A half-decade ago, as new wave cocktail culture swept the nation, South Florida lagged behind. While people in cities like Chicago, New York, and San Francisco were already discovering the joy of a well-made Aviation, perfect Manhattan, or a solid Negroni, most South Floridians were still making do with frozen, premade mixes served in plastic cups.
In 2011, Sweetwater Bar & Grill founders Clint Reed and Sean Iglehart helped change that when they opened the area's first Prohibition-style speakeasy in Boynton Beach. Last year, they delivered another unique concept when Iglehart and his barmen devised the region's first mobile mixology catering company with Craft Cartel.
Now, Reed and Iglehart are looking to shake things up again when they debut their latest concept, Saxon, a 30-seat bar and lounge accessible through Sweetwater. The name is reference to early-fifth-century Great Britain, the space accented with rustic touches from large pieces of driftwood to a stag antler trophy plaque.
With Saxon, Reed and Iglehart say their vision was to create an innovative bar program unlike any other in South Florida.
"We wanted to go one step further — to break the boundaries of seasonal — by offering our guests a completely unique and immersive experience," says Iglehart. "Our goal is to transport people with each drink."
To do so, Saxon won't be fixed by any one theme or concept but instead will be an ever-evolving experience, adds Iglehart. In place of seasonal menu changes based on rotating ingredients, think of each cocktail as an ode to the menu's overall theme. The theme will change frequently, what can range from a specific time period or city to a historical event or even a popular TV show.
When it opens Thursday, Saxon's debut menu will feature riffs on Downton Abbey, the PBS British drama series set in the early 1900s. The short list of cocktails — five in all — will highlight the bygone era by showcasing spirits like gin, brandy, fortified wines, and absinthe. The cocktails presented will also serve to re-create the experience, from a swanky city soirée to a countryside picnic.
Here, presentation will be key: Each drink has been created as a work of art that patrons can experience with all five senses, served with detailed garnishes or a theatrical execution.
Take the "Fox Trot" (fino sherry, Irish whiskey, lavender-infused drambuie, lemon oil), which will be served in a sipping snifter and delivered to your bar seat or table on a wooden tray, the drink nestled in a bed of petrified moss accompanied with burning incense. Or the Downstairs Mix-up (Buddha-cello, Bigallet China China amer liqueur, thyme, and egg white served in a whiskey tulip) presented to guests inside a metal birdcage.
Expect some changes to the overall food menu, as well — one that will be shared by both establishments — thanks to a spring menu rollout happening this week, dishes presented by Sweetwater and Saxon's new executive chef, Josh Hedquist.
Like dueling stages positioned directly opposite one another, separated by a wrought-iron entryway that links both establishments, you can't help but compare Sweetwater to Saxon. But don't.
Sweetwater will continue to offer the same seasonal bar program, but keep in mind the experience at each bar is meant to remain separate. In other words: You'll only be able to order Saxon cocktails at the Saxon bar and Sweetwater's seasonal specialty cocktails at the Sweetwater bar.
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And while Sweetwater remains a dimly lit, speakeasyesque space with a bar program that focuses on whiskey, bourbon, and Scotch, the Saxon bar — with its refined, elegant, and sophisticated design — will offer a high-end selection of gin, brandy, fortified wines, and more than 30 types of absinthe.
"When we started Sweetwater, we wanted it to embody the revolution in craft cocktail culture," says Reed. "Saxon is the culmination of our efforts and the epitome of the bar that we always dreamed of opening. We have evolved, along with our customers palates, and the timing couldn't be more perfect to introduce Saxon to South Florida."
Saxon will open Thursday, March 24 at 6 p.m. Hours of operation will be Thursday through Saturday, 6 p.m. to close. The bar is located at 1507 S. Federal Highway, Boynton Beach (accessible through Sweetwater Bar & Grill). Call 561-509-9277, or visit sweetwater33.com.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.