St. Louisians of a certain vintage used to roll out a self-deprecating line about their hometown: First in booze, first in shoes and last in the American League.
You need to have some real Show-Me-State history to get at least two thirds of that one (quiz: name the American League baseball team to which it refers.* And did you know St. Louis was once the shoe capital of the US? … home of the (Buster) Brown Shoe Company (today known as Caleres and located in the anodyne exurb of Clayton). Old shoe factories are everywhere in the city; the totally fantastic City Museum occupies the old International Shoe warehouse downtown.)
The part you get? Booze, natch. Or “brew” is probably more accurate, but the point is everyone knows that St. Louis is the home of the legendary Anheuser-Busch company and for several generations dozens of breweries with names like Otto Stieffel, Lemp, Cherokee, and Koch and Feldkamp, built by the German immigrants who made that river city their new American home in the mid-late 19th Century. One local history wag (“a drinking blog with a history problem”) reckons that in 1875 the city had about fifty-five saloons per square mile.
My own impression from decades of visiting St. Louis is that it is a Midwestern town that drinks like the South.
It is from this spirited heritage that south-sider Tom Houser has sprung, equipped with major-league mixologist mojo now on display at his new Copperhead Saloon in Greenville’s Powder Mill Square. The watering hole opened this past summer and has been doing a brisk business since, thank you very much, pleasing thirsty thrill seekers with $12 specialty cocktails like the Gunners Dream – Broker’s Dry Gin, Luxardo, crème de violette, hibiscus syrup, lemon juice, egg white – and the Tijuana Donkey Show – Pelton de le Muerta Joven Mezcal, Sauza Hornitos, pineapple and piloncillo shrub (really?!), crème de cacao, lime and chocolate bitters.
And there are others – Little Brother Conner (Rebel Yell bourbon), Gallow’s Humor (Gosling’s Blackstrap Rum) and, of course, Cowboy from Hell (Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey), all with a lot of crazy ingredients I had to look up (see Clement Rhum Creole). You get the picture.
Houser came to Delaware by way of his local girl fiancé, Erin Wallace, and standing Horace Greeley’s advice on its head this young man has “gone East,” a Delaware pioneer in the boutique cocktail movement that has been a staple of the bar scene in bigger American cities for over a decade.
Classic cocktails like the Bee’s Knees, Cosmopolitan and Sazerac (sometimes called America’s “first cocktail,” made famous in Huey Long’s favorite watering hole, the Sazerac Bar in New Orlean’s Roosevelt Hotel, visited by TSD in 2012) are all ten bucks, $8 during 3-6pm happy hour Monday-Friday.
On our recent visit, a good old gin and tonic sounded like the right call for a steamy summer night, and we inquired about housemade tonic, a staple of many craft cocktail joints. Houser explained that offering was in the works so we shifted to a gin and Copperhead ginger beer, garnished with lime. That did the trick. The ginger beer hit the right note – sharp and a little tart, not too sweet like so many store brands.
Copperhead’s front door is basically a few steps from Kennett Pike, and since they don’t want you stumbling out into oncoming BMWs there is a selection of “heavy apps.” A charcuterie board and cheese tray are $20 each and pork rillette (with mission fig port wine sauce and basil mustard butter) is $16. We sampled the chicken strudel (baked in phyllo dough with arugula and balsamic reduction) at $14 and the bacon wrapped dates ($10), both solid if unremarkable. (Hey, they are just getting into a rhythm so we give the food an overall thumbs up – the potential for very good is there, plus we are picky). Service was friendly and, critically, fast.
This place ain’t cheap but neither is Greenville rent and everything here is the real deal – high quality ingredients, handmade food and drink, and a couple working seven days a week to bring something unique to a community that could use more diversity in its food/drink offerings beyond mushroom soup and pizza (however much we love that!).
We need more spots like Copperhead, so we’re rooting for them and plan to do our part to keep the bartender busy.
*The money and game-losing St. Louis Browns. In 1953 they decamped to Baltimore and became the team today known as the Orioles.
**Be advised this is a 21 and over joint – no kids allowed