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Takeout Tuesday: Craft cocktails to go from The Emerson in Midtown

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Vanilla Old Fashioned from The Emerson. Made with organic Madagascar vanilla bean and garnished with an orange peel{ }(Courtesy: Instagram @theemersonreno)

One of the big winners of quarantine has been my stomach. There has been no shortage of good food, whether prepared at home or from one of our great local restaurants. We obviously have a lot of extra time on our hands. So far, I’ve taken you to three spots that have been highlights during this slowdown: epic artisan pizza and cucumber margaritas with Aaron Foster at Midtown’s “food + drink:" Mexico City-inspired tacos with Chef Harrison at Estella in downtown; and super legit Nashville style hot chicken at Crazy D’s on Virginia Street.

While the food escapades have been excellent, the quality on the drinking side has gone way down in quarantine. Gone are the days of popping through amazing cocktail bars lining Midtown, from an insane whiskey selection at Chapel, to delicious tropical-inspired drinks at Rum Sugar Lime. But fortunately a few weeks ago, the state passed a new directive that allowed not only restaurants but bars to start selling their cocktails to go. No, this isn’t New Orleans where you can get a drive-thru daiquiris (although if that was a permanent thing here I would have no complaints). But now cocktail bars can join their brewing cousins by selling their sealed drinks to go.

Craft cocktails to go

Inspired by this directive, I figured it was time to wet my whistle. The Emerson posted pictures of their cocktails on Instagram, and I couldn’t hold back. It’s one of my favorite bars in Reno, and I have enjoyed many a night sitting at their bar with friends. I figured this was a win-win. I get to support a bar I love, while also scoring high-level cocktails. I think I’m starting to figure this whole quarantine thing out.

The Emerson takes orders on Thursday through their website for a pickup on Friday or Saturday from 4-7 p.m. I logged on, browsed the selection and figured I would try a few. To my dismay, the watermelon margarita that had been featured the week before was a thing of the past. That sounds pretty damn good doesn’t it? Fortunately there were plenty of consolations, including one of my favorite cocktails, the old fashioned. Theirs had a a twist as a “vanilla old fashioned." Sounds delightful.

Next up was the Gin Blush. Honestly, it had some ingredients I didn’t recognize, but my wife likes gin, so what the hell? And I also added four cans of the cranberry Long Drink, a gin-based spritzer that has become one of my favorite beverages. I discovered their original version made with gin and grapefruit juice while covering the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe last year. Actor Miles Teller, an investor in Long Drink, let me take of sip of his drink. The guy who is going to play Goose’s son in the upcoming Top Gun movie let me have some of his drink. Essentially the blue one tastes like the old soda Squirt, but alcoholic.

The Emerson

Reno has undergone a small revolution in recent years with a boom of great cocktail bars. The Emerson is definitely on that list. Owned by former celebrity hair stylist Tyler Colton, the space is gorgeously decorated in a Mid-Century modern theme that's open and intimate. It’s a great gathering space for many types of occasions: having an intimate conversation with some friends at the bar, hanging out in one of the couch areas or dancing when there is a DJ. The Emerson is also known for its special events. Drag shows and drag brunches have become a hit, often selling out within hours.

Colton grew up in Carson City where his dad, Stan, was the Treasurer for the State of Nevada. He eventually moved to New York City where he became an A-List hairstylist. His work found the covers of publications like Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, GQ, Cosmopolitan and more. His clientele included actresses Hilary Swank, Charlize Theron and Eva Longoria.

But as his career in that industry was winding down, he and his group of friends talked about what was next.

“We played around with a pop-up night in East Village or maybe open a bar and and it kept escalating,” Colton said.

Meanwhile, he stayed connected to Northern Nevada through regular visits with family and friends.

“I came to Reno and my friend had taken me to all these cool places and craft cocktail bars, and you know the universe possesses you sometimes and I just thought ‘I’m moving to Reno and opening a bar!’” he said. “And just like that, I moved to Reno and didn’t open a bar just like that. It took me a couple of years to get it open, but I’m really proud of what we’ve created. I really felt like I could contribute something different or add another texture. I’m so excited.”

The cocktails

Excited for the first craft cocktail I’ve had in months, I made my way to the Emerson on Friday evening. Some of the bartenders had set up tables at the door with bags filled with alcoholic goodies. I prepaid online, including tip, so I was able to quickly grab my drinks and head back home.

The drinks came in cute individual bottles, each one at 3.5 ounces, the same as a normal cocktail. The cost was $12 per drink. Not cheap, but on par with the cost of cocktails when drinking in person. Once home, I cracked open the vanilla old fashioned, tossed in a couple of ice cubes and took my first sip. I was met with a silky smooth sweet cocktail with a hint of bite from the whisky. It was divine. My only regret was not making some giant ice cubs ahead of time. It would have been a better presentation. It was a rich and delicious old fashioned, highlighted by the vanilla which is made from organic Madagascar beans.

“You open the bean up and create the different types of syrups or infusions with just a single bean.” Colton said. “It’s amazing what it can do. That cocktail we were proud of.”

The Gin Blush, on the other hand? I’m trying to be as nice as possible about this, but this was the description from my wife. “It smells funky."

I immediately thought, “Well, maybe the glass was just not clean?” Nope. We swapped the glass and that smell was still there. Whoa. But you take a sip and it is fantastic. I couldn’t believe something that smelled that bad tasted that good.

“That was a really good learning experience,” Tyler said with a laugh. “The blush was meant to be like a Negroni, and we were trying stuff and we used radishes to make like a radish gastric, which turns into a simple and we cook it down. But what you have is a radish fermenting like spinach or cabbage so when you are smelling it, it’s off smelling. We were, like, ‘Oh, god, this is going to smell so bad.'"

And it does, but I appreciated the creativity and the honesty.

“We are going to move away from vegetables,” he said with a chuckle. “We’ll use pomegranate next time.”

Now that sounds more like it.

Plans for reopening

One of the advantages of The Emerson compared to its cocktail counterparts is it can have a license to serve food. The bat normally offers small plates like flatbreads and dips.

“Because we're not a full big restaurant, that is our main focus," Colton said. "I wanted to first watch what other restaurants are doing and other people with licenses like us."

Colton is targeting an opening date of May 22 after the construction on Virginia Street is finished later this week. He wants to construct a 400-square-foot patio before reopening to the public.

“I think most people will feel comfortable sitting outside, so I really want to get that done,” Colton said. “We want to do it right. We will have a reservation model as well as limited seating so we can control people coming in or out and it isn’t a free-for-all. I went out this weekend and saw some free-for-alls and it makes me nervous.”

As for events like DJ’s spinning and people dancing or their famous drag brunches, those are still a ways away. But he did say one thing would come back much sooner: comedy.

“Monday night was our comedy night like an open mic night and those comics want to come back so fast," Colton said. "We are lucky we have a big enough space. It will be reservation only, like a cabaret thing, still limited seating and social distancing. We want to provide a safe environment for that to happen.”

It will be awesome to see that kind of activity return soon. Who doesn’t want to share some cocktails and laughs right now? I’m up for it.

Until next time. Stay safe, stay hungry, and stay thirsty friends.

Nevada Sports Net's executive producer Alex Margulies will feature a local restaurant once a week in his "Takeout Tuesday" feature. You can contact him at amargulies@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter at @marguliespxp.


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