A July evening, a Northern Michigan spirit-infused coconut drink in hand, inside … a quiet, lower-level speakeasy in downtown Traverse City. Welcome to the Wednesday Tiki Night at Low Bar in Traverse City. With creative appetizer offerings and artisan cocktails, this Northern Michigan food find is the only place in Traverse City you’ll find smoked Cognac drinks served next to tropical cocktails accessorized with miniature drink umbrellas.
Low Bar can be a bit tricky to find. Located below 7 Monks Taproom, accessing the bar requires first entering a rather nondescript door next to 7 Monks, followed by a brief elevator ride down. What takes a second, however, is letting your eyes adjust to the darkness. Low Bar is dark, but once you settle in, the darkness only adds to the intimate—yet club-like—atmosphere. With small lounge areas surrounding a long, mahogany bar, the interior looks exclusive but it feels more like a neighborhood spot.
The idea behind Low Bar, which opened in December of 2013, started when 7 Monks Taproom owners Matt Cozzens and Jim Smolak and Low Bar manager Joe Hess, were talking about the lack of a craft cocktail scene in Traverse City.
“We spent a lot of months talking about [Low Bar]. Cocktails are something we’re all very passionate about. We opened right before the holidays which was a little hectic. It was a wild ride that first month,” says manager Joe Hess.
The cocktail list is evidence of their appreciation for classic cocktails as well as more seasonally themed drinks. Hess says coming up with the cocktail list consisted of a lot of long nights.
“We have a lot of classic cocktails, but there was trial and error to get them exactly how we wanted them. The list changes weekly because we try to stay up with the seasonal fruits and feel,” he says.
Hess is excited to see drinks, like the very-cool, must-see-in-person “Smoked Cognac,” are gaining cult followings.
“The Smoked Cognac was one of the more difficult drinks to put together because it’s a spirit-forward drink. There’s cognac, mezcal, Patrón, and a little bit of cherry herring. Plus, it’s smoked with cherry wood,” he says.
Tiki Night came from the idea that Traverse City needed a place with more tropical, fruity drinks.
“The drinks are very different [at Tiki Night]. They have a tropical feel to them and they’re a lot heavier on rum, fresh fruits, and spices like nutmeg. It came from our love of this style of drink and there’s no other place where you can have a drink out of a coconut in Traverse City,” he says.
That point is crucial to determining Low Bar’s charm. There’s no other place to drink out of a coconut, there’s no other place to drink below ground, and definitely no other local speakeasy with tiny cocktail umbrellas. It makes for a memorable, if not unusual, night out in Traverse City.
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