Idlewild, Vincent Chirico’s new bar on the ground floor of Novel NoDa, is a cocktail bar with no cocktail menu. This turns out to be a good thing, both for people new to cocktails and for veterans who remember when Charlotte thought a cocktail was a just-below-room-temperature vodka and Sprite.
Before moving to Charlotte a little over a year ago, Vincent worked at several of New York’s most influential cocktail bars, including the legendary Flatiron Lounge and Attaboy (the successor to Milk & Honey which is the bar that practically created the modern craft cocktail craze). The influence of those experiences is clearly reflected in the attention to detail in the décor, service, food, and drink at Idlewild.
The space is somehow both light and cozy, with high ceilings, not-too-soft booths and couches, and green plants. There is a selection of small plates to snack on, like cheese and charcuterie, as well as bruschetta generously piled with avocado, tomato, basil, and balsamic vinegar.
There are presses on the bar to squeeze citrus juice. The big chunks of ice are hand carved right in front of you with old-school ice picks. They use only metal or paper straws to cut down on waste.
It’s a place you may want to linger with friends, because just one more of whatever is coming from behind the bar is exactly what keeps the conversation going.
Rather than try to figure out what drink you’d like from the menu (or how to order a beer without seeming a little out of place), you answer a few questions about whether you want something fizzy or boozy, what flavors you like, and any food allergies. This comes off as relaxed and conversational with the well-trained and friendly staff who then, with a glint in their eye, will get to work with the bar’s wide variety of spirits, liquors, bitters, fresh fruits, mixers, and various other sundries to produce a drink custom made just for you to fit your mood at that exact moment.
Maybe you’re feeling brash and bold, and the drink you need is a smoky, spicy, and sour concoction blending mezcal, tequila, lime, honey, and Calabrian hot peppers cooled by a veritable meteor of hand-carved ice. Maybe you’re feeling more mellow and want something lower proof, like a sherry cobbler packed with fresh fruit around crushed ice that tastes like a lightly boozy trip through the farmers’ market on a warm spring day. Or maybe what you need is a stalwart, like a martini, served clear and ice-cold with a plump olive suspended on the rim of a gorgeous coupe.
It isn’t exactly that there is no cocktail menu at Idlewild; it’s rather that the options for the menu exist in the heads of the meticulously trained staff. As of opening day, they have committed 70 recipes to memory (far more than would fit on a standard menu), and the goal is to have about 200 in their playbook by summer. As any veteran cocktail maker will tell you, that gives them a ton of combinations to play with by adding a slightly different flavor or note without undermining the overall drink.
They have beer and wine too, but really what you want there is a cocktail. Which one exactly? Well that depends on how you’re feeling that day. Trust that your bartender will have the perfect answer. In the long term, if you’re like me, you’re going to want to have them all.
Cocktails are $13 each (slightly more if you want top shelf liquors), mocktails are $8. Expect to enjoy a few of them.