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Quality cocktails—and maybe a little mid-century vibe—are the focus at the Upstaris Bar & Lounge.

Image: Julie Soefer

Last Saturday, Upstairs Bar & Lounge above Hungry’s in Rice Village hosted a cocktail class to showcase the variety of options possible with Hendrick’s Gin and fresh-pressed juices.

Nathan Reffell, veteran bartender and Hendrick’s ambassador, kicked off the event by making a seemingly simple gin and tonic—but one with a twist. The addition of a grapefruit peel was a small but notable upgrade, providing an extra hint of citrus and a clean finish.

How does such a classic drink begin to set itself apart from the rest? The ingredients, of course. "Now bartenders really care about what they put in their drinks," Reffell noted of the theme that would carry the cocktail class. "The quality of the ingredients is important."

The next cocktail in the lineup was the Verdita, featuring fresh-pressed Persian cucumbers, mint, cilantro, pineapple, lemon and, of course, gin. Grassy and cucumber-forward, the Verdita tasted like your healthy “green juice” but with booze in it, because why not?

Just beet it margarita by julie soefer imjbvl

The Just-Beet-It margarita contains, you guessed it, fresh beets.

Image: Julie Soefer

For those with a sweet(er) tooth, the third cocktail highlighted fresh watermelon juice, Aperol, lemon, agave and gin, topped off with a watermelon wedge. This fruity concoction screamed summertime and would be best enjoyed on a shaded patio or poolside.

The final cocktail on the list let ginger beer take the stage. Forget the canned stuff—Upstairs uses their own homemade ginger beer, which consists of freshly juiced ginger, lemon juice and simple syrup. What could be better than a ginger beer that actually tastes like fresh ginger? Adding Hendrick’s Gin and a single mint leaf for garnish, naturally.

So, how do you go about recreating these refreshments at home? Again, it comes down to quality ingredients—which Reffell and his team make sure to have behind the bar every day. "The kinds of ingredients we have here make it so much easier to create great cocktails," said Linda Salinas, beverage director at Upstairs.

Beyond selecting quality liquor, picking up the freshest produce from local farmers markets can make or break a cocktail. But if you’d rather not go through the trouble, Upstairs will happily do the work for you. Their obvious passion for having the best ingredients—whether it’s in the food or drinks—makes Upstairs an ideal happy hour destination.

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