Robert Arender, manager at The Apothecary at Brent’s Drugs,
talks cocktail quality and the perfect adult-with-a-vintage-twist Valentine’s drink
Story & Photo by M.B. Sellers
Drink | Feburary 2015
With a dimly-lit room, the right ingredient of shadow, and a menu filled to the brim with the sort of cocktails you’d expect straight from a 1920s talkie, The Apothecary at Brent’s Drugs brings the speakeasy to Jackson, MS, with style, intelligence, and some seriously delicious booze. Located in the back of the historical Brent’s Drugs diner, Apothecary opened its curtained doors in 2013. It’s more lounge than bar, boasting a surprisingly large space that retains a singular intimacy that takes customers back to the Prohibition days, when everything was a little more glamorous and a little bit dangerous.
Robert Arender is the manager of Apothecary, with 18 years of experience, including gigs at Bravo, Parlor Market, and Little Tokyo. He started his bartending career in the late ‘90s at downtown Jackson’s Martin’s Lounge. About Apothecary’s conception, he explains, “We opened up last July.” Owners Jonathan Shull and Brad Reeves were the ones to come up with the concept. “Jonathan was a big fan of cocktail bars and had been all around the country, and Brad was a good friend of his and owned Brent’s; they came up with the idea to put a bar back here. They’d been talking about it for a couple of years.”
Apothecary’s atmosphere is only one part of its appeal. The drinks offered are finely tuned works of art; that’s readily apparent from their surfeit collection of exotic, and slightly obscure, ingredients. “Everything we do here, we make from scratch, basically. We also use really unique liqueurs, whereas most places around this town don’t,” Arender says.
To the proficient mixologist and average customer alike, the bar’s stock is something akin to the adult version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, with the variety, quality, and overwhelming magnetism that the place holds. “We want it to taste good, so we research ingredients as much as we can,” Arender continues. “We use a lot of fortified and aromatized wines down here, like the port. We use a lot of vermouths. You know, the drinks here have a lot more herbal qualities, a lot more fresh fruit. I just think the quality’s good, and the preparation is always spot-on.”
Thanks to Apothecary’s wide range of ingredients, they offer the perfect cocktail for Valentine’s Day, with a name that would catch anyone’s eye. “Aphrodite’s Crush” is an exquisite composite of pear flavors, syrups, and bitters. It’s a sweet-tasting drink, like any self-respecting Valentine’s drink should be, but the pear infusions add a bite to its taste, keeping it from being overbearingly so. “A drink such as this has two home-made syrups in it. You know, one syrup isn’t always the thing, and you always want to get as much of the flavor as possible,” Arender explains. “It has a white port, and not a lot of people are using white port.” From Pisco, to Vanilla-Ginger syrup and Allspice Dram, “Aphrodite’s Crush” is sure to gain a good amount of admirers this winter, due to its high-quality and unique ingredients. “So it’s really something late fall/winterish, and it will carry on well into February for Valentine’s Day,” Arender concludes.
In regards to their atmosphere and quality of drinks, Arender says, “[w]e don’t go hard-core Prohibition, because a lot of those drinks are really acidic, but we play off of them a lot, too. They used really good ingredients back then, like good brandies and good cognacs… which aren’t used enough these days. We’re pretty modern, but we’re ‘modern classic’.” Everything, Arender asserts, is homemade, and they even prepare their own tonic syrup to top off the list. “Right off the bat, the neighborhood was really responsive, because it was a new bar. But it still wasn’t well known throughout the metro area. It’s a good-sized place where a good neighborhood like Fondren and downtown Belhaven can pack this place out, easily.”
The location is definitely ideal. Apothecary is situated in the heart of the Fondren area, adjacent to the many popular food joints and venues that Jackson’s art district holds. Arender elaborates, “And when people come in, they love it, because it’s unique to here. It looks great, but it’s more than just the look. Our product is really good. It’s not all smoke and mirrors. And I think that’s the key… I think that if it weren’t quality, it wouldn’t be successful at all.”
Preparation: Muddle ¼ of a ripe Bartlett pear with 1 lemon wheel
1.5 oz Barsol Pisco
¾ oz Warres white port
½ oz bitter truth apricot liqueur
¼ oz St. Elizabeth Allspice dram
¼ oz ginger syrup
½ oz vanilla cinnamon syrup
1 dash Aphrodite bitters
1 dash teapot bitters
Serve over crushed ice and grate nutmeg over top
Garnish with Sliced Pear
*Both bitters are made by Dr. Adam Elmegirab