The Drunken Vegan, a.k.a. Patrick J. Hurley, is a full-time barman at the Civil Life Brewing Company and cocktail enthusiast about town. He's an unapologetic drunkard, a vegan and a bon vivant, and, no, he doesn't think those last two terms contradict each other.
Amid a sea of Italian-American restaurants on the Hill is a little Spanish island of a restaurant, Modesto (5257 Shaw Avenue; 314-772-8272), with its tapas-based menu. Happy hour (5 to 7 p.m. every day, and all night Tuesday and Thursday) offers tasty small bites and drinks. But don't limit yourself to the standard red sangria (which is nice) or a cold beer. Modesto offers some interesting twists on familiar cocktails that go well with the inexpensive snacks. The Drunken Vegan tasted four of them.
The "Spanish Negroni" is an unusual take on the classic with the addition of sherry, which lends an earthy, nutty note to the drink, a nice counterpoint to the bitterness of the Campari, and the citrus from the orange bitters and gin. The subtle herbaceous character of the vermouth still comes through. It pairs perfectly with marinated olives.
The "King of Spain" is a clean, simple drink using St. Germaine as the base. It has a predominantly floral tone and a little sweetness. Cava keeps the drink light and bright. It goes down in a hurry with the spiced almonds, which cry out for a sweet and sparkling accompaniment.
"Sangria del Dia" is a little bit of a misnomer as wine is not the main ingredient. Modesto's is gin and pineapple juice, with a cava float. The flavor is quite tropical, but the sweetness of the pineapple is toned down by the gin and the cava. It's a good quencher and a nice foil against briny, garlicky olives.
The "Modesto Margarita" has the same basic flavor of its standard counterpart, mostly tart lime but also the lighter flavor of lemon. It's made less sweet by the addition, once again, of cava. It's spritzy.
These cocktails are truly designed to marry with the big flavors of Spanish cuisine.