Aside from a few artists' studios and the presence of some Volkswagen Jettas, Maplewood's always been a Busch/Bud Light/mullet kind of town, a burg where the jukeboxes lean toward KSHE Klassics and a shot of Jack serves as a healthy face-slap prelude to chugging A-B products and getting all teary-eyed during "Bohemian Rhapsody." It's not the kind of place you'd expect to find the Piece of Cake, one of the specialty drinks at the heavenly, recently opened Atomic Cowboy.
The Piece of Cake, as the name suggests, is kind of a prissy drink. Despite its sweet moniker, the libation contains no Kool-Aid or sloe gin, and, mercifully, no sugar is added. The POC is more like a booze-infused liquid version of a lemon square: sour enough to put some hair on your tongue but not so much that you'll end up completely puckered. The tang arrives from different angles. The booze is Absolut Citron, and the Cowboy is generous with it. Yes, the mysterious sweet-and-sour mix is splashed in, along with a shot of 7-Up and, for another dimension of flavor -- and a pretty color -- a dose of cranberry juice. Toss in a nice chunk of lemon (or lime -- you've got your choice), humbly request a cherry, swirl and sniff, and bingo, you've got yourself a nice early-fall quencher of a drink, one that won't slam you unless you down several.
If you want to get slammed, though, the Atomic Cowboy can support your weight; it's a gorgeous space, an old storefront right on the main Manchester drag, and owner Peter Venezia's done it up right, complete with boxy, comfortable vintage '70s furniture and local art (which is for sale) on the walls, a sandwich menu, DSL Internet service and music galore. The music's electronic -- hip-hop, house, techno, down-tempo -- and is provided by some of the city's best DJs (DJ Flex Boogie is in charge of booking, a good thing). On weekends, the place is hopping but not overwhelming. The Atomic Cowboy and the drinks served there suggest that Maplewood is finally acknowledging the twenty-first century.