Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Where our intrepid author finally meets Sasha Petraske at White Star

August 24

I never officially met Sasha Petraske. Always wanted to, never got the chance. It's a kind of long and not that interesting except to me tale of cat-and-mouse. Long story short, I felt like everyone had met or talked to the guy except for me. I'd hear he'd be at some event, but I'd either leave right before he showed up or get there right after he left like Carmen Sandiego or something. And since I really didn't know what he looked like at first, even if we happened to be there at the same time, there was no way I'd know he was also present unless I went around the room asking people who he was and that seemed a bit gauche. When I finally did figure out what he looked like and I'd spot him in public out of the corner of my eye, it always seemed like the most inopportune time to walk up and introduce myself.

Richard Boccato informed me of the opening White Star the night before I had to leave for Chicago. I knew I'd have to stop by as soon as I got back to check out this new spot and maybe, just maybe, run into Sasha.

Sasha's new joint, White Star, was on its fifth day when I walked in late on Sunday night. The glass door was still covered and the space small and seemingly more intimate due to its unfinished nature. Sasha manned the bar on his own and chatted with the people that trickled in and out. After making my order I handed my card to the man, who in turn gave me his. I held it in my hand and stared at it slightly wide-eyed. His name and information was printed out on the same gauzy, filmy paper that Milk and Honey's number is printed on.

"It's a work in progress," Sasha told me as he noticed me looking around the place and making notes. He's still working on stocking the bar for this non-cocktail bar; seeing what's out there in the market to showcase and what the best products are.

He pointed out the shelves behind him and explained that once everything as far as the selection is finalized, each shelf will be filled with one kind. One for whiskeys, another for teuqila, and then there's absinthe, etc. And yes, they have absinthe. Though for now Sasha's only serving the white Swiss variety. Tap beers are also on the horizon. The beverage selection will probably finished and fully stocked by next week according to Mr. Petraske, but that's not the only thing being worked on at the moment; the space itself is in a state of flux.

The storefront will be changed. The backroom, a deck-like area for smokers and possibly knocking out the wall to take over the space is all in the works. According to Sasha, currently the bar seats around 36 people.

"But last night there were around 41 people in the bar...Some were standing," Sasha said and concluded that the actual total capacity is probably more like 45. Though there is a table, there's no table service, but once additions to the space are made, the place will be big enough to have a single server.

A group of three entered and decided to try some absinthe. I noticed that everyone in the place got quiet all of the sudden as they stared at the water dripping from the fountain onto the sugar cube and slotted spoon.

However, Sasha was refreshingly frank about the drink's appeal. He said it admittedly is not something that is everyone's bag. The first two nights the place was open, the was offering free absinthe so that people could have a taste of it.

"Most people took two sips and put it back down," he said with a smile.

Currently one of the bigger concerns is trying to figure out how to get water to customers. Since the place isn't really a mixed drinks place and people have the choice to order their spirit or aperitif of choice neat, water delivery is kind of important to keep people from getting smashed. Well, not smashed when they're not planning to. Sasha said he was bandying about some ideas and one possibility was to have individual water bottles at each table.

Sasha sees White Star as a spot where people can come before or after dinner to enjoy a drink. "It's not a happy hour kind of place."

And yes, while you will be able to order the finer things, such as $50-75 a glass cognac, Sasha said, "There's a recession going on. We will have some of the expensive things like a $45 glass of brandy, but the bread and butter will be the items served at $8."

You can come in and get your $6 dollar aperitif served how you like it or $8 for some absinthe. You can also get champagne by the glass for $12 or a Bellini for $8.

The thing I couldn't help but wonder about though was whether or not this more European practice aperitif-tippling was something an American crowd would cotton to.

"We will see," Sasha answered and took a sip of the Bellini he'd poured for himself.

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