CVIndependent

Tue12102019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Sometimes, when you feel like you may have run out of inspiration, you have to go back to the beginning.

Allow me to explain myself.

I sometimes wonder how much of a cocktail scene there is left to cover in the Coachella Valley. Most of my “research trips” land me in yet another Moscow mule or margarita joint—one after another. Don’t get me wrong; these can be fine drinks when properly executed. In fact, these are perfectly sane choices for many establishments, whose clientele or menus warrant keeping things simple and refreshing … but as far as I am concerned, I don’t think anyone wants to read the musings of a Moscow mule correspondent.

After more than a few of these outings this month, I was feeling a little uninspired. (By the way: Shoot me a line if there is a bartender/program you think I should spotlight, especially if it’s in the valley outside of Palm Springs.) Then I remembered that there was a glaring hole in my coverage.

I have never truly written about Seymour’s, located inside Mr. Lyons at 233 E. Palm Canyon Drive. Yeah, I mentioned that I worked there, and shared a recipe or two, but I never really wrote about it; some sort of journalistic integrity prevented me from self-promoting columns. It’s only now, after at least six months of being back in Palm Springs, that it dawned on me that I never gave one of the top cocktail bars in Palm Springs its due. Now that I work elsewhere, I can finally do so.

In case you have ever wondered how this vodka-bashing Boston curmudgeon began terrorizing your local bar scene … let’s just say I was here on vacation from the San Diego suburbs, and yadda yadda yadda, I got offered a job as the first bartender at Seymour’s (following co-owner Steen Bojsen-Möller). The rest is history. The two of us rocked it behind the stick for a few months, trying to get people to walk into a steakhouse and go through the heavy velvet curtain to find us. Then Zane Tessay joined the team, and the three of us put up with caravans of people walking through and rubbing their hands on everything, saying, ‘Ooh, great space!’ … and not buying a darn drink. Let me tell you: Building a bar clientele in a place without a sign or an address ain’t easy. But we did it. It took lots of pretzels.

The reality is that a bar is more than drinks, and Seymour’s is a perfect example. It has a great back bar, a two-way mirror that hides a TV (campy ’80s movies and commercials are regular features), a spectacular patio setup and a hip playlist; Seymour’s could serve only vodka-sodas, and I would show up. The drinks are really tasty, though, with a wide range of both classics and originals.

The Little Owl—Steen’s mix of rye whiskey, walnut liqueur, amaro and IPA syrup (take IPA and boil it down; then add sugar; and … actually, don’t do it; it’ll stink up your house)—is a bartender’s after-work favorite. “Zane’s Avocado Drink” (it will never have another name to me) is a creamy, spa-ready mix of gin, mint, lime and, yes, avocado. Avocado isn’t your thing? Try the Ocotillo Blossom, a mix of bourbon, bell pepper and egg white. Steen’s Desert Yardarm (vodka, yellow chartreuse, basil, lemon and soda) and Chamo Car (chamomile-infused brandy, lemon and black-pepper honey) are guest favorites as well.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention “Gin N Jams,” the Wednesday night tradition with discounted gin drinks and rockin’ old vinyl on a classic turntable. Feel free to bring a record or three from your own collection.

Speaking of former co-workers and beautiful bars, there is now, finally, Paul. I had the pleasure of working with proprietor Paul O’Halloran at Mr. Lyons during my tenure at Seymour’s. On our nights behind the bar together, it was a rare combination of New York and Boston—one part Broadway, one part Fenway. I have known for some time that he and his husband (also named Paul) were opening a bar (with food!) of their own at the corner of Vista Chino and Gene Autry Trail—so it goes without saying that I have been waiting to see this place open.

I am thrilled with the results. This place has personality. The original back bar looks straight out of a movie; the fact that it was previously sitting unloved in an empty place is a sin. The walls are a tasteful dark hue, and there are subtle faux-Chinese touches appropriate to the address.

Despite Paul’s background, this ain’t no “craft cocktail” bar. Yes, the cocktails are certainly crafted, but don’t look for a list of drinks with clever names and occult ingredients. Come here for a properly made dry martini—like the one I had on my first visit, with the lavender-forward Dorothy Parker gin. This, of course, led to my quoting her famous quatrain regarding martinis … which after a little digging, I learned that she likely never wrote—but she did at least inspire it.

