Appetizer: The Oakland Art Novelty Company

A VINTAGE TOAST: Drinking in the retro atmosphere is half the pleasure at a new Ferndale watering hole that evokes the golden age of cocktails


Published:

A new breed of cocktail lounge has been emerging across the country, one dedicated to the golden age of the classic cocktail — the fizzes, the toddies, and the slings of the 1920s and ’30s.

Libations are taken seriously at these new-old spots, where correct glassware is used to serve concoctions carefully composed with authentic ingredients, fresh juices, and infusions that revive vintage recipes. As Sandy Levine says, it’s about “bartenders applying as much attention to cocktails as chefs do to food.”

Levine, the former general manager of Birmingham’s Chen Chow Brasserie, is the man behind Ferndale’s appealing new watering hole in the former Nami Sushi Bar on West Nine Mile Road. Its name, The Oakland Art Novelty Company, recalls the “Joe-sent-me” Prohibition era it’s meant to reflect. The Oakland was created in the mold of Levine’s favorite lounge in Chicago, where he and his wife lived briefly. The couple spent many evenings in the romanticized speakeasy setting of The Violet Hour on North Damen Avenue.

When they returned to their hometown of Detroit three years ago, it was with a plan in the back of their minds: to bring something reminiscent of The Violet Hour here.

“I contacted the guy who opened The Violet Hour and (jokingly) asked if he would open one in Detroit,” says Levine, who also researched the subject, reading David Wondrich’s books Imbibe! and Punch, which are considered definitive volumes on vintage drinks.

“He said he’d be happy to work with me if I was serious, and we had several meetings over the phone,” Levine says. “In the few years that I’ve been back in Detroit, he has achieved incredible success and now works with some major hotel chains, so he couldn’t dedicate the time and effort to open a bar here. He has been a sort of unofficial adviser to me in a lot of ways.”

The result is Ferndale’s new nightspot, done up with fancifully carved period bar stools, high-backed chairs, and antique-style sofas and chairs against a background of deep purple bathed in soft light from 10 glittering crystal chandeliers and candles that flicker inside little glass holders.

Small wooden whiskey barrels on the bar hold special drinks that are meant to age before being served. “I’ve recently experimented with a variation of a Sazerac that I call On the Night You Were Born,” Levine says. “It contains rye whiskey, absinthe, and Pedro Ximénez. That will be the first cocktail we age in whiskey barrels.”

Sandy Levine, owner of The Oakland Art Novelty Company.

(ALL PHOTOGRAPHS BY ERIK HOWARD)

 

Other drinks on The Oakland bar menu include a margarita made with Añejo tequila and hickory-smoked ice, and a Manhattan that includes homemade maraschino cherries. “We’re working on making ones that explode in your mouth, similar to the spherical olives made at El Bulli in Spain,” he says.

The attention to detail is such that The Oakland makes its own bitters and fruit syrups and uses specially shaped “coupe” ice cubes to prevent excessive melting that interferes with the taste of such drinks as the Levines’ favorite, the Juliet and Romeo, a blend of gin, muddled mint and cucumber, and rosewater, which, of course, is on the list too.

For now, it’s cocktails-only, with some finger food to come later. The intimate room seats just 54, but a back patio will be added shortly. There, the theme will change to yet another revived theme from the past: the tiki bar.

The Oakland Art Novelty Company, 201 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-291-5295.

If you enjoy the monthly content in Hour Detroit, "Like" us on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter for more frequent updates.

Edit Module
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Content

Extraordinarily Good

Freshness reigns supreme at the imaginative Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails in Midtown

Spirited Inspiration

Jim Brady’s Detroit owner sets out to recreate the feeling of his grandfather’s famed saloon

Family Style

Dearborn Meat Market serves affordable old favorites with a twist

Simple Pleasures

Rugby Grille’s Damian Yopek’s classic coq au vin is his kind of home cooking

Solid Standby

New restaurant in The Belt is the type of place to get Miller High Life and a burger or craft cocktail and sophisticated sturgeon
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. From Tires to Tequila
    Using agave crops from their ancestral Jalisco, Mexico, property, a Southwest Detroit family is...
  2. Infection Fighters
    Hand-held detection device puts a pair of Wayne State doctors on the verge of a major medical...
  3. Holy Schvitz
    A new generation reconnects with Old World traditions at a storied Detroit bathhouse
  4. Barbecue + Beer = Love
    Lockhart’s BBQ to host OddSide Ales tap event in late January, then launch a craft brewery...
  5. Exported From Bellaire
    Inventive brewer Short’s hits milestone and announces plans to distribute outside of Michigan
  6. Solid Standby
    New restaurant in The Belt is the type of place to get Miller High Life and a burger or craft...
  7. Fire Up the Dragon
    New Holland’s bourbon barrel stout gets the royal treatment at Winter Beer Fest and beyond
  8. Extraordinarily Good
    Freshness reigns supreme at the imaginative Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails in Midtown
  9. Spirited Inspiration
    Jim Brady’s Detroit owner sets out to recreate the feeling of his grandfather’s famed saloon
  10. The Look of Love
    Bridal fashion doesn’t necessarily have to be wed to tradition. Top designers are creating...