Note: First Looks give previews of new bars and restaurants we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
When I asked Brian McCracken and Dana Tough for a photo in their new restaurant/bar, The Old Sage, the duo gravitated toward the dark, leather, mid-century modern chairs gathered around the fireplace. "Should we have cigars in our mouths?" they joked, hinting at the atmosphere of the spot: it's dark, the furniture and décor are heavy, and the focus is laser-sighted on Scotch.
Nobody else was paying much attention to Scotch, they say, when asked why they chose the spirit as a focus for the new spot. "Smoked meats and malts," the sign proclaims over the door of this sibling to Tavern Law, Spur, and the Coterie Room, succinctly getting to the heart of the mater. The smoked meat here is not the charcuterie or barbecue being offered elsewhere, though, they're quick to point out. Instead, they're serving lavender-smoked pork cheeks and pine-smoked foie gras. The malt part comes from 13 beer taps and the single malt Scotches that dominate the main wall of the bar.
McCracken and Tough roped in Charles Veitch to run the place—Veitch helped them open their first spot, Spur, back in 2008. Since then, he's been at Bastille here in Seattle, then The NoMad in New York. Now he's back, and working on a cocktail list to highlight and draw attention to the Scotch whisky theme. He found challenges, he said, in highlighting the malty, smoky quality of the spirit, without overwhelming anyone, or hiding the flavors. "I found ways to celebrate the seasonal ingredients," he said, "peaches and whisky," he offered as an example. When I stopped by, he was busy building a punch featuring just those flavors. To highlight seasonal berries, his spin on the Clover Club is mixed with a housemade raspberry syrup, shaken with Monkey Shoulder blended Scotch instead of gin.
Even the non-whisky cocktails have dark flavors that are meant to echo the smoky meats on the menu: there's mezcal and Amaro Nonino in the Almost Famous ($9), and black peppercorns mingle with thyme and lemon in the Reyka vodka and lager-based Shandied ($13).
For those interested in learning more about whisky, the plan is to develop three-whisky tasting flights. Veitch is eager to share single-vintage bottles for sipping, because "they were made only that year, they're not repeatable, nobody can just go out and get more!" When pressed to pick a Scotch he's most excited about, he pulled down a bottle of Linkwood Single Malt 1995 Whisky. Bar lead Myles Burroughs, most recently from RN74, reached for the Balvenie 30 year. Which just hammers home the reason there's an entire wall of whiskies waiting at the Old Sage: they plan to have a Scotch for everyone here.