Arrr! Ever wonder why pirates always say that? Me too. I'd say it has something to do with all that rum they drink and the way it burns their throats on the way down.
Now Stillwater, a place that knows how to drink, has its very own "arrr"-inducing bar -- Smalley's Caribbean Barbeque & Pirate Bar.
While the drink list here has enough rum shots to make Captain Jack Sparrow wheeze, it also contains plenty of Caribbean cocktails capable of generating a refreshing "Ahhh."
Whatever your choice -- fiery shots or tropical drinks -- Smalley's is definitely a summer haven, located alongside the St. Croix in Stillwater's historic downtown.
The concept came from Tim McKee and Josh Thoma, the owners of La Belle Vie and Solera, and the joint is operated by Shawn Smalley, one of their longtime cooks and a piratey-looking fellow himself. The long-bearded chef stuck to crafting the spicy menu -- full of jerk chicken and ribs -- leaving the drinks menu to two bartenders.
Johnny Michaels, the mixologist behind La Belle Vie's bold cocktails, took his drink artistry for an island cruise at Smalley's, while bar manager Frank Brewer amassed a gigantic rum list that could match the Caribbean's rich diversity.
The owners remodeled the longtime Esteban's space to give it a shaggier Caribbean feel. But don't think you're going to see bartenders walking around with eye patches and parrots. The theme is more nuanced. Wooden rum barrels decorate the front bar. Around the corner is a huge Red Stripe mural, a nod to the famous Jamaican beer. They also have a cannon. The back bar opens up onto a quaint patio.
While Michaels will stay at La Belle Vie in Minneapolis, his presence is felt at Smalley's. The Caribbean cocktail list is anchored by an array of mojitos -- their pirate names, such as Blackbeard and Barbarossa, reference their respective flavors (blackberry and red berry pomegranate). Here are a few noteworthy cocktails:
Kingston: A Caribbean allspice rum with house-made grapefruit soda, this is a variation on the classic Hemingway Daiquiri. $7.50.
Big Bamboo: A mojito with house-made ginseng bitters and a syrup distilled from pureed ginger. $8.50.
Sunsplash: Michaels calls this the most mainstream drink on the menu. "It's a turbo-charged screwdriver," he said. Basically a bright orange, citrus tang punch, made with pineapple rum. $7.50.
The bar's rum list is pirate heaven. Or at the very least, a surefire way to grow hair on your chest. Rum is a large part of the Caribbean culture, so Brewer has tried to capture that depth with a long list of rum shots -- 45 and growing -- that represents the various islands.
Popular brands, ranging from $3 to $50 per shot, include Mount Gay (Barbados), Appleton Estate (Jamaica), British Navy Pusser's (Trinidad and Tobago) and Kilo Kai (Curacao).
Much of the pricing depends on how long the rum has been aged. The two most expensive shots are the $50 English Harbor, aged more than 20 years, and the $45 Pyrat 1623, which is a blend of rums -- some aged 40 years. Brewer said he sold both shots to one connoisseur recently.
"It's one thing to sell a $45 shot to a customer, and another thing to have him turn around and order the $50 one," Brewer said.
If you want to try a few different rums without going broke, order a rum flight, which they call the Walk the Plank. It's three small premium shots served on a wood plank. The set changes daily and is usually about $12.
If you think treating rum like wine is a little too prissy, then here's a good tip when ordering at Smalley's. Ask for a shot called the Kill-Devil. The $3 shot is a tribute to the origins of Caribbean rum, which was first created when locals discovered that sugarcane byproducts like molasses could be fermented into alcohol. They called it Kill-Devil, Michaels said, because of its harsh taste. Smalley's version is a mixture of stuff, including Bacardi 151.
"If an actual pirate came in here and asked for a shot, this is what we would give him," Michaels said. "It's a drink for today's pirate."
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