Several weeks back I sat down with Chris Parrott from Little River Restoratives to see what he was up to and sip on some incredible beverages. Since I don't drink I brought along my partner in crime to sip some of the naughtier concoctions. Needless to say, the drinks were amazing as always, but I was blown away by the food selections. What LRR is doing in terms of bar food is a new level – no peanuts or frito pie here, they have put a level of sophistication on modern classics that are a delightful companion to any drink. The care and calculation they put towards every cocktail is also evident in their food menu. Alright, let's get into it...
When did you guys open?
We opened right in the beginning of November.
Were you doing anything cocktail related before this?
Sure was, yeah. I was the beverage director for Tyler over at Millwright’s in Simsbury. I did all the wine ordering, I did the wine menu and I did the cocktail program.
When creating the food menu was the existing drink menu taken into account?
Yeah. You know originally we wanted a very minimal food menu, but when we settled on the location there was probably a little more opportunity to expand that a bit. Our food program is still developing, but it was always meant to be an accompaniment to the drink. We wanted to be a bar first, food second, whereas every other bar program that we respect around here is food first, bar second. So that was an important distinction for us when we started to figure out what we wanted to serve. Just about everything you’re gonna get can be eaten with your hands. Everything’s meant to be a drink in your hand, pop a bite in your mouth, have fun, talk… nothing where you have to stop and focus on that plate.
Are you native to the area?
I am, I am a local native. I grew up in Vernon and I’ve lived in Hartford and West Hartford for the past, almost ten years, but I now live in Simsbury. My son needs the school system out there, he’s special needs so we’ve relocated, but it was never a question of where I was gonna open up a bar.
Speaking of location, when I walk in I almost feel transported to Brooklyn, was this a conscious decision when designing the space?
Thank you. We do take that as a compliment. We want to bring a bigger city cocktail bar into Hartford, which prior to us I don’t think certainly existed in the area. So that was the goal all along, but it always feels weird when you hear someone day “wow, it’s kind of like Brooklyn”, because you don’t want to try too hard to be like that, but we don’t hide it. We out and out admit that we are trying to be a cooler, hipper, big city bar. Kristen, our bar manager is in the city every other week or so hitting spots that I recommend. I’m in there once a month or so hanging out, talking to guys. We want to develop as they do and we just really admire that kind of atmosphere and service and drink philosophy. It’s important to us to stay connected to what’s going on there. Admittedly though, I don’t drink as much in Brooklyn as people think I do when they look at this bar haha, I’m usually in the Lower East Side, but I hear you, there’s a couple on my list.
Who devised the cocktail menu and how often does it change?
Well, the cocktail menu is designed by me primarily, but Kristen has taken on more responsibility. I thought it was it was important when we opened up to kind of get my idea across first, which was based in classics, emphasis on tradition and technique instead of innovation, and now that we’re moving forward and we can innovate more – and Kristen’s much better at that than I am, so as we look to expand and no more concepts and stuff it’s important that she starts to take over the reigns here. The next drink you’re gonna have actually is an original from her. But it’s essentially the two of us working together, whether it’s the menu proper or an event that we’re doing, we always work in concert and collaborate. The brunch menu is the first thing we’ve ever done where it’s entirely original based on the concept of what we thought would translate or be fun, and we wanted drinks that make you feel better in the morning. That wasn’t necessarily the concern back in the heyday of the cocktail, or the golden age haha. The alcohol did the job itself asshole and you don’t need to be fancy right? So we kind of had to go in a different direction for that one, but we change the menu at least seasonally. But we update the menu more often than that. We’ll make the menu for summer and then two weeks in we’ll be like shit, we really should have thought of this drink, let’s reprint it and put that one on there, ya know. So the menu could really change daily if we’re inspired to do so, but we definitely have something planned for every season. The menu will most likely change again mid September, but if I know us it will probably change again before then.
Tell me what your personal views on the term “mixologist” are?
I love it! And here’s why – tradition. Back in the day mixology was an aspect of being a good bar man, and I think it still is true today. Now don’t get me wrong, a guy who is a mixologist who is too busy to talk to the guest and understand the broader experience is a jackass, right. He could make the most spectacular drink but it’s not gonna come off that way if he has a bad temperament and you just don’t wanna be around him. We don’t wanna be regarded as a scholastic mixology bar. To us, we’re kind of done with that. I’ve always been the kind of guy where drinking is fun for me, sometimes it’s a lot of fun, but none of us wanna get taken to school when they come out on a Friday night, and I feel like there’s that kind of stigma attached to the word now. It’s unfortunate to me because back in the day when making mixed drinks was a craft in a way. It was a title of distinction. I mean I don’t have a dog in the fight, but I like the word. I think it gets a bad rap now but there’s certainly no inherent harm in it, in wanting to pursue mixology. It’s a really cool aspect of bartending and it’s a lot of fun. It elevates the experience you can give a guest, so if you’re a mixologist get over it, but if you’re a bartender who studies mixology, awesome we need more of you.
