You can't just walk up to Bourbon & Branch, knock on the (unmarked) door and expect to get in. Bourbon & Branch is a modern day speakeasy, and, just as the bartenders exert extra effort in ensuring that the cocktails the bar serves are perfect, so too patrons are expected to exert a little effort to get inside. Effort that includes reservations and passwords.
Now some may consider this policy elitist and snobby, and frankly it is. However, I don't care, as when it comes to cocktails, I'm elitist and snobby, too. When I have a beautifully crafted cocktail before me, I want to be able to enjoy it leisurely, at a table, with convivial friends, whose scintillating conversation I can actually hear, and without drunken yabbos dribbling two dollar Pabst Blue Ribbon and cigarette ash upon me, while techno music drills out my eardrums, and there's no place to even stand, much less sit.
And any bar that ensures no drunken yabbos, no techno music, and no Pabst Blue Ribbon has my undying gratitude and support. Even if I do have to jump through hoops to get in. The hoops that Bourbon & Branch asks its customers to plie through aren't that onerous really, nor are they insurmountable. And they are well worth the spring.
Once you've found the location (no address, but clear directions), rung the buzzer, whispered the password, and been ushered inside, you find a beautifully decorated 1920s style space, with dark red wallpaper, chummy little booths, a gorgeous bar, and very polite servers. Not a trace of snobbiness did I detect. Indeed, the server was gracious and charming.
Bourbon & Branch's drink menu is large and almost overwhelming, but our choices were lubricated by tiny glasses of a liquid amuse-bouche--some sort of delicious fruit beer. The bar's juices and infusions are all made from scratch--no crappy pre-mixes here--and the ice comes from a special super expensive ice machine that guarantees purity and the proper shape.
I had a Blackberry Bramble, Madama Sister-in-Law had a French 75, and Sieur Hermano had the house special which had whiskey in it, and I'm not sure what else. Alas, poor Devilman, who was driving, had to stick to Diet Coke, but it's a testament to Bourbon & Branch's dedication to quality liquids that said beverage arrived bottled--bar soda out of a wand is notoriously bad. The drinks were all delicious--perfectly mixed, carefully poured, and nicely presented. I usually like to sit at the bar to watch the bartenders in action, but due to there being four of us, we were at a table, so I missed that part of the show. I did notice that the bartenders were using Boston shakers, which they should be doing but not everyone does.
Some reviews of Bourbon & Branch have complained about drink prices and elitist attitude. All I can say is that I am willing to pay the price for a well made cocktail--good liquor isn't cheap and neither is a skilled bartender. And mixing a cocktail does require skill--any one can snap the top off a beer bottle, but there's an art to a good pour. There's no smoking section--hooray--and the neighbourhood is sketchy (don't go alone). But the cumulative experience is well worth it.
If you are over 21, of course. Those of you who are under 21--your day will come, I promise!