A staple of downtown Boulder, farm-to-table bar Bramble & Hare has reopened on 13th Street after a long, COVID-related absence. Rekindling a love for the old bar, I dropped in for a cocktail and chat with the staff to see what’s new for a familiar haunt.
Much can be said for the exquisite and thoughtful food that comes from the kitchens of Black Cat and Bramble & Hare, straight from the Skokan family farm in the foothills west of Longmont. Pre-COVID, the sister restaurants were mere doors apart, with Black Cat offering more traditional, upscale locavore fare, while Bramble & Hare embodied a more casual atmosphere and menu.
All great things change in time, and the new Bramble & Hare offers something new inside familiar comforts, having settled into the original Black Cat space. The hardwood interior evokes pubs of old, the warm lighting just dim enough to give an air of privacy while still keeping menus readable.
Atmosphere does wonders for a bar, something Bramble & Hare has in spades, but staff is truly the secret ingredient.
Bar director Melody Blackis stepped into her position with the reopening, a longtime, self-professed fan of the establishment.
“Bramble & Hare has always had a very iconic bar program, the kind of place I wanted to learn from,” Blackis says. “So coming in with fresh eyes, in a new building with fresh faces, it helps to try and capture something new.”
After reopening, Bramble & Hare offers an homage to its fallen sister restaurant, dishing the upscale cuisine you’d once find at Black Cat alongside the artisan cocktail menu Bramble & Hare is known for. To match that, Blackis and the bar staff keep the cocktail list changing to match the seasonal approach to the food.
“We’re trying to keep it seasonal and bring in new things or try different things, longer-term infusions or styles that are more vegetal,” she explains. “I think vegetables are coming in really strong in cocktail culture right now and I love that.”
Some of those bold moves include carrot and turmeric infused simple syrups, paired with yellow Chartreuse and lemon, or a clarified green tomato cocktail that was more popular than Blackis expected it to be. Having a rotating menu is liberating for her, giving her and the rest of the staff space to explore and innovate without the pressure of making a permanent fixture.
Whether it involves clarified vegetable juice or the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—Blackis’ cognac-and-chartreuse-soaked take on a vieux carre—Bramble & Hare’s cocktail menu encourages guest input, collaboration and participation. To make that point, one item never changes on the menu, though the end result is rarely the same any given time you order it.
The Bartender’s Special is almost always worth the price of admission for cocktail enthusiasts. A bartender will ask a number of questions and return something they think you’ll like—or you’ll wind up with a gin and tonic, which is still worth the price of admission.
I asked Bramble & Hare bartender Mike Larkin for the Bartender’s Special, where we landed on something interesting and gin-based. The cocktail I received was as close to perfect as it gets, matching the end-of-summer mood of Labor Day weekend.
The nameless libation was a riff on a Bee’s Knees, a classic gin cocktail in the midst of a revival. Larkin added in a splash of yellow Chartreuse and the bar’s housemade spiced honey, stepping up the botanical flavors.
The result was bright and floral, leaning toward the dry side of a cocktail that often suffers from too much honey or lemon. The well-balanced drink almost reminded me of a dry white wine, perfect for a warm evening.
If the conversations about cocktails and culture with staff like Blackis and Larkin weren’t enough, the menus are curious enough to bring this writer back in through those doors time and again.