispy fish slowly getting soggy in your glass.

Still, the place has been consistently packed, I've heard, so they must be doing something right in someone's eyes. And besides, who among us isn't a sucked in the aura of illicit secrecy (whether real or perceived) that a bar like this exudes? It's worth checking out at least once.

For a listing of Flaskhere.