Within the bounds of Downtown Fullerton’s sphere of nightlife influence — albeit seemingly worlds away in its relaxed ambiance — lies a speakeasy-style shrine to the art and culture of jazz. Everyone is already quite familiar with the world famous Steamers Jazz Club as a great alternate destination, yet it still possesses a certain exclusive or, shall we say, clandestine quality. In fact, it is Fullerton’s best-kept known secret.
For nearly two decades, impresario Terence Love, through charm and gift of guile, has managed to corral some of the best acts (touring and otherwise) into his intimate, candle-lit stable. Such international luminaries as Diana Krall, Barbara Morrison, Poncho Sanchez and much more have aggrandized the humble Steamers stage. While jazz is clearly Love’s passion, for a man who has been sober for over twenty years, he proudly leaves the arena of libations to his savvy and dapper crew.
Clad in button ups, ties, and vests, they mix only with top-notch and small batch liquors; meticulously layering on complex flavors with the lightest of touches. After many years of serving the tried and true, off-screen partners Sean Schickling and Lucie Wood became restless and duly more adventurous. Poring over the Savoy Cocktail Book, popularly regarded as the bible of drink recipes, the next logical step, of course, was to derive a creative menu of their own.
3 Questions with Sean and Lucie:
With almost 20 years of Steamers serving the standard favorites, how did you two come about changing things up?
We have been utilizing proper mixology methods for quite a while; we’ve been featuring classic cocktails on our menu, making syrups in-house, squeezing fresh juice and so on. After we saw that our customers were enjoying cocktails like the Sazerac and the Last Word, it became apparent that we could take a risk and give them something entirely new. It was a natural transition into featuring our own original cocktails.
What would you say is the inspiration behind some of your signature drinks?
All of our cocktails are classically styled, and dare we say, conceptual. For instance, the Dutch Courage is an ode to the decadent 18th-century Imperialist punches. It’s made with Batavia Arrack (an exotic rum-like spirit from Indonesia), Bols Genever, our house-made Earl Grey syrup, fresh lemon juice, and a splash of Moet et Chandon Imperial Champagne. It’s like the classic punch that never was, and in keeping with the tradition of punch, it’s dangerously delightful.
On the other hand, sometimes we’re just going for a specific flavor profile. With the Bad Seed, we were looking to highlight the herbal flavors of Chartreuse in a way that’s more accessible than, say, the Widow’s Kiss. Naturally, we use apple brandy, which pairs well with the notes of cardamom, anise, sage, and rosemary found in Chartreuse. Then we add Bonal gentiane-quina (a bittersweet French vermouth), fresh lemon, and finish with a fresh sage leaf, which acts as an aromatic garnish. The Bad Seed may sound scary, but it’s a well-balanced, subtly herbaceous, and utterly delicious cocktail.
After the anticipated success of your launch, will you be going forward in the future with seasonal or rotating concoctions?
In addition to the off-menu cocktails we feature on a regular basis, we like to change our cocktail menu frequently. Seasonal menus provide the opportunity to showcase new and different spirits and ingredients. We both love tiki drinks, for instance, so this summer you can definitely expect some fantastic rum cocktails.
Thanks, Sean & Lucie!
We were invited to Steamers one blithe afternoon as an informal tasting panel — all in the name of science, we assure you. The shaker-wielding power team of Schickling, Wood and (Victor) Williams busied themselves behind the modest service bar making tinctures, syrups and bitters — paying homage to the time-honored constructs while culling insight from nouveau variations. The attention to detail and precision was impeccable and we laymen were indoctrinated into the world of slings, smashes, and flips.
One such example of a flip, The Great Awakening, is their frothy version of a Corpse Reviver #2. It is somewhat of a skinny nog, sans yolk and cream, and incorporates a beaten egg white. Considering that Fullerton is more of a bourbon drinking town, Buffalo Trace is favored over the gin. The Lillet Blanc reduction, Cointreau and Nouvelle-Orléans absinthe, for all its French apertif origins, make it hands down the most elegant on their roster.
Dubbed Salome’s Last Dance, the Tanqueray London Dry gin, Combier Pamplemousse Rose liquer, Marie Brizzard anisette and fresh lime juice shimmy into a botanical and coquettish combo. Capturing the delicate perfume of the grapefruit, it is a seductive beverage that elicits visions of veiled nymphs cavorting in a bucolic meadow. While you might not relinquish John the Baptist’s head on a platter for it, you would willingly give up his pinky finger.
In one iteration called Magnolia, the Bénédictine Vieux Pontarlier blooms brightly for the absintheurs. The Ransom Old Tom gin, Noilly Prat vermouth, and orange bitters meld with the fennel notes into a potent elixir. Integral to this drink is the big block of ice, which figures prominently as also a big deal in mixology. Renowned bartender Eric Alperin of The Varnish in Los Angeles asserts that “ice is the bartender’s flame, and it’s often the most disregarded ingredient.”
Now it’s debatable whether the eight palliatives that Schickling and Wood have composed and finessed will offer spiritual transcendence or even emotional rescue, but they definitely bring a divine depth to Steamers’ liquid repertoire. They say that there is no better measure of cocktail culture than the Old Fashioned and as Steamers edges closer to its 20th Anniversary it begins to resemble qualities of this classic chameleon; with its archetypical structure, and just like the music that courses through its veins, it too lends itself to great improvisation.
Steamers Jazz Club
138 W. Commonwealth Avenue
Photography: Brian Feinzimer of Feinzimer Photography
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