This past hump day, my editor and I decided to check out The Punch Room for after-work cocktails. Located in the Ritz-Carlton, her suggestion felt a bit ambitious for a mid-week spot, but there was no way I was bailing on the boss.
When we stepped out of the elevator onto the 15th floor, the immediate atmosphere was really quiet, intimidating even. A hostess quickly took charge and led us inside. Upon entering through the doors, you’ll feel as if you’ve walked into the study of an old English mansion, where you’ll light up a cigar and have the finest whiskey on the rocks. Leather couches, high-backed chairs, metal-beaded curtains and dim lighting create the allure of this “seductive new beverage den” (as quoted in the menu).
What was supposed to be a couple drinks turned into a four-hour gab session, over half of which was spent at the bar sharing laughs with Bob Peters, the head mixologist. Here are six things I learned.
1. A Bob Peters cocktail will win the fight every time. The Punch Room is known for its signature punches, made for sharing. Upon seating, we were given a sample of the night’s specialty punch, the Green Dragon, a twist on green tea with lemon, lime, vodka and gin. To say it was delicious is an understatement. But in the interest of being well-rounded, we decided to order cocktails. I ordered Queen Roots ($17) with Queen Charlotte rum, parsnip juice and orange, and my editor ordered the Smoked Honey, ($19) with Ardbeg, Krupnikas and lemon. The flavors were bold and very “forward,” as described by our server. (A fancy way of saying strong that I’m going to start using.)
2. Peters is an entertainer, comedian and bartender all in one. Self-described as a “tall, cool glass of mayonnaise,” he is by far the most knowledgeable and personable bartender I have ever met. A Queen City native, he got his humble start bartending at a dive bar that often didn’t have soda to mix, let alone ice. He is unbelievably talented at capturing a wide variety of flavors and experiences in a glass. Not to mention, his gift of gab can be a part of your experience at the Punch Room. In the two hours that we talked to him, we learned of his love for expensive scotch, looked at his selfies with a camel and picked up a phrase from The Cleveland Show. (Boom! Get yo’ money! Get yo’ money!)
3. Vodka Red Bull is not a cocktail. Anyone who dares to have a conversation with Peters about the art of mixing drinks — it’s like talking to an astronaut about space — will quickly learn that everything they think they know about cocktails means little to nothing. Chances are, you have never even had a real cocktail. He says the process is like liquid cooking. “It’s all about flavors and learning the correct techniques … then you start piecing together things you know how to do … putting techniques on top of other techniques … until you have this really great skill.” In other words, I’m pretty screwed because I can’t cook.
4. You can bottle a bonfire and achieve carbonation without soda. As we chatted, Peters introduced us to some of his favorite techniques. First, he showed us a gadget he has that actually carbonates drinks without adding soda or ginger ale (which changes the flavor). Our sample, which he called an adult soda, included tangerine-infused Tito’s vodka. Another toy actually “smokes” drinks. He made us a hickory-smoked vanilla tequila Manhattan and topped it with a homemade brandy cherry. The cocktail tasted like a campfire in my mouth. Cold fire? Mind blown.
5. Not all Jägermeister tastes like cough medicine. Try Jägermeister Spice.
6. On a scale of 1 to 10 while drinking, my editor is “always” a four. Every time I asked her how she felt, she assured me she was only a four. Yeah, right. At some point, she turned to me and said, “It just hit me out of nowhere.” Nope, it’s been hitting you all along, and you had no idea.
The Punch Room is open four days a week, Wednesday and Thursday 5 p.m.-11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 6 p.m.—1 a.m., so plan accordingly. The average cocktail per person is $17, so if you’re balling on a budget like I am, you may not want to make this your one-stop shop. But drinking top-shelf liquor is the best decision you will ever make. I didn’t even eat dinner and after mixing five different types of liquor, I wasn’t hungover the next day — it was like magic. But drink responsibly: A couple rounds at the Punch Room could lead to a knockout. (Pun intended.)