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Food & Drink

Mixing it up

At 28, Eric Welsh is master of the old-line cocktail

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Published 7/15/2009

The classicist: If there's a school of classic cocktail enthusiasts, Eric Welsh could be its dean. The 28-year-old Detroiter designed the classically grounded cocktail menu at the lushly restored 1940s haunt Cliff Bell's (2030 Park Ave., Detroit; 313-961-2543), and now works the bar at Small Plates (1521 Broadway St., Detroit; 313-963-0497), where he blends his classic leanings for blended flavors with more contemporary tastes for sweeter drinks. He stocks his bar with not just bourbon, brandy, scotch and tequila, but such rarities as Pisco and such apereatifs and digestifs as Fernet Branca, Pernod and good ol' British Pimm's, and his drink menu has nary a trademark symbol in sight. What's more, Welsh is the sort of barkeep who slices it fresh every shift, hand-grates fresh nutmeg and, if he can't get it, he'll make it: He even makes sour mix and orgeat syrup from scratch. But he's no snob; he won't sniff at substitutions, and eagerly collaborates with creative drinkers. (Actually, he says he won't mix VSOP and Coke, explaining, "There are a few things to draw the line on.") But he is a believer in the great cocktail, and he compares being a great bartender to being a great chef, arguing that his art behind the bar is as important as his work in the kitchen at, say, Woodbridge Pub (5169 Trumbull St., Detroit; 313-833-2701), where he preps and cooks his own Sunday brunch menu every week. Like an artful gourmet, he aspires to dispel preconceptions about the classics, whether dishes or drinks. "I'm always trying to educate people," he says. "If I can get somebody who hates black licorice to appreciate anisette, then I've really accomplished something."

Michael Jackman is a writer and copy editor for Metro Times. Send comments to mjackman@metrotimes.com.

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