Story Jason Browne | Photographs Luisa Porter
Starkville isn’t big enough to have hole-in-the-wall bars. Whereas a city like New Orleans has the population and enough densely packed mixed zoning districts to necessitate a) a lot of bars, and b) bars in unique locations (i.e. down tight alleys, in street-accessible basements), Starkville lacks the people and pedestrian friendly areas to even allow one to stumble upon a hidden watering hole, let alone one with a unique ambience and personality.
In other words, pleasant surprises are exceedingly rare. The Guest Room might be Starkville’s first pleasantly surprising bar.
Despite being attached to one of Starkville’s premier restaurants, Restaurant Tyler on Main Street, The Guest Room has all the makings of a proper New Orleans hole-in-the-wall, albeit a high class one. Situated in Tyler’s basement, the bar holds around 50 people max. The lights are kept low on purpose, which accentuates the subterranean vibe created by the windowless brick walls and wood pillars.
The décor is vintage New Orleans. Roof tiles from the ’50s. Sconces from the ’40s. A huge gilded mirror from the 1880s. Even the bar surface itself is copper, polished to gleaming every night after closing.
It’s here that bartender and manager Will Sanders dreams up equally charming concoctions.
“A lot of people come in and say ‘I don’t know. Make me something.’ Well, do you want something boozy? Not so alcoholic? Sweet? Sour?” explains Sanders.
The Guest Room can pretty much do it all, with handmade, locally grown ingredients and premium liquors. Sanders and Co. roll out themed drinks for events like holidays, graduation or the Kentucky Derby. These run the gamut from a bacon-infused Old-Fashioned to a clear tomato water Bloody Mary.
For the fall, Sanders has developed a cocktail he christened the Santo Poco composed of apple brandy, ancho chile liqueur, rye whiskey, pure Vermont maple syrup, lemon juice and bitters. The drink is remarkably light on the tongue, but finishes with a satisfying bite at the back of the throat, more an effect of the chile liqueur and cinnamon tincture sprayed on the glass than the 2 ½ ounces of liquor packed within.
“It’s really well-balanced. A lot of drinks are built from a base alcohol, a sweet and a sour. This one is a split base between the apple brandy and the ancho. The sweet portion is the maple and the sour is the lemon juice,” says Sanders.
1 ounce Calvados (apple brandy)
¾ ounce Ancho Reyes (ancho chile liqueur)
½ ounce Old Overholt Rye (rye whiskey)
½ ounce Vermont maple syrup
½ ounce lemon juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
• Add ingredients to cocktail shaker, add ice, shake to chill and slightly dilute.
• Strain liquid into glass sprayed with cinnamon tincture. First strain through Hawthorne strainer and again through a fine mesh strainer to remove any ice chips (that would further dilute the cocktail) and lemon pulp.
For cinnamon tincture, coarsely crush sticks of cinnamon using a mortar and pestle. Immerse in Everclear for four weeks.