As some of you may have heard, the Town Talk Diner is now closed for business. It's no secret that I considered Town Talk one of the best places to find good cocktails. So, when I heard the news, I decided to reach out to Nick Kosevich who was the front of the house manager there for several years. He has won numerous awards including the first annual Iron Bartender Competition in 2009 and was voted Best Bartender by City Pages in 2008. It's fair to say Nick has been one of the most influential figures in transforming the local craft cocktail scene. Given his history with the restaurant, I wanted to find out his perspective on recent events.
Leaving a five-year gig at Palomino to work with Tim Niver and Aaron Johnson, both of whom he considers some of the best restauranteurs in the area, Nick helped open the Town Talk Diner where he fondly recalls learning much from Aaron behind the bar.
"During that first year I began to develop my cocktails and I started to see all of the potential for the cocktail scene in the Twin Cities," says Nick. "It was also the first time I realized how much fun you can have while working really hard and offering something unique to the city."
Jackson Pollock by Nick Kosevich (Town Talk Diner)
1.75 oz Bombay Saphire Gin
.75 oz Fresh Squeezed Grapefruit Juice
.75 oz Simple Syrup
.5 oz Sparkling Wine
.125 oz Basil Oil (garnish)
Add basil oil to a chilled martini glass. Shake top three ingredients together then add the sparkling wine. Double strain contents into the glass.
Note: Make sure the basil oil is cold so that it beads nicely on top of the cocktail.
And what fun they had! Newcomers and regulars alike were often greeted with happy shouts of welcome. One glance at the menu and quick scan of the back bar and you'd recognize this wasn't your average diner. The food was consistently fantastic and the cocktails were inspired. Many of the ingredients were house-made, and the enthusiasm behind the bar was always apparent. And yet, such memories are bittersweet, even for Nick. I asked him what it means when one of the good places closes its doors.
"The Town Talk is proof that an independent restaurant is a living breathing organism that survives on the souls of those who love and built it. It's not the walls or the chairs or the art work, it's the passion and hard work of the employees," describes Nick. But, change, it seems, can disrupt the collective vision. "At the Town Talk the employees and founding restauranteurs believed in the vision and success of the joint and we all worked so very hard developing that vision and at making guests see that vision." The environment changed and he eventually left the Town Talk Diner to start his own business.
And even after his departure, Kosevich says that the Town Talk was home to some of the best cocktail crafters in the area, right up to the day they closed. He recalls how exciting it was to return for "a drink made by any of these now veterans in the cocktail scene, and to see how their talents and knowledge have progressed. I wish them all the best and know they will, if they have not already, land somewhere where their talents are appreciated as much as they were by the patrons of the bar at the Town Talk Diner."
Nick now lives in Milwaukee where he started his own company called Bittercube, a joint venture with Chicago's Violet Hour veteran, Ira Koplowitz. In addition to making an assortment of cocktail bitters, Bittercube offers event planning, brand ambassadorship and consulting services for bars and restaurants.
"Currently in Chicago it's almost impossible to open up an independent restaurant without a craft cocktail menu," says Nick—good news for Bittercube, having collaborated with some of Chicago's popular drinking destinations. But how does the closure of one of the best craft cocktail bars in the Twin Cities affect the cocktails served in Minnesota? Are they getting better or is interest stalling here?
"The cocktail scene here in Minneapolis is growing and will continue to as people demand quality from so many facets of a restaurant. The bar has gotten lost in that area for some time, but that is not the case anymore, as guests demand fresh squeezed juices and house-made syrups." With my old list of great cocktail destinations now needing adjustment, Kosevich had a few suggestions. "There are a number of places holding the torch of the craft cocktail, places like Cafe Maude, La Belle Vie, Amore Victoria, Bradstreet, and The Prairie Ale House all craft great cocktails."
In addition to providing the proper recipe for the Jackson Pollock (my version last year was so close!), Nick also shared the recipe for another staple of the restaurant, the Bacon Manhattan. Remember when we made bacon bourbon a while back? Here's another great way to use it:
Bacon Manhattan by Nick Kosevich (Town Talk Diner)
2 oz Bacon-Infused Bourbon
.5 oz Cherry Heering
15 drops Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters
Stir all ingredients and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a bacon-wrapped cherry.
We will all miss the Town Talk Diner, but the internet has ways of not letting us forget. Check out this video from behind the bar at Town Talk. Nick pours a Jackson Pollock for a happy customer and shows Guy Fieri how to make (and drink) bacon-infused bourbon!