A European restaurant taking a chance on gin? Our kind of bar.
It’s a crisp, sunny, winter afternoon, and the light is pouring so splendidly through the front windows of Bruxelles Brasserie, a brand-new European restaurant in South Norwalk, Connecticut. We’re here because we’ve heard that the brilliant minds behind this new restaurant have decided that gin is in, and therefore it must be featured prominently up and down their bar. They sound like our kind of people.
“Gin is so huge in Europe, it’s had this massive explosion, so we thought we’d try it here,” explains Angela Grogan, the affable, English-born, veteran consultant on the project. She recognises, as gin hasn’t had the same explosion (yet) here that it’s had across the pond, that it might take a bit of education and a bit of gentle prodding to get the guests to sign on to the newer styles of gin, copa glasses, and premium tonic. But already, in the few weeks they’ve been open, they’ve received a lot of positive feedback.
“Many people have had bad experiences with gin, so it’s really great to say, ‘No, no, trust us, taste this.’ I’ll look at the bar sometimes and we’ll have two, three, customers having a gin bowl.”
As if on cue, bartender Simon Smart pulls out a copa glass, a bottle of Brockmans, and a bottle of Fever-Tree. We’ve just met, but he knows us so well. We ask him how he ended up here, and, believe it or not, it started with cheerleading.
“It’s true! He was a cheerleader!” Angela chimes in when we almost can’t believe it.
Simon confirms. He grew up in Connecticut, but moved to the south on a cheerleading scholarship—first at the University of Tennessee and then to the University of Louisville. The South must have felt quite different from Connecticut, we ask.
“I grew up in Idaho as a kid, and I was a boy scout, so I was already used to hunting and fishing, and the South is a lot like that lifestyle.”
Although cheerleading took him to university, he went on to graduate with a marketing and logistics degree, which he realised wasn’t going to get him far in 2008, so he returned to cheerleading, moving to Chicago to work at a cheer gym. For those not keeping count, Simon has already lived in Idaho, Connecticut, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Chicago.
“I’ve lived in a lot of places, I’m not sure which is my favourite yet,” he says with a smile.
He quickly went into restaurants in Chicago, citing the need to get a “real old person job.” He started in fancy kitchens, then moved on to the front of house, then to bartending, and then to New York City.
“You can’t say you’ve worked in restaurants until you’ve worked in New York City.”
Then it was Seattle, where he taught his cat Kevin how to hike with him (yup!) and where he fell in love with the food scene, before his mother called him one day and said she missed having her kids around. So he moved back to Connecticut, ending up here at Bruxelles to help open the bar.
By now we’ve devoured the drink he’s presented us, which started as a mocktail on the menu before he realised it needed Brockmans. Called the “Sweet and Confused,” it’s somewhere between a bramble and a gin and tonic, featuring muddle berries, lime juice, agave, and Fever-Tree tonic. We thought about asking for another, chatting some more with Simon, and hearing about how gin is most certainly in, but, other bars beckon…
Sweet and Confused
by Simon Smart and Angela Grogan
- 2 oz/60 ml Brockmans Gin (“the more gin the better!” says Simon)
- two blueberries, one raspberry, one blackberry
- 1 oz/30 ml lime juice
- .5 oz/15 ml agave syrup
- premium elderflower tonic
- mint sprig, extra berries
- At the bottom of a shaker, muddle the berries.
- Add agave, lime juice, and Brockmans.
- Strain into a copa, or large wine glass.
- Fill glass with ice, and top the the brim with elderflower tonic.
- Garnish with a berry skewer and a healthy mint sprig.