Drink anything you want here—as long as it’s a proper drink. Want a margarita to go with the guacamole and chips? De nada. A negroni with your homemade meatballs? Prego. Have a Manhattan with your steak frites, or Cosmopolitans to live out your Carrie Bradshaw moments. While I am sure a Last Word cocktail wouldn’t be a problem, please don’t ask for muddled lychee and cilantro.

When I asked Paul if he had anything he wanted to say, he thought for a second and said: “No more than two checks.” Bravo.

The sign outside just says “Bar/Food,” and the place is wedged between a carneceria and what appears to be some sort of cannabis operation. Paul may look like it’s closed. It’s not. Bring a photo of your pooch for the nascent “Wall of Dogs.” I realize this just sounded like something Stefon would tout on Saturday Night Live. Trust me, it’s a real place.

Forgive me if this whole piece seems like a cheap endorsement of my friends—but if you haven’t been to either of these places, you really should go check them out. I would gladly drink a Moscow mule in either bar. That’s high praise.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Cocktails

I know harried parents are going to roll their eyes at this statement, but here it is: I love going to the supermarket.

When life gets a little too hectic, when the world at large seems a little too hopeless, I have the joy of walking up and down aisle after aisle of options, just sitting there waiting for me. There’s need to till the soil or pluck a chicken—my privileged First World butt can just stroll around, putting things in my cart, to the smooth sounds of No Jacket Required-era Phil Collins. It’s a beautiful thing, a little adventure.

In many ways, it’s similar to residing in Palm Springs. I can just start walking around and have a unique experience without planning or getting behind the wheel: Just walk around, maybe a little farther than you normally would, and you’ll find something unexpected. (Phil Collins is strictly optional.) If you’re lucky, you might find rye-whiskey cocktails.

A disclaimer: There is nothing wrong with bourbon. America should be proud to have it as our most-famous spirit. We can hold our own with Scotland or any other place that wants to have an argument about spirit supremacy. But it’s been stealing the spotlight for too long: While $250-retail bottles of bourbon sell on the secondary market for thousands of dollars or get collected like so many Ted Williams rookie cards, most ryes have gone under the radar (with a few expensive and notable exceptions). Thanks to the noble efforts of craft bartenders all over the country, however, that is beginning to change.

I have been on a rye-whiskey kick for a little while (OK, for several years), and I love seeing it on menus. I love working with it, too. When a customer orders a Manhattan or an old fashioned, and I ask, “Bourbon or rye?” he or she often hesitates and looks like he or she is trying to figure out the correct answer. There is no correct answer, of course, but—dirty little secret here—when the answer is, “Uh, rye?” I offer a little half-smile and a nod of approval.

Rye has a lean and spicy profile that (especially the 100-proof stuff) makes a great foil for unctuous and herbal vermouths and barky bitters. As a bonus, it’s pretty good for keeping warm on chilly winter nights in the desert. With this in mind, I gathered a motley crew of merrymakers and set out on an impromptu adventure down Palm Canyon Drive.

The first stop was Dish Creative Cuisine, which wasn’t on my cocktail radar at the time; we were just going to meet some people there. As I took my seat at the semi-subterranean bar, I did my obnoxious size-up-the-bar-program thing. Some quality products are back there. Wait … are those homemade syrups? I ordered a rye concoction with housemade brown butter-infused Crater Lake rye, maple syrup and lemon juice, from bartender Morray. My first sip was good, and as the drink diluted a little bit, the flavors really started to express themselves. The nose is kettle corn, which increases on the palate. The maple syrup is subtle, and the lemon is just enough to balance the drink without intruding. The rye spice comes on the tail end. Whiskey sours include egg white partly to soften astringent flavors that lemon brings out of whiskey. The butter infusion (we call this process a “fat wash” in the business) does much of the same. I found out that chef Joane Garcia-Colson makes the infusions and syrups for the bar program. Nice!

