By Kathy M. Newbern and J.S. Fletcher
Second in a Series
The aim of the elegant, 15th-floor Punch Room at Charlotte’s Ritz-Carlton is to evoke the “drinking dens of the 19th-century clubs of yesteryear.” The year-old Punch Room is not only a local upscale destination in The Queen City but is gaining a wider reputation because the Ritz-Carlton is a magnet for business travelers coming to this city known for international banking and finance. (Not to mention perfect-season Carolina Panthers’ football – as of this writing!)
Spearheading the effort is head mixologist Bob Peters. “I kind of get to host a party every night in this beautiful room and share really fun, cool things in the spirit world with people and make people happy. And I really love what I do. It’s a fun journey here at The Punch Room because we’re doing everything on a higher plane. We wanted to do something special for not only Charlotte but for this side of the country and do something that was amazing enough to be recognized nationally and hopefully one day maybe even globally.”
To help spread that recognition, readers can nominate the venue and the mixologist for the James Beard Foundation 2016 Restaurant and Chef awards in the categories Outstanding Bar Program (The Punch Room) and Outstanding Wine, Beer and Spirits Professional (Bob Peters). Nominations are open to the public. Go online to Jamesbeard.org/awards, scroll down to “2016 James Beard Awards Call for Entries,” then click “Submit an Entry.” You will need to create a free account, which is easy.
Winners will be named by May but a few are announced as early as January/February. The nomination deadline is Dec. 31, so don’t delay in helping North Carolina get this recognition.
Only 37 Patrons at a Time
The Punch Room is unique as bars go in that it only accommodate 37 people at a time. That way, each patron has a place to sit as well as his/her own server. “It’s an interesting way to run a bar and to enjoy a room,” Peters told us. “We don’t allow standing. That way everybody has their own space and nobody gets crowded.”
The name, by the way, comes from the nightly Punch Du Jour he creates – a complimentary glass served to each guest from an elegant silver bowl in beautiful glassware he selected. He carefully chose all the gleaming barware, in fact. An example of a Peters creation is Fiesta Punch featuring Tequila, Cilantro, Jalapeño, Beet Ginger Kombucha, Orange and Lime. “The Kombucha that we use is brewed locally here in Charlotte by a USDA-Certified Organic micro-brewery, Lenny Boy Brewing Co. It is the only USDA-Certified Organic Micro-Brewery in North Carolina. They are doing great things.”
The Punch Room also has its own chef, Patrick Cornell, offering eight-10 small plates for the before- and after-dinner imbibers. The smoked pecan hummus we tried was great. Other examples are Black-Eyed Pea Falafel, Crispy Fried Quail and hand-crafted accompaniments for existing menu selections of Kusshi Oysters, Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras and Yellowfin Tuna Carpaccio.
Bob Peters offers this perspective: “Craft cocktail lounges are popping up all over the United States. I think it’s going to be here quite a long time. Somehow we got away from what was so evident in the culinary world, that fresh ingredients taste better. So the cocktail world, trailing behind the culinary world by a year or two, finally caught up. The pendulum has swung to a garden-to-glass mentality. It takes a little longer. I try to give people the analogy that this place is kind of like a fine dining restaurant, but it’s about cocktails. Everything’s very fresh, done in house, taking care with everything, in a beautiful room.”
Yummy, Creative Cocktails
Examples of Bob Peters’ cocktail creations, with his added comments, include:
- Top of the Hill Punch: Topo Gin, Champagne, Earl Grey Tea, Lemon Juice, Lime Juice, Blackberries, Rosemary. “Topo Gin is from Top of the Hill Distillery located in Chapel Hill. Topo is the only USDA Certified Organic distillery in North Carolina and one of two in the entire South.”
- Pisco Sour: Muddled Lemon, Muddled Lime, topped with House-Made St. Germain Foam. We sampled this and loved it even more than the versions we had in Peru, where the cocktail originated. Peters explained: “This is a rearrangement of the classic. Instead of adding egg white to the cocktail and then shaking to get the traditional foam, I made a St. Germain foam with lemon juice and egg whites to top the cocktail. With the elderflower foam floating on top, this literally and figuratively is building flavors. It’s like a cocktail that sits on a cocktail that makes the cocktail taste better.”
