First Look: Amer
The new Inman Park cocktail bar offers plenty to sip on
Last week, a friend and I took down a large number of cocktails at the new Inman Park bar Amer. I share that neither as a brag nor a cry for help, but rather to convey the level of intrigue offered at this stylish but intimate neighborhood hangout. Once you start exploring Amer's cocktail menu, it's hard to stop yourself from wanting to try just one. More. Drink.
Amer draws heavily upon casual French- and Italian-style bars that serve up aperitifs and bitters to keep patrons happy before, after, and in between meals. It's the brainchild of Bocado's Brian Lewis and the late David Durnell, but Shanna Mayo was brought on to run the bar as managing partner shortly before Amer opened in late March. Cocktail fans will know her from Leon's Full Service and SOS Tiki Bar. Amer offers a slightly more serious stage to show off her chops, as well as those of her polished team of cocktail pros, including Matt Welch, Lauren Peyton, and Dan Durnell.
Visually, Amer's bold yellow façade, curvy blue leather banquette, and rough wooden beams spanning the stark white ceiling create a stylish, casual yet elegant vibe. The cozy main room contains only a handful of tables and there are 10 seats at the bar. A secretive back room lined with wood planks looks like an austere Scandinavian sauna with much nicer chairs.
Chef Adam Cherry, an up-and-comer most recently in the kitchen at Brezza Cucina, executes Amer's mainly Mediterranean menu. While the food is not an afterthought, the concise selection of snacks and small plates (mostly $7-$9) tend to take a backseat to the drinks. Keep it simple with a daily selection of oysters, sliced prosciutto, or a plate of hummus with roasted garlic. Or choose something a bit more intricate such as toasts topped with pea puree, ricotta, and duck prosciutto, or the crowd-favorite charred octopus over green chermoula and chili oil. Expect both the food and drink menus to evolve subtly over time rather than having wholesale change-outs with the seasons.
At the bar, aromas of citrus and bitters and the sound of near-constant cocktail shaking fill the air. The menu lists 16 drinks ($10-$12) split into four sections: sodas, shaken, stirred, and built. Given the name Amer (French for bitters) and the Italian-ish vibe, I expected the cocktails to rely heavily on aperitifs and amaro, but the bar doesn't limit itself in that way. Amer's cocktails are made with an array of base spirits (with a current tilt toward gin and rum given the warm weather). Intricate, layered flavors are the common theme, even in the sodas, which sometimes look as simple as a glass of Sprite.
For example, the Gucci Tonic is a gussied-up gin and tonic that draws intriguing nuance from a spice-driven Creole shrub and the clarified pineapple and lime juices it's made with. (Amer uses agar to clarify its citrus, resulting in juices that are clear in color and free of solids.)
Mayo's bartenders know the menu well and can steer you to a section or drink based on your mood. Be open-minded, but trust your instincts. If you don't like peat, pass on the scotch-driven Penicillin Pop; skip the Deep Red if you dislike mezcal; avoid the built drinks if you don't like a lot of ice.
The stirred Deep Red cocktail combines a base of smoky mezcal and rye with the tingle of grapefruit and funky, herbal Cynar. The THX 1138 is a bartender favorite, employing a house blend of bitters to elevate the commonplace pairing of white rum, lime, and cane sugar. My favorite cocktails — those that best exemplify the bar's skills — have been the shaken Euro Reviver and Electric Feel. The Reviver wrangles a lengthy list of ingredients (gin, Cocchi Americano, Dimmi liquore, Salers aperitif, absinthe, vanilla, lemon) into a cohesive whole. Just imagine sitting in an Italian Alpine meadow dotted with wildflowers, but with a spice bazaar inexplicably set up nearby infusing the air with scents of ginger, anise, and vanilla.
The Built section offers Amer's most visually elaborate drinks. The Smoke and Chill, which starts with mezcal and a combination of banana, pineapple, and lime, is topped with a striking red Angostura bitters float and garnished with a cinnamon stick, mint, and shaved nutmeg.
Stylish neighborhood cocktail bars are rare in Atlanta. Amer has a half-dozen wines and beers and you can order aperitifs or bitters by the glass. But the real action is with the spirits. Once you sit down at Amer don't be surprised if you end up like I did, with a few too many cocktails under your belt — and eager for more.