epicurean // From the Bar Stool : Chris Keil

Every Tuesday it’s as if a little sliver of the Ice Age descends upon 1022 South, minus the hoarfrost and woolly mammoth tusks. It’s when proprietor Chris Keil summons 150-pound blocks to his small cocktail bar and takes to them like a man possessed. Possessed, specifically, with a very sharp chainsaw.

Nobody is asking Chris to dismantle 150-pound slabs into rugged, fist-sized rocks customized purely for patrons’ drinking pleasure. It’s a choice—and admittedly, a good one. Each a diamond in the rough, winking up at you from your glass with the self-sufficient pluckiness of a Klondike gold miner and the crystalline purity of glacier melt.

But melt is what they won’t do—at least too fast anyways.

“You’re going to notice a difference in flavor because of the difference in dilution,” says Keil. “You’re going to be able to enjoy your beverage more, whatever the drink is. It’s going to honor the ingredients more. It’s better quality ice. If you start with better quality ingredients, you end up with a better product.”

Whether he intends to or not, Keil seems to embody a growing movement in our generation—one that eschews the slick, conveyor-belt machinations of American convenience (and what millions, scarfing our Gogurts while texting about Kardashians, hail as progress) in deference to the painstaking process of the personal. But what differentiates our mindful manual labors from the wood-choppin’ and butter-churnin’ of our pioneering predecessors is our choice in the matter. We’ve come full circle in the belief of the rough-hewn. The handmade. The Etsy ethos. The straight razor and the push reel lawnmower and the individualized, pour-over coffee and the 150-lb block of sculpture-grade ice.

Sweeping collective philosophies aside, carving his own ice cubes reflects Keil’s very individual pursuit of perfection, and it expands to everything else he does in the name of his artisan establishment—the singular watering hole in Tacoma you’ll find such thoughtfully made craft cocktails. It’s one of the reasons epicurean heavyweights as far-reaching and reputable as the New York Times have weighed in on its quality, the latter describing 1022 South as “home to some of the most fascinating apothecary cocktail work on the West Coast.”

Given a nondescript Hilltop locale one must search out rather than stumble upon, 1022 South is nevertheless frequented by regulars. Lit up by candles, its ambient little alcove glitters with rows of small-batch liquors, bottles of infused alchemies, jars infused with honeys and fragrant herbs and elixirs whose essence is more likely to take shape by way of mortar and pestle than anything automatized.

The drinks, as Keil puts it, “take time.”

And yet, you won’t find the liquor at 1022-South masquerading under too many cloying layers or permutations.

If you belly up to the bar for one of Keil’s concoctions, by God, you’ll know it’s booze and not a Capri Sun Maui Punch with a kick.

The new bartender slang for this is “spirit-driven.”

“People should know when they’re drinking alcohol. It’s a potentially dangerous substance,” says Keil. “The whole point of this is not to get wasted and for us to essentially be legalized drug dealers. It’s to create a community space and to create a space for people to come together and enjoy each others company and enrich each other’s lives.”

It only stands to reason, why would Keil dilute the experience with crappy ice?

Because if your end goal is to create a lavender cocktail as breathy as a July meadow or a homemade absinthe pungent as a diabolical wood nymph’s ferny trousers, why not uphold and preserve those palate-shaping epiphanies as long as you possibly can? The choice is clear as glacier runoff.

Here’s to perfectionists with chainsaws.

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“Grand Daddy Blues” by
Jelly Jaw Short

shot + edited by
The Art Dept.

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