One of my favorite spots from my drinking youth, Auntie Mae’s in Manhattan Kansas, was 75% below street level, and since then I’ve always loved underground bars. There’s something wonderfully clandestine about entering a bar at street level, then proceeding down. All that activity above, all those people walking by. I recently had a chance to go with my wife into the newer (it opened in late September, from the same folks who own and run The Forge Lounge) Pioneer Square bar Sovereign, which is in the basement of the Maynard Building, to see if it rose to the level of other great subterranean bars. Here are three impressions from the visit.
The Drinks: When walking in, we were excited to see Cara Stuber making drinks behind the bar—we always dug her cocktails when she was at Bar Noroeste. Sovereign has eight selections on the mixed drink menu, including house creations like the Black on Gold, which combines hotsmoke bourbon (bourbon infused with chili and smoke), apricot, lemon and crystalized ginger. The citrus and apricot pairing, with undertones of smoke and spice, was like a spring afternoon at dusk. They had one of my favorite local cocktail inventions on the menu, too, The Trident, originally put together by genius local cocktail guru Robert “Drink Boy” Hess. It’s an herbal and spice masterpiece, with sherry, Italian amaro Cynar, aquavit and peach bitters all bringing layers of flavor. You’ll also find a tight, but well put together, list of wine and beer, and a punch that changes seasonally.
The Food: You won’t unearth an expansive menu of edibles, but what’s available is a great balance between snacks for while you sip and a few larger items. There’s a section of Table Bread that’s awfully fun, especially the Faux Gras. This veggie spread of walnuts, lentils, and mushroom—served like all the spreads with either a Grand Central baguette or gluten free crackers—had a beautifully substantial texture and an earthy nuttiness offset perfectly by accompanying whole grain mustard. There are trios of baguette sandwiches and deviled eggs on the menu, and the latter contains a rotating seasonal option; when we were there it was chicken curry. For those with bigger appetites another trio of larger Specials is available, with the Sticky Jerk Chicken, coming with a side of sweet potatoes, a hit so far.
The Space: As mentioned, you walk down a set of stairs to get into the Sovereign, which is darn cool. The rest of the space is cool, too, with an art nouveau essence that adds personality without becoming affectation. A trio (they love trios!) of antique chandeliers, delicate sconce lights and artsy accents over doors, tiled ceilings, and a William Morris-esque print wallpaper would be at home in 1924 on a few walls. The bar itself, where I suggest you sit to interact with friendly shakers like Cara, is marble topped, with 12 low-backed bar stools, while the main area is split into two sections with wooden topped tables and wood chairs, a couple low slung comfy chairs, and lots of space for standing. That space is good, because the Sovereign is already developing a crowd of neighborhood and post-work regulars, and starting to be noticed by the pre-and-post game sports crowd.