Give me a couple describing words for the craft cocktail scene in 2016?
A return to fun. That kind of idea that there are rules of conduct and behavior are kind of out the window now, and they’ve been out the window for a while. So what do we do now in that empty space, is we’re adding more fun and more games and interactive stuff. A long time ago a guy who I really look up to in an interview said “There’ll be a day when a guy in a Mets hat is gonna make you a pitch perfect Aviation”. And I remember reading that and being like, holy shit that is the end game, where all these kind of beloved cocktail manifestations are kind of done in casual rooms where everyone has access to them and everyone enjoys it in a laid back atmosphere. So that’s been kind of carrying the wave now for a year or two. For us, I mean I’d love to have a bar with a shuffle board table in it, with like little cup holders on the rail and stuff. I’m in love with that, it’s like a private obsession of mine. I literally want to open a bar just to have those. Our motto, when we look into that concept is games are fun so long as you can do it with a drink in one hand and nobody’s good at any of them.
Otherwise, when you get into the drinks themselves, presentation is becoming a major game. Like themed menus, elaborate constructs around the drink, things like that I see creeping more and more into the main focus of what’s happening.
What are your favorite ingredients or bitters?
Rum! It’s an extraordinarily diverse spirit in terms of it’s expressions and what you can do with it. It works in so many different classic cocktail builds. I have a crush on that spirit hard core right now and I just can’t try enough rums. Bitters… bitters is funny to me because I kind of feel like the market’s getting a little flooded right now. I’m conflicted on the subject. First of all, any bitter that doesn’t have a bittering agent, we don’t use those here. We love Angostura, that one’s indispensable. I may be a little hazy on the details, but Angostura when prohibition hit was actually able to get their bitters classified as a non-potable, which allowed them to keep manufacturing or selling in the United States. I think everyone else was a little late to that party and ended up going out of business. Angostura endured because they had a better legal team, basically. But nonetheless we’re thankful for that because the product is superior. It works in the most amount of drinks, it adds something to everything it’s in. Orange and Peychaud’s we use a lot, we’re a big fan of the Bitter Truth line, which normally those are quite bitter but they have interesting flavor profiles. You kind of get caught in the tide with a lot of the modern drinks we wanna do, they call for these flavored bitters that aren’t necessarily traditional so you just kind of go with it. A lot of people ask if we make our own and the answer’s not yet. If there’s a flavor or a profile that we feel is necessary, we will, but I can’t tell you I’m not tempted by the idea of a Little River cocktail seasoning or bitters behind other places in the neighborhood. It’d be dope as hell.
You’ve been doing some cool pop-ups; Mercado, Yardbird, you’re doing your cool brunch thing now – do you have anything cool for people to look forward to in the future?
Yeah, we’re going to keep doing the food truck thing for the rest of the summer. Mercado, Whey Station’s coming, got a couple more in the works. After that we'll probably slip back into the mode of maybe having pop-up restaurants coming into the kitchen. The food trucks are great because it’s outdoors, it’s visible, it’s summery. There’s a bit of the visibility aspect where it works for both of us on a lot of levels, there’s that kind of cross pollination of fan bases. That’s huge. I feel like in a vaguer sense, we’re in the same lane so to speak. Cool cocktails and food trucks are kind of pushing the edge a little bit in terms of how people wanna spend their money on food and drinks. The partnership is almost pretty natural. Other than that we have a new concept, we have a ramen bar opening up in August.
Any closing statements, shout-outs or people you want to thank?
Shout out to Tyler Anderson, I mean he gave me a huge break at Millwright’s. He let me run amuck on his menu. I mean come on, a guy like that taking a chance on a knucklehead like me is ridiculous. There’s no reason for him to do that but I hope I did him proud. Literally that experience I had there led to the knowledge of opening up this place. I wouldn’t have gotten here without that leap. A huge shout out to all the bars in the Lower East Side that continue to inspire and inform us on a daily basis. I won’t go into specifics but there’s about a dozen of them that we’re totally in love with. Who else, my business partner Patrick Miceli who’s probably the only guy I met at the time who thought I had a shot in hell of putting something like this together. So he’s probably just as insane as I am haha. And the neighborhood’s been good, shout out to everyone around here.
Awesome, thank you!
This has been a special interview edition of BENN BREAKS BREAD, join me next week for a review of India in New Caanan, CT.