The Day – “Nautical Luxury” cocktail bar and “Dive Bar” open at Mystic
Mystic – Blood-red curtains, brass light fixtures, and a chandelier hang in the street-level living room, on teak floors made from the deck planks of the Joseph Conrad, a ship now in the Mystic Seaport Museum. The fancy glassware can be found on the “Million Mile Bar”, made of reclaimed wood from the Charles W. Morgan, the last remaining wooden whaler.
It’s quite appropriate for a place that wants to pay homage to local maritime culture while being part of the national conversation about great cocktail bars and wanting people to feel like they’re visiting international coastal towns.
This is The Port of Call and its downstairs Dive Bar, a cocktail and small plates bar that opened last week and is a collaboration between Meiser’s 85th Day Food Community and The Real McCoy Rum.
Co-owner Dan Meiser wants people to feel like they’ve stepped into the dining room and salon of a Prohibition-era yacht, with decor that speaks of “nautical luxury.”
Downstairs, the vibe is very different: an industrial setting themed around Mark V scuba gear, with a mural of a diver on the wall, a scuba suit, and diving pictures from the Groton Naval Submarine Base. There’s a shuffleboard table and two vintage tabletop arcade machines, the proceeds of which will be donated to the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center.
The basement was Friar Tuck’s Tavern before he moved and Frizzante Champagne and Wine Bar before that, while upstairs was the art museum gallery.
Meiser said The Port of Call “is a reverse concept from what we’re used to” – a bar usually plays a supporting role in most traditional restaurants, but here the cocktails lead the charge.
Beverage director Jade Ayala specifically leads that charge, while the other women “steering the ship” are executive chef Renee Touponce and general manager Nancy Hankins. The creator was Jennifer Pryor, wife of Bailey Pryor, and Sebastian Guerrero ran the bar program.
“I think some of the things that Jade is developing are really interesting and designed to gain everyone’s trust,” said Bailey Pryor, adding that these cocktails are “not just the same old stuff” but involve experimentation.
For example, people may find it antithetical to include mushrooms in a cocktail, but it’s part of a tasty Manhattan on the menu called Organic Woodland Matter ($14).
Meiser said a top seller last week was Curry Barbados ($13), which features Real McCoy rum, curry, ginger lime, chocolate bitters and fennel bitters. It’s a draft cocktail that’s made at Pryor’s “laboratory” in Stonington, a location that Meiser says gives his team the opportunity to have a “test kitchen” in the world of spirits.
Pryor said cocktail culture is now about “buying a rum or a tequila or a whiskey and making all kinds of different cocktails out of that one product”, but “we’re trying to expand the toolbox”, for example by creating a spirit with an aromatic profile specific to sweet cocktails.
The Port of Call team wants visitors to feel like they’re on a ship calling at port cities around the world. Each menu item lists a port of call, and the cocktails have suggested pairing plates.
For example, Cuba Libre Cocktail No. 2 ($16) — a rum and coke that includes ancho and guajillo peppers, vanilla, cloves, and lime — has its port of call listed as Havana. and its pairing plates like bacalaitos ($14) and smoking pinchos ($13). Bacalaitos are salted fish fritters, a traditional Puerto Rican dish, and pinchos are pork skewers.
“There are certain items on the menu where our team has an understanding of those dishes and will prepare a very traditional interpretation,” Meiser said. He said of Touponce, whose stepfather is Puerto Rican, “when she makes empanadas or bacalaitos, she makes them with the same love and care and technique that she did growing up.”
Meiser noted that other members of the kitchen team hail from Peru, Guatemala and El Salvador, but there are other items on the menu where chefs have researched dishes but made them themselves. .
“We will never claim to be an authority on Vietnamese, Japanese or Jamaican cuisine,” Meiser said. “We will definitely explore these places, and we will give these places – these food communities – tremendous respect.”
Some of the other food options include Spanish olives with cheese from Mystic Cheese Company, squid ink empanadas with Stonington squid, and Singaporean grilled mushroom salad with trumpets and maitake mushrooms from Seacoast Mushrooms at Mystic .
The menu downstairs at the Dive Bar is more street food-focused, with New Orleans fried chicken, Leone & Sons New Jersey-style pork roll, and a smoked hot dog with house-made kimchi.