Cook Hall, which opens Tuesday, October 30, in the former Craft restaurant space in Victory’s W Hotel near downtown, looks to be a winner.
Originally conceived as a Jean-George Vongerichton restaurant, JGV split from his restaurant consulting business and left the existing team to design Cook Hall. Judging from a preview last week, I don’t think his absence will do one bit of harm.
Cocktails and “small plates for sharing” are the centerpiece of Cook Hall, says chef Rick Graff, a veteran of the Dallas Craft restaurant.
The name is meant to evoke a gathering place for chefs and food lovers, says Belinda Chang, the out-of-town mixmaster who designed the beverage program. Chang won a 2011 James Beard Award winner for Outstanding Wine Service for her work when she served as the Wine Director at The Modern in NYC.
“The bar is the center of a restaurant’s energy, and we thought that was missing” from Craft, which did not have a bar at all, Chang told me. Cook Hall has an aggressive list of beers and housemade mixers to complement a snacky all-day menu. Craft’s floor-to-ceiling wine cellar now displays large format, 750 ml bottles of hard-to-find beers — including twenty bottles of Rogue’s Voodoo Donut (which really does taste like that nasty bacon-maple syrup donut so popular among PDX tourists).
For the cocktail program, Chang turned to her living room for inspiration.
“I’ve been all around the world and never seen anyone doing cocktails this way, which is essentially what friends do when they come to my house,” says Chang, explaining that her friends pick up a base spirit, then add whatever mixers and flavors they want.
(Wonder if Belinda charges her friends $3 extra for the chance to make their own drink, too.)
Patrons are encouraged to experiment with creating their own cocktails, then write their recipes in small moleskin notebooks at each table. Or they can find a recipe in the notebook that someone else invented and try that, says Chang.
On the other hand, if you go to bars for someone else to do the craftwork, you can save yourself $3 and let the barmen mix it for you, but Chang says you’re missing out on a lot of fun if you do.
Either way, “booze fosters friendliness,” says Rick Graff, the chef.
With four draft beers, a half-dozen large format beers, 245 bottled beers, 100 wines (all under $80, plus 16 BTG selections) and cocktails priced at $8-12 (even less during happy hour), Cook Hall is thoughtfully priced.
“We want you in our seats all the time,” says Chang.
A second Cook Hall is slated to open in the Atlanta W next spring.