BY RYAN HICKEY
If you walk through the well-lit charm of Grape & Grain Exchange, past the bottles of Fernet Branca and the cooler of local beer, you’ll come to a large teak bookcase. Give it a hard shove, and it will reveal The Parlour, a jazzy speakeasy with some of the best cocktails in town. It’s one of the better kept secrets in Jacksonville, and that adds to the élan and appeal of the place.
Perhaps the secret is too well kept, as The Parlour recently reduced its hours of operation to three days a week. In response, bar manager Blair Redington decided to update the cocktail menu every week. “If you’re only gonna be open three days a week, why not make it the freshest menu in town?” he said as he strained a mixture of bourbon, blueberry syrup, lime, and hellfire bitters into a highball glass filled with pebble ice. The result was summery and refreshing.
Redington meets here every Wednesday with fellow bartenders Ryan Rosenberry and Tyler Benfield for their informal “cocktail lab,” which amounts to an hour and a half or so of boozy experimentation. On the night I visited, a few friends are in attendance, one girlfriend, a Koval whiskey representative, and two dogs. The typical schedule for the weekly enterprise is for each bartender to do their homework: contemplate an interesting drink, acquire the necessary ingredients, play with it, and then present the results to the group. Of the nine cocktails developed over the course of the evening, four will be added to the new menu.
“If you can infuse it, we’ll put it in a cocktail,” said Benfield while muddling a strawberry. While The Parlour experiment is happy to range far and wide in their research, they clearly prefer fresh ingredients. All infusions, syrups, and juices are made in house, and produce is locally sourced from Dover’s Produce at the Beaver’s Street Farmer’s Market and Fresh Health Natural Market Co-op. Their philosophy is simple: “Keep it fun, whatever’s fresh.”