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February 5th,
written by Arthur

Every now and then, I stumble across something here in New York that just can’t be found in the Twin Cities.  This time it was a dimly lit bar with a brightly lit stage with a full band pumping out swing and jazz music to the bar and the dance floor.  For those from Minnesota, I know that the Twin Cities has places that sound similar to this, but not ones that are really on the same level in terms of size and energy.  I think the closest was Sophia’s in down on St. Anthony Main, which unfortunately closed around 2005.

Meg had been to Swing 46 before, but I was a virgin.  We didn’t start the night with plans to hit up Swing 46.  One of Meg’s friends, Rakesh, was doing a little Valentine’s show down the street (46th Street–aka Restaurant Row) at a piano bar: Don’t Tell Mama.  On our way to the show, Meg convinced me to stop outside and take a look at the televised live feed Swing 46 has of their dance floor.  While  watching a pre-show dance lesson we got to chatting with the promoter who was working to pull people in from the street.  We told him our plans for the show and dinner reservation down the street and he offered to waive the $12 cover if we wanted to come back for a drink later.

The Bar

After the Valentine’s show (good, but too heavy on the serious songs and too light on the funny and fast-paced fare) and an fairly average dinner at Don’t Tell Mama’s restaurant, we headed back to Swing 46.   As we walked in and the music from the stage in the main room rolled over us, the first thing that struck me was the size of the place–a large bar area and huge main room.  After checking our coats, as asked by the hostess, we found ourselves in the bar area, a large room with table seating opposite the bar.  The room with the bar opens into the larger main room, featuring a stage and a dance floor lined with larger tables for dinner seating. We were able to grab a seat at the very end of the bar which provided a great view into the main room at the stage.  After seeing the stage and the white table cloth tables I couldn’t help but feel like I was waiting for Indian Jones in the opening scenes of The Temple of Doom.

Okay, so this place has great music and atmosphere, but why am I writing about it here on Eat Cook Live?  In a word: cocktails.  The bartender Jake was a man who knew his booze.  For our first round, which at the time we thought would be our only round, Meg ordered a cocktail off the menu, the “Swing 46,” and I ordered a negroni.  About 20 seconds after we put in our order, the bartender swung back.  Usually this means I need to walk the bartender through how to make a negroni: equal parts gin, campari, and sweet vermouth, topped with soda water and severed with an orange peel.  But, as it turned out, the opposite was true.   Jake said something along the lines of “since you ordered an negroni I’m going to assume that you know something about cocktails and steer you away  from the ‘Swing 46.'”   After quick exchange with Meg about what she likes,  a gin based drink was decided on.  Jake muddled two cucumber slices and a little lime into some Hendriks  gin.  With the addition of a little simple syrup (sugar water), a shake, a pour, and a cucumber garnish and the drink was ready.  The cucumber was refreshing and the simple syrup added just enough sweetness.  A few minutes later my negroni arrived.  Jake used a lemon instead of the usual orange, which was fine, given that this was also Hendriks based.  With a little extra attention, Jake was sure to carefully squeeze some of the oil from the lemon peel into the drink.

George Gee

Realizing we had found a good thing with the drinks, and loving the George Gee Band on stage, we decided to have  one more drink.  This time I ordered us each a champagne cocktail and again entrusted the details to Jake.  A combination of vodka, muddled lime, simple syrup, and honey was mixed and topped with champagne.  Again, the drink was light, flavorful, and not overly sweet.   As we sipped we watched the stage and dance floor.  The leader of the band is a short stocky Asian man, whose voice is nothing like you’d expect.  With seemingly endless energy he kept the room and the band rolling.  The male vocalist, John Dokes, had voice that I can only describe as golden butter.  The dance floor would fill and wain depending on the song being played.  The mix of the people dancing was broad, from the young and fit to the heavy and middle aged.  The dancing highlight was a woman who I am guessing was somewhere in her mid 80’s.  Dancing with vocalist Dokes, she tore up the floor.

John Dokes

While watching and listening to the show, we enjoyed random small bits of conversations with Jake–mostly about cocktails.  Somewhere  during the night I learned how to make lime infused simple syrup.  A potential gem for summer cocktails.

For the atmosphere and for the great drinks I will definitely be making a return to Swing 46.  On the next trip, Meg and I plan to take advantage of the free early-evening swing lessons to prepare for a night of more than just great booze.



  1. Loren

    I’ve often wondered about this bit of night-life etiquette: How does one assess the skill of their would-be bartender? Because my choice of drink will most certainly change based on their apparent skill for their chosen profession.

    More than once I’ve ordered a Knob Creek Manhattan, only to get the bourbon served with a generous (bordering on disgusting) amount of maraschino juice, and served with so much ice that it only tastes like booze for 2-3 minutes. On the other hand, it feels uncomfortable to pony up to the bar and say “so, are you any good at this bartending thing?” or even a less offensive “do you make a good Manhattan” because I’ve never had anyone say no to a question like that.

  2. Arthur

    I use the negroni as a test for a bartender. If they know how to make the drink, it’s as good sign for their skill.

    Aside from the negroni, in terms of trying to sniff out a good bartender, I think that first hint is the bar. If the bar doesn’t seem like a place where the bartender gets asked to make cocktails much (cosmos and sex on the beach aside)odds are he isn’t going to be so good.

    When in doubt on bartender, I’ll break down how to make the drink rather than ordering it by name. E.g. Knob Creek on the rocks with about half a shot of sweet vermouth and a cherry. If the bartender is good they’ll usually say something like, “oh, you mean a Manhattan” and fix me up, if not, they can at least usually follow the instructions. And if they mess badly, at that point it’s more than fair to nicely ask them to re-do it the way you described.

  3. 04/05/2011

    Love it Arthur that you know what to ask a bartender. That is exactly my first question to feel out the depth of knowledge. My 2nd question: Can you make me a pre-prohibition old-fashioned? That’s where people like the boys at Milk and Honey, Death & Co. and of course Swing 46 will shine. 🙂

    Thank you for your kind words and I hope to see you Swinging again soon.

    Your friendly neighborhood barkeep,


    P.S. I have since addressed the recipe of the “Swing46” cocktail. And it is superb. I’d be honored to make you one next time.

  4. Arthur

    Jake, I have to admit my cocktail ignorance on the pre-prohibition old-fashioned. I had thought that was prohibition era creation. Sounds like some good summer research for me.
    I’ve talked with the roommates and I think that we are all going to make a trip over Swing 46 in the near future. I look forward to trying the new Swing46!

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