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    Wednesday, December 07, 2022

    'Nautical luxury' cocktail lounge and 'Dive Bar' open in Mystic

    Beverage manager Jade Ayala mixes a drink Wednesday, March 23, 2022, at The Port of Call in Mystic. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Oyster Club, Real McCoy Rum open cocktail lounge

    Mystic — Blood-red curtains, brass fixtures and a chandelier hang in the street-level lounge, atop teak floorboards made from the deck boards of the Joseph Conrad, a ship now at Mystic Seaport Museum. Fancy glassware sits on the "Million Mile Bar," made of wood reclaimed from the Charles W. Morgan, the last remaining wooden whaleship.

    It's all very fitting for a place that wants to pay homage to local maritime culture while being part of the national conversation on great cocktail bars and wanting people to feel like they're visiting international coastal cities.

    This is The Port of Call and its playfully named Dive Bar downstairs, a cocktail lounge and small-plates spot that opened last week and that is a collaboration between Meiser's 85th Day Food Community and The Real McCoy Rum.

    Co-owner Dan Meiser wants people to feel as though they're stepping into the dining and living area of a Prohibition-era yacht, with décor that speaks to "nautical luxury."

    Downstairs is a very different vibe: an industrial setting with a theme of Mark V diving gear, including a mural of a diver on the wall, a diving suit and diving pictures that came from the Naval Submarine Base in Groton. There's a shuffleboard table and two vintage tabletop arcade machines, the proceeds of which will be donated to the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center.

    The basement was Friar Tuck's Tavern before it moved and Frizzante Champagne and Wine Bar before that, while upstairs was gallery space for the art museum.

    Meiser said The Port of Call "is a flipped concept from what we're used to" — a bar usually plays a supporting role in most traditional restaurants, but here the cocktails are leading the charge.

    Specifically leading that charge is beverage director Jade Ayala, while the other women "steering the ship" are executive chef Renee Touponce and general manager Nancy Hankins. The designer was Jennifer Pryor, Bailey Pryor's wife, and heading up the bar program is Sebastian Guerrero.

    "I think some of the stuff that Jade is developing is really interesting and designed to gain everyone's trust," Bailey Pryor said, adding that these cocktails are "not just the same old stuff" but involve experimentation.

    For example, people may find it antithetical to include mushrooms in a cocktail, but that's part of a savory Manhattan on the menu called Organic Woodland Matter ($14).

    Meiser said a bestseller in the past week has been the Curry Barbados ($13), which includes Real McCoy rum, curry, ginger lime, bitter chocolate and fennel bitters. It's a cocktail on tap that's made at Pryor's "lab" in Stonington, a place that Meiser said gives his team the opportunity to have a "test kitchen" in the spirits world.

    Pryor said the cocktail culture now "is to buy a rum or a tequila or a whisky and make all sorts of different cocktails with that one product," but "we're trying to make the toolbox much bigger," such as by making a spirit with a flavor profile specific to sweet cocktails.

    The team at The Port of Call wants visitors to feel like they're on a ship stopping at port cities around the globe. Each menu item lists a port of call, and the cocktails have suggested pairing plates.

    For example, the Cuba Libre No. 2 cocktail ($16) — a rum and coke that includes ancho and guajillo chiles, vanilla, clove and lime — has its port of call listed as Havana and its pairing plates as bacalaitos ($14) and smoking pinchos ($13). Bacalaitos are salted fish fritters, a traditional Puerto Rican dish, and pinchos are pork skewers.

    "There are certain items on the menu where our team has an understanding of these dishes and will prepare a very traditional interpretation," Meiser said. He said of Touponce, whose stepfather is Puerto Rican, "When she's making empanadas or bacalaitos, she is making them with the same love, care and technique that she made growing up."

    Meiser noted that other members of the kitchen team are from Peru, Guatemala and El Salvador, but there are other items on the menu where the chefs have researched dishes but made them their own.

    "We will never claim to be an authority on Vietnamese or Japanese or Jamaican cuisine," Meiser said. "We'll certainly explore those places, and we'll give those places — those food communities — a tremendous amount of respect."

    Some of the other food options include Spanish olives with cheese from Mystic Cheese Company, squid ink empanadas with Stonington squid, and a Singapore-style grilled mushroom salad featuring trumpet and maitake mushrooms from Seacoast Mushrooms in Mystic.

    The menu downstairs at Dive Bar is more focused on street food, with New Orleans-style fried chicken, New Jersey-style pork roll from Leone & Sons and a smoked hot dog with house-made kimchi.


    The Port of Call general manager Nancy Hankins greets a guest Wednesday, March 23, 2022, in Mystic. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Head chef Renee Touponce, right, and sous chef Jorge Baldiviezo work in the kitchen Wednesday, March 23, 2022, at The Port of Call in Mystic. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Business Snapshot

    Business: The Port of Call

    Where: 15 Water St., Mystic

    Hours: opens at 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, with Port of Call closing at 10 p.m. and Dive Bar open until last call

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