“It was dirt floors six months ago. As abandoned as it gets,” says Brandon Casey, heading to the corner seat of what's being billed as the first craft cocktail bar in Chandler, where he’d rest his elbow for a photograph. This is the best vantage point to see the new 100-seat space that, according to Casey, continually fills up and overflows with each passing weekend. The bar, called The Ostrich, is closed Sunday through Tuesday, but opens from 7 p.m. to midnight Wednesday and Thursday, and from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Hidden underground in the historic San Marcos Hotel, Casey will carry out role his role as beverage director. He's also revamping the cocktail menu at Crust, a pizzeria on the main level.
Casey has made himself at home here. There's a glowing fireplace, cocktails aging in barrels, and a nook filled with cocktail books from Casey’s own home collection.
The place is steeped in history. The bar’s seating, deep maroon wrap-around booths, were yanked from Tempe’s Monti’s Casa Vieja, which closed last year. In the early 1900s the basement here was used as storage for massive amounts of ostrich feathers, a considerable investment by city founder Dr. A.J. Chandler, who was sure that Flapper dresses, tremendously popular at the time and which featured ostrich feathers prominently, were there to stay. This is how the bar got its name.
The cocktails, too, are historic. There’s the aviation, the vesper martini, the sazerac, the Singapore sling, and the mai tai, among others.
There are signature drinks on the menu, of course — like Casey’s cocktail, This Conflagration Nation, “conscripted by the Museum of American History to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner.” It’s first smoked upside-down; the vanilla pipe tobacco is lit by Casey before the glass is inverted to fill with smoke. It then gets its fair share of booze — mint syrup is all that balances Nardini Amaro, Bulliet 10 Year bourbon, Angel’s Envy rye whiskey, Ruby Port wine, and Calvados apple brandy. He slaps fresh mint on the back of his hand, for aromas, and adds it to the drink along with the oils of expressed lemon, squeezed between his fingers.
A table-side old fashioned, where the drink is wheeled to your booth and prepared on a cart, is in the works.
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Cocktails have finally come to the East Valley, The Ostrich will be planting a flag and getting some bragging rights in before good company arrives; a second Clever Koi, with its impressive cocktail list, is set to hit Gilbert soon.
One bar in the East Valley is an anomaly. Two? That's a scene.
"We're going to give people a baseline," says Casey. "We'll do the classics first, and do them as good or better than anyone else . . . I'm going to get people to trust me before I get weird."