Old Meets New at The Libertine
With its old-meets-new look, The Libertine is a cocktail bar fit for any metropolitan city, and its drinks are inspired by another era.
But owner Neal Brown pulls everything together to make The Libertine feel like it belongs in Indianapolis, right now.
Inside downtown's newest spot for craft cocktails, bartenders fix pre- Prohibition drinks like the Sazerac and the Old Fashioned using regional spirits and Brown's homemade ingredients. Brown, who also runs the specialty pizza shop Pizzology in Carmel, has a thing for brown spirits–think whiskey, bourbon and rye–and he's stocked the bar accordingly.
You won't find the usual suspects, like Jack Daniel's, which Brown says is among his favorites but didn't make the cut for his business. Instead, the selection highlights smaller labels and rising stars like Noah's Mill, Willett, Kentucky Vintage, Bulleit and Four Roses, all from Kentucky; and Indiana's W. H. Harrison Governor's Reserve bourbon.
Gin, rum and absinthe concoctions round out the cocktail menu of 20-plus choices that change with the seasons. Even larger is the wine list, curated by Brown's wife, Lindy Brown, a certified sommelier.
Meanwhile, the kitchen turns out what Brown calls "heightened Americana" bar food, including deviled eggs, lamb's-neck rillettes and roasted beets with goat cheese. The menu is peppered with ingredients from Indiana farms such as Viking Lamb and Gunthorp Farms pork.
On the cocktail side of the menu, expect the likes of the Highlander, with smoky and a peaty Scotch, maple syrup and lemon; Aviation, with gin, crème de violette and lemon; Truth & Reconciliation, with tequila, Campari and vermouth; and the Seelbach Cocktail, with bourbon, prosecco, orange and lemon.
This summer, Brown preserved 200 pounds each of cherries and strawberries to use in cocktails.
"I love the idea of using preserved fruit," Brown says. "As a chef, I am always trying to extend the season."
Jars of the preserved ingredients are tucked into the roughly 200 cubbies that line the back wall of the long bar. Brown says the presentation is a nod to the general store that used to occupy the building, located south of the Circle and built in 1821.
Brown designed The Libertine's interior–with deep grey walls, dark wood floors and the trunk and limbs of a white tree busting through the back wall–to foster the bar's theme: "This idea of being a free-thinker, this innovative spirit," Brown says.
Brown has plans to pickle, preserve or otherwise concoct more of his own ingredients. Homemade bitters could be part of the lineup. Meanwhile, he is tinkering with a homemade digestif, a sort of nocino, using green walnuts that he picked in early summer, blended with botanicals and vanilla. Though it's not available to customers now, Brown says he hopes to bottle and sell it next year.
Brown, who was chef-owner of the now-shuttered L'Explorateur restaurant in Broad Ripple, says his inspiration to be creative behind the bar comes from spending time in the kitchen.
"It's my chef mentality," Brown says. "I just don't know any other way to do things."
*Celebrate the holidays with winter cocktail recipes from The Libertine