2009 Best of Cleveland: Drink

Paper Bag Drinking
Now That's Class

11213 Detroit Ave., Cleveland
(216) 221-8576

OK, we fully realize you've probably never sought out a place to imbibe from a bottle wrapped in a paper lunch sack, but after learning you can do so, tell us you don't want to give it a shot. Now That's Class, a bar on the Cleveland-Lakewood line, offers several varieties of spirits —none fine — served in said manner. Enjoy everything from Olde English Malt Liquor to Boone's Farm "wine" to MD 20/20. That's the one we chose. Sour Apple. It tasted delightfully like freshman year, and served as a reminder that while we never want to go back to that time in our life, we need that now and again. Plus, there's something gratifying about a muffled clank of cheers with pals.

Small-batch Brewery
Indigo Imp

3615 Superior Ave., Ste. 4201B, Cleveland
(216) 881-0650

It's not accurate to call Indigo Imp a one-man operation. Actually, there are two people behind downtown's newest brewery. Matt and Kathy Chappel launched their devilishly tasty line of beers last winter. Since then, they've brewed, bottled and distributed about 90 cases each week — by themselves. It's a monster job, and it's become a full-time one for Matt, who also personally delivers the beer to 17 Heinen's stores and a bevy of Greater Cleveland beverage outlets. "We built about the biggest brewery we could, and it is the smallest brewery you could succeed with," he says. It's a high-end brew, priced at just less than $10 per six-pack, and the golden-eyed gremlin on the label makes you give it a second look. So does the gimmick of dipping one bottle from every six-pack in wax — a different color for each of the Imp's four flavors: Blonde Bombshell, Winter Solstice, Jester and Gatekeeper. If this beer doesn't have your attention yet, crack one open. It will then.

Gypsy Bean & Bakery Co.

6425 Detroit Ave., Cleveland
(216) 939-9009

Niki Gillota may be a cultured coffee connoisseur who has ventured through the dense jungles of South America and traversed the French countryside, but she still always remembers her neighborhood regulars by name at Gypsy Bean & Bakery Co. She serves up an espresso shot made from four beans roasted three different ways, waits for your palate to process its flavor, and then checks in with, "How is it, sweetheart?" Amazing. Gillota spent six months taste-testing combinations of beans before finding the perfect blend of sweet, dark and nutty flavors. She presses the locally roasted beans in an imported manual espresso machine, using her expert barista skills to concoct a balance of temperature, water and pressure to form a hearty shot capped with a rich, heavy cream akin to the foam of a Guinness. "It's espresso in its truest nature," she says.

Herb-infused Martini
Three Birds Restaurant

18515 Detroit Ave., Lakewood
(216) 221-3500

It's hands down the best martini we've ever had, yet it's also the most sent-back drink served at Three Birds Restaurant. Blame it on the herb. A strawberry pineapple basil martini is not something to order on a whim, because basil, unlike mint, is not some take-it-or-leave-it garnish. You love it or hate it, and it's the same for this drink. "We just like to try new things," says Alexa Feckanin, the bartender who created the drink along with fellow mixologist Nick Longauer. "It happened to be amazing. Gin is made from a plant as well, and the two together give it that fresh flavor." As you lift the glass, you smell it first — the smell of summer, the smell of a Caprese salad eaten on your patio or a good bruschetta made with tomatoes and basil just picked from your garden. Doesn't sound good? Stick with a cosmo, you wuss.

Tequila Tasting
Lopez Southwestern Kitchen

2196 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights
(216) 932-9000

Forget everything you know about shooting tequila. Discard the limes and throw away the salt. The four sipping tequilas served in Seve's Flight at Lopez Southwestern Kitchen deserve better than to have their flavors dulled or slide quickly down your esophagus. No two of the 1-ounce pours, chosen by the bar staff for quality at a good price (ranging anywhere from $18 to $32 depending on the changing selection), were alike in color, flavor or aroma on our visit. The Corzo Reposado was spicy and smooth, as was the pink Centenario Rosangel Reposado. The Milagro Añejo had the most unusual flavor — made from blue agave roasted in cloves before fermentation, it packed a refreshing punch. But like any good sipping alcohol, it finished, and finished well. If you like to end your meal with a bit of a kick, you'll love option No. 4 on the cutting board — the Herradura Añejo. Aged 25 months in white oak barrels, this añejo mixes together hints of vanilla, cinnamon, caramel and pear like an expert pastry chef with a drinking problem. Sip on that.

Share this story: