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Cocktail Hour: Level Dining Lounge

As anyone who has tended bar knows, there’s often a lot more to it than simply mixing spirits.

This is of no concern to Josh Herndon, a long-time veteran of the profession and nearing his fifth year at Short North’s Level Dining Lounge (700 N High St.). It’s a fast-paced social beehive, regularly hosting special events in the main dining area and its more secluded upstairs lounge.

Herndon himself is as dynamic as the decor inside the restaurant. At sixteen, he moved to Japan (the country of his mother’s origin) to study at a Buddhist-Shinto school. He relishes artistic culture, enjoys cooking and baking, and is an avid musician, able to play five different instruments.

“I work well with my hands,” he offered as he whipped together the first of the day’s three featured cocktails.

The busy nature of Level is part of the appeal for Herndon, who considers the interpersonal component of bartending just as important as anything else.

“Not every drink needs to take six minutes to make,” he said. Cheers to that.

Off the Level cocktail menu came two such offerings: the Hendrick’s South Side and the Level Saint.

The South Side was just what it should have been – tall, fresh, and minty. Hendrick’s gin is paired naturally with Thatcher’s organic cucumber liqueur and freshly muddled lime and mint. It’s a drink that screams summer, though it was still perfectly welcome with snow on the ground outside.

The Level Saint was much more of the perfect party drink. Pear vodka and St. Germaine elderflower liqueur made up the bulk of it, carrying a sweetness that was cut just a bit by some lemon. As such, it’s got the look of a lemon drop (albeit without the sugar rim), but plays pear notes all throughout. Dangerously easy to drink.

Finally, Herndon pulled together the drink that finished behind Emily George’s Ginger Snap (featured in last month’s issue) at (614)’s recent holiday cocktail competition but still garnered him the Consumer’s Choice award. It’s called the Seasonal Depression Suppression, an uncommon pairing of gin, amaretto, and peppermint that registered somewhere between a White Russian and egg nog in a very pleasant way. The amaretto, said Herndon, actually plays on the almond flavors in the Bombay gin he uses in the mix.

The FDA likely hasn’t weighed in, but the quippy name is not without merit. This drink could certainly help you shake the winter blues.

Seasonal Depression Suppression
1.5 oz. Bombay Sapphire gin
1 oz. Disaronno amaretto liqueur
.5 oz. simple syrup
.5 oz. cream
Peppermint candies

Crush one or two peppermint candies to powder. Rim martini glass with the candy powder. Add ingredients to shaker with ice and shake gently. Strain into rimmed glass.

Hendrick’s South Side
1.5 oz. Hendrick’s gin
.5 oz. Thatcher’s organic cucumber liqueur
1 oz. simple syrup
Fresh lime
Fresh mint

Muddle lime and mint with simple. Add gin and cucumber liqueur, add ice, shake. Serve in Collins glass, top with soda, garnish with mint sprig.

Level Saint
2 oz. Smirnoff pear vodka
1.5 oz. St. Germaine elderflower liqueur
.5 oz. lemon juice

Add ingredients to shaker with ice, shake, strain into martini glass. Garnish with lemon twist.