- Boiler Mule: Tito’s Vodka, Muddled Lime and Private Label Organic Fortified Ginger Beer which Peters had brewed by local Lenny Boy Brewing Co. just for this recipe that is exclusive to The Punch Room. “The final product is USDA Organic and really beautiful — very peppery from the ginger and only slightly sweet. It’s not at all like a traditional ginger, which I find to be overly sweet and sharp to the palate. The cocktail ends up being a cross between a Moscow Mule and a Boiler Maker (a shot dropped in a beer) — thus the name Boiler Mule.”
- Strange Brew: Old Scout Bourbon (made by a West Virginia distillery), Hazelnut Milk, Coffee King Ice Cube. “This brew has a homemade hazelnut milk with a double-brewed Coffee King cube in it. As the coffee cube melts, it adds more and more coffee flavor to the cocktail.”
- Miso Daiquiri: Queen Charlotte’s Reserve Rum, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, Muddled Lime, Grilled Grapefruit Juice, Homemade Mint Miso Syrup. “The umami notes from the miso leave a remarkably pleasant smooth finish on your tongue.”
Rooftop Garden and Boutique Spirits
One of Peters’ joys in his job is playing on the roof where, since soon after opening, the boutique hi-rise hotel added bee hives, which contribute honey to the menu in the Ritz-Carlton venues and the honey ice cream served in its lobby. Now, there’s an organic garden, too. “I can go up before the shift starts and pick stuff and come back and get creative,” says Peters. That comes in handy since the cocktail menu changes often and seasonally, sometimes twice a season.
He’s also all about boutique spirits, many of them local and regional such as organic gin from Chapel Hill, two gins from Kings Mountain, liqueurs out of Durham inspired by family recipes, the bourbon from West Virgina. “More and more craft distilleries are opening up in and around Charlotte,” he notes, which offers him ever expanding inspiration.
Kathy’s Cocktail Surprise
Peters loves the kind of customer who says, in essence, ‘surprise me.’ He puts it like this: “I’ll ask a couple of questions to make sure I’m in the wheelhouse… that way they don’t have to decide. I think that’s a really cool experience. We make so many decisions every day in our lives. If you can just cut that off for a little while and let someone else drive, you get a really relaxing ride, and I think that’s a great experience to share with somebody.” Which he did – with Kathy.
Asked what she usually drinks, she replied vodka or rum. “I don’t like bourbon or gin,” she added. Peters, of course, slyly delivered a delicious gin drink from a nearly hundred-year-old recipe, announcing, after she declared it delicious, “You like gin; you just like good gin.” (In the accompany video, see him make Kathy that Carbonated Aviation cocktail created originally by Huge Ensslin, head bartender at NYC’s Hotel Wallick and named in honor of the Wright Brothers. We looked up the recipe, and the carbonation is a Peters add-on.)
We asked the mixologist what his own after-work, go-to drink would be. “Probably a beer and a shot of a really nice tequila.”
If You’re Going: The Punch Room, which celebrates its first anniversary on Valentine’s Day 2016, is open 5-11 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursday, and 6 p.m.-1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. An average cocktail price is $18.
The Punch Room is located on the 15th floor of the Ritz-Carlton, 201 E. Trade St., Charlotte. A select portion of each evening’s seating is reserved for guests of the hotel. Stop by the hotel’s Lobby Lounge to request Punch Room seating. To find out more, visit online or call 704.547.2244.
If you enjoyed this story, you might also enjoy:
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• Other stories by Kathy M. Newbern, Luxury Travel Examiner
Luxury Travel Examiners J.S. Fletcher and spouse, Kathy M. Newbern, report on luxury destinations, spas and cruising around the globe. They are award-winning members of the Society of American Travel Writers and created YourSpaReport.com and YourNovel.com, their personalized romance novel business.