Covert Cocktail Bar — Catching On

May 2, 2019

The Roaring Twenties marked the beginning of Prohibition and sparked the inception of speakeasies (covert bars where people scored illegal alcohol and enjoyed good times devoid of prying eyes). But when booze was again legalized, in 1933, speakeasies went the way of the dinosaurs … or so we thought.

Recent years have ushered back the allure of a clandestine place, where customers can feel like they’re in on the secret, whether it’s a swanky cocktail club, a friendly dive bar, or an exclusive restaurant. These concealed destinations hide in seemingly innocuous establishments, like in gas stations or office buildings. Maybe they reside above or below other bars or restaurants, at the end of dark alleys or out in the wilderness. And with camouflaged doors that vary from refrigerators to safes, or bookcases, by entering through a phone booth in the rear of a building, or gaining access via an unexpected push on a wall of kegs in the back of a bar, it’s easy to walk right past the openings to these out-of-sight establishments. Secret bars and restaurants have become so popular that many major cities have at least one.

Rochester has one in the name of Bitter & Pour. It is the lovechild of four nice guys with stardust in their eyes (Andrew Ferguson, Josh Kral, John Pacchetti, and Patrick Hass). A surreptitious hideaway, housed in the basement of the Merchant Exchange building on Historic 3rd Street, B&P serves only the finest spirits and elixirs to society’s hippest drinkers.

“In the pursuit of excellence, we created a tiny altar that pays tribute to everything we’ve always wanted…a cozy and stylish atmosphere, detail-obsessive cocktails, impeccable wine, and a collage of craft beers,” said Pacchetti.

Bitter & Pour is the only cocktail bar in Southern Minnesota that has a hidden bookcase entrance. The milieu is comfy and cozy, and the inners house swanky, cool furniture with music to match. Creating unique drinks at Bitter & Pour commences with the ice; fashioned from their own Clinebell machine (typically used to make large blocks of ice, used in ice sculpting). The contraption’s charm is that it continually stirs the water as it freezes, keeping impurities in motion as the ice solidifies, allowing it all to freeze perfectly clear; and permitting the guys to cut their own, clear ice with a bandsaw. No reservations are needed at B&P; however, waitlist software is utilized during high-traffic times on weekends. “We do offer a seated experience; our host seats all guests in our limited space (even to the bar stools). This ensures that folks have some elbow room, as we control the standing-room only issues that typically occur in a bar such as ours. It leads to a better customer experience and faster operations,” Ferguson explained.

Bitter & Pour customers come from all walks of life and from all age groups. “We provide a relaxed, intimate setting that everyone can appreciate. Upon entering, customers are likely to hear Frank Sinatra or Otis Redding playing in the background, and even the ‘20-somethings’ express how much they love the tunes,” said Andrew. Paramount within the comprehensive drink menu are some standout sippers. The Problem Solver is the house Old Fashioned. It is the bar’s best-selling cocktail; bourbon-based with hints of demerara sugar, orange and grapefruit. The Chubby Ginger is B&P’s version of a Moscow Mule. Fresh-squeezed lime and house-made ginger syrup; the ginger in this cocktail really pops and might well be the best Moscow Mule ever concocted. The Yeah Buddy is a green Chile vodka with fresh lime, a house-made pineapple Jalapeno cordial, in a smoked sea-salt rimmed glass. It is sweet, smoky and spicy, all at the same time. The guys at Bitter & Pour took no short cuts in their unique build-out.

They created a welcoming, cozy, and even sexy establishment; filling a niche in Rochester nobody else is hitting. Obviously, the B&P boys are devoted to customer service.

“Everybody talks about it but we put our money where our mouths are. We only allow as many people to enter as we have seats; which ensures an enjoyable experience for all and allows us to give the best service possible for each guest. We believe in quality over quantity,” said Ferguson.

If you can find the door, you should visit Bitter & Pour. They have a little bit of everything for everyone: great craft cocktails; a skillfully curated wine program; a tremendous whiskey selection; a small but hand-picked selection of tap beers…superior customer service and an unprecedented atmosphere; oh, and four, nice guys with stardust in their eyes! {Bitter & Pour is closed Sun. & Mon. Open Tue & Wed, 4:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m., Thu-Sat, 4:00 p.m. – 1:00 a.m.}


By Pat Garry, Contributing Writer

SouthernMinn Scene | |
115 5th Street West Northfield, MN 55057