The omakase cocktail at The Living Room in Dover, New Hampshire, is an ever-changing secret. Choose it, and you are putting your trust completely in mixologist Bernadette James, who will slip into her tiny closet bar, think hard on what is inspiring her and what might inspire you, then whip up a drink you have likely never had before.
Our advice? Trust her. James, who is a Level Two sommelier, shares chef/owner Evan Hennessey’s flexible understanding of ingredients and ability to combine flavors in new and surprising, yet always delicious, ways. On a recent visit, one omakase cocktail was a take on a mulled wine—served chilled over ice, it was a complex mix of citrusy, nutty and a bit floral, made with Sippewissett Gin from Cape Cod, house-made mulled wine, lemon marmalade, lemon juice, and house-made almond orgeat. It was utterly delicious—and may never appear again. Even that same night, another guest might get something entirely different.
While it also has a thoughtful beer and wine list, The Living Room is really a temple to fine cocktails and mocktails—with equal weight given to each. Outfitted with overstuffed couches, board games, and even a Ouija board for if you feel like tempting fate, the cozy space is Hennessey’s recent addition to Stages at One Washington, his renowned decade-old prix fixe restaurant dedicated to molecular gastronomy and local ingredients.
Like Stages, The Living Room feels more like an intimate private club than a restaurant, tucked away as it is on the third floor of a historic factory building, with neighbors that range from potters and artists to pasta makers. But unlike Stages, reservations are not required, so it’s a fun way to soak up exciting sips and bites without committing to an eight-course tasting menu.
Even setting aside the omakase, James’s cocktail list is full of surprises, and always changing. Whimsical names like “It’s not easy being green” belie serious skills at play. For that particular concoction, James started with the hue—wanting to build a drink that was vibrant green without being vegetal—and, of course, without any artificial color. Matcha, a type of green tea made by grinding young tea leaves into a powder, brought the color, but then the mixologist took a turn to the south, shaking it with coconut, lime, and tequila to create a beverage that is bright, fresh, addictive and somehow also very food friendly.
Which is a good thing, because Hennessy’s bar menu of small bites is every bit as creative as James’s cocktails. The ginger panisse—a chickpea fritter laced with ginger and glazed with black garlic gastrique—is light and complex while also being just about the ultimate comfort food. You’ll be licking the addictive sticky glaze off your fingers, and that’s perfectly acceptable.
Even the bar nuts are next-level. The blend of macadamia, walnuts, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds is tossed with a house spice mix, oyster sauce, honey and golden raisins, then baked like granola. Sprinkled with candied ginger and fresh herbs, it’s served warm, just like in first class on a plane.
While guests in The Living Room can play at pairing the small plates and drinks to their hearts’ content—with or without James’s guidance—that experience will soon be offered in a more formal fashion at Stages. This spring, James and Hennessey are planning to introduce a cocktail/mocktail pairing option to go along with Hennessey’s eight-course tasting menu, in addition to the traditional wine pairing.
The mocktail option is especially exciting —and challenging for James. Broadening the options at pairing dinners for people who prefer not to drink alcohol feels like the next step in the zero-proof trend, but without the crutch of booze, the drink really needs to taste terrific while enhancing the dish it’s paired with. Given the track record at Stages and The Living Room, we’d say trust them. It will be delicious.
The Living Room is open Thursday–Saturday 5 p.m.–10 p.m.
1 Washington St. #3136, Dover, New Hampshire, 603-842-4077, stages-dining.com/the-living-room