Bitters brings clever cocktails and inspired food to SkySong
December 3, 2017
By Niki D’Andrea
Erika Rode, owner of the new cocktail bar Bitters in SkySong, points to a burnt-orange-colored cocktail on the bar. The drink – made with habanero vodka, falernum, lime and mango – is one of the most popular tipples at Bitters, and frankly, it’s a lot sweeter than any of my exes. Juicy and fruity, The Bitter Ex is dangerously drinkable. If breakfast booze is a thing, this cocktail is king. It would pair perfectly with everything from waffles to poached eggs and bacon.
The crafty and clever cocktail is one of 17 on Bitters’ specialty cocktail menu. Each one has the word “Bitter” in its name and is accompanied by a pithy quote. Some of the cocktails put a creative spin on traditional favorites – for example, the Bitter, Old and Fashionable, which builds a comforting spice palate on the old bourbon-and-orange base with the addition of hazelnut and chocolate bitters. If a traditional Old Fashioned is a hard slap on the back, the Bitter, Old and Fashionable is a gentle tummy rub.
That’s the overall vibe at Bitters – comfortable and welcoming. The wraparound bar is in the center of the establishment, surrounded by flat-screen TVs and bathed in light spilling through panoramic windows. There’s also a large, dog-friendly patio with an up-close view of the colossal aluminum SkySong sculpture by local artist Pam Castano. Rode says, “The building came with a dirt floor,” and she did a lot of the renovations herself, including all the flooring and the woodwork around the bar. Servers at Bitters all wear polka-dotted shirts and bow ties. The whole place feels fresh and fun, right down to the Top 40 and pop music gently pulsing danceable beats from the speakers.
In addition to Bitters’ cocktails, there’s also a coterie of craft beers (including 12 on tap) and fine wines. Happy hour runs from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and specials vary by day: Tuesdays are “Tequila Tuesdays,” with $7 margaritas and tequila sunrises; hump day is “Wine Wednesdays” with $10 off bottled wine selections; “Thirsty Thursdays” are sated by $5 draft beers; and “Feature Fridays” include a bartender cocktail for $7. Happy hour food specials include $5 fried pickles, $7 pork nachos and $9 flatbread boards.
Speaking of the food, the menu is a result of Rode’s R&D all over the U.S. Before opening Bitters, she was an executive for Total Wine & More and traveled the states frequently to help open new locations. During a visit to Portland, Oregon, she stopped at a place that had a menu of artisanal popcorn. That inspired her to create the three haute, popped-to-order popcorn bowls on the Bitters menu – Arizona (tajin, cilantro lime salt, queso fresco); Truffled (truffle butter, truffle zest, truffle oil); and the most popular, the Honey Hot (curry dust, honey, pomegranate seeds, goat cheese drizzle). The latter is more honey than hot, but super tasty with a slight curry afterburn.
The menu features a “house slider,” which is different every day. On my visit, the house slider was an open-face hamburger slider gilded with rich and sharp white cheddar cheese and topped with a tangle of perfectly light and crunchy onions.
Fish fans will love the farro risotto and salmon, which features a perfectly grilled slab of salmon on a bed of risotto bathed in Brie, Parmesan, herbs and tomatoes.
Dessert options are all decadent, from a Peanut Butter Tower of peanut butter and chocolate mini-bombs with caramel drizzle to a stout milkshake, but we were won over by the amaretto cheesecake. Made with a salty pretzel crust and served with crushed blueberry sauce and caramel, this humble slice of pie makes the perfect ending to an epicurean affair. No need to be bitter.