When Tin Can Ale House opened in 2009, its shtick was beer in a can—dozens of beers in cans. Over time, though, the novelty—and selection—waned. A few years ago, Tin Can added a fully stocked bar, but it often seemed the bartenders didn't know what to do with it and you just ended up with a lot of Fireball shots.
Last month, Tin Can reopened as The Balboa (1863 Fifth Ave.), with Tom Logsdon at the helm. Logsdon's burger-focused Dood's Foods moved into Tin Can in 2012—adding food service helped the club keep its liquor license—and, earlier this year, Logsdon was given the chance to take over the whole operation. He tapped local musician Jackson Milgaten (Cuckoo Chaos, Deadphones) to be the club's booker and also to create a cocktail menu.
Milgaten's been bartending at the Turf Club for years. He's fast behind a bar, he says, but wouldn't consider himself a craft-cocktail expert. So he and Logsdon came up with a guiding philosophy for The Balboa: have it fall somewhere between nearby iconic dive bar Cherry Bomb and Bankers Hill, the neighborhood's eponymous restaurant known for its craft cocktails. In other words, could someone who frequents either spot find something to like here?
The overall goal is approachability, Milgaten says. Nothing on the menu's more than $10, and most drinks are $7 or $8. The Balboa—as was Tin Can—is primarily a music venue, and folks who come to shows are there for the music, not necessarily the drinks. But an accessible menu could change that.
"I appreciate an establishment that's trying to push people's palates," Milgaten says, "but at the same time, that alienates a lot of people."
The 10 cocktails on the menu include easy-drinking classics like The Aviation (Boodles gin, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, Creme de Violette, fresh lemon juice) and Last Word (Green Chartreuse, Boodles gin, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, fresh lime). There's a mezcal Old Fashioned and something called the King Cole (Bulleit bourbon, Fernet, pineapple juice, simple syrup, Angostura bitters and muddled orange) that Milgaten found in a 1930s cocktail book that belonged to the Turf Club's original owner. There's also the Mexican Gimlet (Hornitos Reposado Tequila, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, olive juice), inspired by a Turf Club customer's suggestion that a little olive juice works really well with tequila and something sweet.
In January, Milgaten was in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at La Factoria, a popular craft cocktail bar. A bartender there had previously worked at Hotel National in Havana, Cuba, and made Milgaten the hotel's namesake cocktail. On paper, the Hotel National seems like it would be one of those too-sweet tiki drinks: black rum, apricot brandy, lime, pineapple and lime juice, simple syrup and Angostura bitters. But, in the glass, it's quite well-balanced with the Angostura adding just a hint of bitterness.
And Dood's Foods is still there, open until midnight seven days a week. (You can find Milgaten behind the bar on Thursdays.)
"Where else can you find an amazing $7 burger at a place that also has Creme de Violette?" Milgaten says. "It's a niche we're trying to fill."