A short walk got us to Trio, which even on a Tuesday was packed during happy hour. I resigned myself to exile at a high-top table. The downfall of traveling in a group is rarely finding enough bar seats, meaning I can’t bother the bartender with endless questions about ingredients and whatnot. The drink list was sizable, though, and I decided to keep the rye party going with a “Green Walnut Boulevardier”: Knob Creek rye, Campari, walnut liqueur, sweet vermouth, orange bitters and an orange peel. The addition of walnut to a classic boulevardier was a nice touch; walnut and rye are beautiful together. The drink starts sweet and spicy, with a hint of walnut in the middle, and it’s bitter and citrusy on the finish. Basically, it’s the classic drink with a subtle twist. The orange bitters and peel together with Campari could be a bit intense for some tipplers, but if you like a bittersweet flavor profile, give it a try in place of a Negroni or Manhattan.

Now that the whiskey train was running full-steam, it was time to visit the brown-liquor emporium which is Bar, just another short walk away. I grabbed an open bar seat, blatantly disregarding my cohorts, and said: “Make me something with rye!” Proprietor Donovan Funkey popped out of seemingly nowhere, gave the aforementioned half-smile and approving nod, and made me “The Chancellor”: a mix of Rittenhouse rye, Luxardo amaro and crème de cassis. It has black currant and baking spice on the nose, which is nice this time of year. On the palate, it’s slightly sweet and oaky up front, with a spicy and bitter finish. It’s on the menu as a bourbon drink, so make sure to ask for the rye version if you want to re-create the experience.

Several more rye whiskies were tasted in the name of research, and that was about it for the night’s adventure; I was fully warmed up and satisfied.

If you are looking for a little more of a rye-whiskey adventure, poke your head behind the heavy black velvet curtain at Mr. Lyons to check out Seymour’s, where we do a drink called the “Little Owl.” Since that’s a long walk from downtown, here’s the recipe, courtesy of Steen Bojsen-Moller:

• 2 ounces of Rittenhouse rye

• 1/4 ounce of Charbay black walnut liqueur

• 1/4 ounce of IPA syrup (boil down your favorite India pale ale, and add sugar to taste)

• a few dashes of Angostura amaro (not Angostura bitters; you can sub a different amaro)

Stir; serve on the rocks with a twist of orange.

The next time you stroll around downtown in Palm Springs, think about how nice it is to have so many options laid neatly, up and down in a row. Gather a crew of revelers, and set out on your own whiskey-fueled adventure. It’s just as convenient as a supermarket—but with better drinks and music.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Seymour’s/Mr. Lyons and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Cocktails

After we created the Facebook event page for the Non-Alcoholic Cocktail Championship, a well-meaning friend commented: "I'm confused. Non-Alcoholic? Why bother?"

Here's why: There are many, many people who do not drink alcohol—for a variety of reasons. Yet all of those people still go into bars and restaurants with friends who do imbibe—and their drink choices are often severely limited, to soda, juice, coffee, tea and perhaps a really bad nonalcoholic beer. 

It does not have to be this way: Non-drinkers deserve tasty cocktails, too—and it's indeed possible to create cocktail-style drinks without alcohol.

This point was illustrated masterfully on Saturday, Nov. 19, at Gelson's in Rancho Mirage, during the Non-Alcoholic Cocktail Championship, a production of the Independent's Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week. While a couple of contestants dropped out at the last minute due to work commitments, the two contestants—Kevin Carlow of Seymour's/Mr Lyons (and, it should be noted, an Independent contributor) and Joey Tapia of New York Company—proved with their delicious cocktails that alcohol is not needed for a drink to be downright tasty.

The judges—the Independent's Garrett Dangerfield; Kristin Stahr of Gelson's; Alexis Ortega of the LGBT Community Center of the Desert; and Doug VanSant of reigning Best Local Band (according to readers voting in the Best of Coachella Valley) The Flusters—had split opinions on which drink was best. However, Tapia—who won the Audience Choice Award two nights before at the Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Championship—and his watermelon-based drink edged out Carlow and his deliciously sweet, vinegary cocktail.

Below are photos from the event.

Published in Snapshot