Counter Intuitive's Mysterious New Theme, Bemusement | Phoenix New Times

An Inside Look at Counter Intuitive's Mysterious New Episode, Bemusement

An inside look at the latest at the eclectic Old Town Scottsdale bar.
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That’s the official title Counter Intuitive’s Rich Furnari and Jason Asher are running with for the fifth episode of their popular Old Town Scottsdale cocktail bar, the demand for which led to expanded days and hours (now open from Wednesday through Saturday, from 6 p.m. until 2 a.m.).

The definition of bemusement? To absorb attention. To puzzle and bewilder. According to Merriam-Webster, to bemuse is to “to cause (someone) to be confused and often also somewhat amused.”

“Really what this episode is is us playing with a couple different formats,” says bartender Keifer Gilbert. “We’re playing with different vessels. Different presentations.”

The space has lost its colorful Bordertown digs — from the bar's most recent Agua Caliente theme  — back to a simpler decor. This time, the theme will take on a life of its own on the walls; stencil art and graffiti by local artists Art By Capri and Deviant Monarch fill the space, from the floor to the rafters and behind the bar. The plan, Furnari says, is to let the art evolve and fill the space from week to week.

Depending on where you’re seated or where you’re crossing the room, you’ll want to keep an eye out for Easter eggs — hidden messages tucked away out of plain sight, providing hints of the events that will occur at the end chapters of the Bemusement episode and Counter Intuitive’s mysterious future.
“The episode is called Bemusement,” Gilbert says. “but we’ve called it a few things — Past, Present, and Future keeps popping up because essentially the room is telling a story each and every week.”

The first week, the bartenders gave guests menus in a red-reader format and decoder glasses to find hidden messages.

“Every time I’ve walked in here, there’s been new art work on the wall,” he says. “There’s been new glassware that we’re using. There’s been new cocktail presentations; new formats.”

The most evident change in the drinking will become apparent when you first open the menu, which in previous episodes topped out at around 40 cocktails, all adhering heavily to the concept’s theme. This time the core cocktail list is down to 12 — six cocktails resurrected from previous episodes, requested through polling over social media and at the bar, and six brand-new items.

Among the resurrected “Our Classics” list are the Hits From The Gong, a lively drink from the Chinatown episode that includes smoked-tea infused scotch, Thai chili peppers, and the citrus flavors of the Asian Calamondin cooking orange — minus the actual physical ringing of a gong; the Onrush, from the Prohibition-era bordertown episode, a spicy blend of St. George Green Chili Vodka, poblano chiles, and and pineapple; and even a legendary tiki drink, the Painkiller, updated with a post-Under Tow rum blend, that appeared during their very first episode, based in the fictional world of an eclectic New Orleans estate sale.

Then, there are the new drinks, each of which could have a lifespan of as little one week — or as long as three or four.

The Lana Cel-Ray combines a malty, more winter-friendly gin called genever, with light and grassy agricole rhum, pear brandy, green chartreuse, celery, and lime juice — and it’s served in a wooden box, potted in ice, mint sprigs sprouting up.

The All Butter’d Up takes a tiki set of flavors — banana liqueur, pineapple, and lemon juice — and roots it in nutty sherry and brown butter-washed rum.
A standout, the Southern Slant, performs holiday magic, combining house-made pecan-based orgeat (traditionally the floral, nut-based syrup common to the tiki genre is made from almonds) with a their own sweet potato-infused bourbon, dark rum, sherry, and bitters. It’s a drink that harks back to Thanksgivings past, a burnt-orange colored drink served simply and impeccably over a crystal-clear cube of ice that narrowly fills the glass.

Then there’s the Politely Borrowed, a cocktail inspired by Erick Castro’s Polite Provisions bar in San Diego, that comes in a soy sauce container, which gives you the whimsical chance to pour over ice at whatever rate you please.

“That cocktail came to life because Jason [Asher] and I went to San Diego in July,” Gilbert recalls. “Upon being at Polite Provision, we were sitting there chatting [with Castro ]and I saw this drink come out, and was like, ‘Is that … served in a soy sauce container?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, man!’”

“Those guys straight cosmo-effected me. I told him, 'I’ve gotta have one' … It’s very much a different cocktail, but the presentation was definitely inspired by those guys.”

These drinks may be around next week — maybe a few weeks after that. It’s all up to the bar’s staff and the feedback they get as they go.

“It’s constantly transforming,” Gilbert says. “It’s almost like we’re asking the community, ‘Hey, keep up with us.’ There’s something we’re working on. There’s a story we’re telling. And it’s going to take a lot of attention to detail in what we’re doing.”

“We’re bringing it full circle.”
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