Why you should care
Because there’s something comforting about sipping old-time cocktails in a darkened room.
Classic cocktails are often poured with a few drops of anecdotes from the day they were created. Blame it on memory loss from drinking too much, or maybe everyone at the bar was too busy to take notes, but most of these stories have been forgotten over time. Recipes, for every liquor lover’s luck, remain intact.
Vague as their own roots, some of the old cocktails never reached mainstream success in the 21st century as much as beloved martinis and mojitos did. In São Paulo, Brazil’s most cosmopolitan city, a new bar is determined to bring them back.
Opened last year, Fel Bar is part of a booming nightlife scene growing in the downtown area. Streets of worn-out restaurants and long-established dive bars are increasingly sharing space with trendy, sometimes expensive, diners and pubs that, for about a year now, are reshaping the region and helping it become a favorite destination of locals once again.
Fel is on the ground floor of Copan, a historic building designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer in the 1950s. Behind windowpanes, a small room with an L-shaped counter is revealed. A big mirror on the wall highlights a set of lamps and a collection of tiny bottles of bitters lined up in front of the customers.
“Makes you wanna try all of these,” says a burly, bearded man to Hannah, one of the bartenders.
I went through the process of understanding what works for the palate today while keeping in mind the profile of people we’re working with.
Michelly Rossi, head bartender at Fel
The list of 13 “forgotten cocktails” — each for the price of R$35 (roughly $9) — includes all the prominent flavors found in the drinking world, from dry and full-bodied to fruity and herbaceous. Selecting these options was the job of Michelly Rossi, the head bartender. Using classic cocktail books and her own professional background, she came across recipes from the 19th and 20th centuries. “There are lots of cocktails from that time that just don’t work nowadays, either because they’re not very alcoholic or because they’re very sweet,” Rossi points out. “So I went through the process of understanding what works for the palate today while keeping in mind the profile of people we’re working with.”
With an almost all-female team — which Rossi says was just a great coincidence — the house is frequented by couples, women and executives who work in the area. While a couple carefully reads the menu, a man in a suit leans his elbows on the counter. “I’d like something bitter and grumpy,” he says jokingly.
With that description you could get Blood and Sand in your hands, a cocktail made with Dewar’s 12 Scotch whisky, Dolin Rouge vermouth, orange and Cherry Heering liqueur — robust and slightly sweet, as described on the menu. The formula comes from Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930); it is believed to have been created in honor of a 1922 bullfighter film of the same name.
On my right, a man sitting alone is drinking a Clover Club: a fruity but dry combination of Beefeater gin, lemon juice, fermented raspberry syrup, extra dry vermouth and an egg white adorned with little pink flower petals, served in a chilled Champagne coupe — a charming pre-Prohibition classic from Paul E. Lowe’s Drinks: How to Mix and Serve (1909).
Loop, the other bartender, hands me a Ford cocktail, one of the oldest drinks on the list (George J. Kappeler’s Modern American Drinks, 1895). Served with a big ice cube, it’s a mix of Boompjes Old Dutch genever — a gin variation — Lemon Leaf dry vermouth, orange bitters and Bénédictine, a French liqueur of pronounced herbal taste. For something that’s considered forgotten, it’s a refreshing choice that feels very up-to-date.
GO THERE: FEL
- Location: 200 Ipiranga Ave. (ground floor, store 69), São Paulo, near the República subway station. Map.
- Hours: Monday to Thursday, 7:30pm–12:45am; Friday, 7pm–1:45am; Saturday, 6pm–1:45am. Closed Sundays.
- Pro tip: Be careful where you place your drink. The unusual design of the counter, built with tilted edges, could bring down your glass.