There’s something classic about Candy Bar, the stunning, pink cocktail lounge at the base of Detroit’s Siren Hotel. The bar’s Eater Award-winning design certainly hit at the peak of a color design trend in 2018, but it’s the details — the gorgeous curved marble bar top, massive curled glass chandelier, and flaring white palms — that make the space stand out from its contemporaries while feeling timeless. The cocktails, too, have aged well, with beverages like the Bubble Rum remaining a hit since they first debuted more than a year ago. Still, like all good bars, even classics sometimes deserve a little freshening up.
The team at Candy Bar plans to roll out its first changes to its menu since the opening this summer. “I think a good cocktail menu doesn’t need to change seasonally,” says chef Kate Williams, owner of Lady of the House and Candy Bar. “We’ve had really awesome staples on the menu for a long time and now we’re ready to kind of stretch a little bit and see what else we can do,” she says.
Part of the delayed timing for the menu change comes with the popularity of Candy Bar. Williams says it’s been at times hard to keep up with the interest in Candy Bar, which proved far more popular than she and her partners Matt Wang and Siren Hotel developer ASH NYC had projected for the tiny, 28-seat hotel lounge. “There’s really nothing quite like this,” she says of the cocktail bar.
The timing of the menu turnover also comes ahead of the anticipated opening of Williams’ other project at the hotel — a diner called Karl’s on the second floor. Once the restaurant opens, staff at Candy Bar will be able to utilize some of the equipment and space at Karl’s to help streamline prep and dishwashing for the cocktail bar.
Much of Candy Bar’s staff is made of current and former employee’s from Williams’ hit Corktown restaurant. Williams says that the hotel bar has given those bartenders an additional avenue to show off their talents beyond the less cocktail-focused bar at Lady of the House. Three of those bartenders — Andrew John, Jonathan Shock, and Jesse Cottongim — joined Eater on a recent afternoon to preview Candy Bar’s next act in cocktails. The drinks, like the bar, lean heavy into vintage vibes, nostalgia, and, of course, candy.
The Dark Arts
Bartender Jonathan Shock developed the Dark Arts, an espresso martini that riffs on the Irish coffee at Lady of the House. “I wanted to do a high octane version with espresso,” he says. The drink is made with reposado tequila, amaretto, and a coffee amaro collaboration between Long Road Distillers in Grand Rapids and Madcap Coffee. The whole thing is shaken with an ounce of espresso from fellow Siren Hotel resident Populace Coffee and finished with a float of cream on top.
Bartender Andrew John riffs on an Elvis Presley favorite — peanut butter and banana sandwiches — with the Elvis’s Nightcap. The drink uses dried peanut butter and fresh banana-infused white rum, which is put through a centrifuge to separate the liquids from solids. The booze is then poured over a big king ice cube. John says he and Lady of the House pastry chef Monica Greer are looking for ways to use the leftover booze-infused peanut butter to make garnish or pastries, part of the restaurant’s overall effort to reduce food waste.
John is particularly proud of the Lady Diana, a drink that’s somewhat influenced by chef Kate Williams’ use of pistachios on the carrot steak at Lady of the House as well as famed Detroit-born cocktail, the Last Word. The Lady Diana, named after music legend Diana Ross, uses pistachio-infused Norden Aquavit that’s tossed into a Vitamix and clarified in a centrifuge. The drink is then shaken with Lady of the House’s gin (a collaboration with Detroit City Distillery), yellow Chartreuse, and bay leaf tea honey. John pours it over a ski slope of crushed ice and garnishes the cocktail with the candied bay leaf that’s leftover from making the tea honey.
Some Like It Sage
Another gin-based cocktail that calls back to classic film, the Some Like It Sage features dried sage-infused gin that’s washed with olive oil. The drink is then stirred with pineapple, Peychaud’s Bitters, and Aperol, which gives the beverage an orange hue.
One of John’s cocktails is a milk-clarified punch. The cocktail calls for a blend of three different rums with Remy Martin 1738 cognac and cointreau liqueur. The drink is then mixed with Orange Grove Vanilla tea, pink and black peppercorns, coriander, and lavender, which is clarified with whole milk. Everything is shaken with lemon and honey and garnished with orange peel.
Old Fashioned Variation
Bartender Jesse Cottongim decided to play with the recipe for an Old Fashioned in an old fashioned way using candy. “Werther’s, for me, was always the grandma candy,” he says of the caramel hard candies. The cocktail features bourbon, Werther’s caramel bitters, and Long Road Distillers nocino walnut liqueur, which is stirred together and garnished with a 1970s-esque orange peel and cherry skewered on a flamingo-topped toothpick. “I wanted to stick with sort of vintage vibes, like what we’ve got going on here [at Candy Bar],” Cottongim says.