Pour It On
William Sythes and Ambrosia Martini Lounge
1913 S Kihei Rd, Kīhei, HI 96753, 808-891-10101, www.ambrosiamaui.com, @ambrosiamaui
William Sythes and I meet about 7 pm for coffee and I realize this is his morning. Will is a straightforward guy, he didn’t take me for a drunkard, so we met at Starbucks, an alcohol neutral zone. We quickly shored up his day and moved the interview to Hang Loose Lounge after both of us confessed a love for the corner bar.
Sythes is a bartender and sometimes mind-reader at Ambrosia Martini Lounge. Ambrosia is not your ordinary Maui watering hole. Tucked off to the less seen side of the Life’s a Beach and Fat Daddy’s building in the Kihei Kalama Village with a small footprint is doesn’t take much to fill this intimate setting. Contemporary decor outfits the lounge with cement, rock and leather, but there is a timeless quality once you are within.
Its dark inside and climate controlled, ambient lighting somehow makes the bottles and glasses sparkle, it feels classy. Dark drapes conceal the liquor storage facilities behind the small bar, you will see bartenders duck under and emerge from behind these mysterious velvet coverings from time to time. Entertainment is different 7 nights a week here, and you can get a divergent crowd everytime.
Over a beer and a jack and coke Sythes and I break down some of Bill’s specialty drinks.
What’s up with the Green Fairy?
We carry a lot of specialty spirits, Lucid Absinthe is one of them. We aren’t the only bar on Maui with it, but we have an absinthe fountain. You drip water from the fountain over a sugar cube into the glass. The herbs in the alcohol make it the drink cloud over, the sugar breaks down from the drip and sweetens it. Then you sip it. There are also cocktails with absinthe, the Mint Muse is a Mojito-like absinthe drink, the Green Lantern is a Midori pineapple absinthe mixture. I like to pair absinthe with a Peach Lambic.
Cute cocktail names aside, I hear that absinthe gives a special buzz. What’s that about?
Yeah, there is a lot of mystique and controversy behind the herbal tincture of wormwood that’s in absinthe. Especially since it was outlawed for a while. Thujone is the compound in it that is supposed to give that buzz. Other herbs in the spirit are anise and fennel. It tastes like black licorice. Lucid, the company we carry was the first genuine absinthe to get approval to import in the U.S. since the ban in 1912.
Is there anyone in the US distilling or making absinthe?
St. George Spirits of Alameda, California is the first with the St. George Absinthe Verte. There may be more now.
Botanical and Herbal spirits are hot right now, do you serve any others?
Lots. A Lot of spirits are made with aromatics like your flavored vodkas – vanilla, lemon and so on. One of the more obscure spirits we have is Fernet Brianca. Its an Argentinian favorite. If someone comes in and orders a a Fernet and coke they are usually from or been to Argentina. I think its good digestive, taken after a meal. The flavor is basically like an unsweetened bitter Jaegermeister. You can substitute in for vermouth in some cocktails.
Ambrosia has Cachaça too. What is that exactly?
Cachaça (pronounced ka-cha-ssa) is a spirit distilled from sugarcane juice. Not everyone knows that Rum is distilled molassas, not sugar, so Cachaca is very different. It has a kind of a tequila aroma and taste. With a lime and sugar muddle it makes the caipirinha, a brazilian drink.
Speaking of tequila, that is my new favorite spirit. What kind of tequila cocktail can you recommend?
The Twilight. I make with grapefruit juice, sugar, and Don Julio Reposado. The Don Julio lends a gentle smoky flavor to it due to its barrel aging.
What is the best time to come down and enjoy a taste or two of these exotics?
We open for happy hour from 5 to 9pm. That is a good time when you can really sip and taste, and the night rush isn’t around. You don’t want to try absinthe after having other cocktails. Its just not the way to enjoy it.
I am a self proclaimed happy drunk. How does that bode in your bar?
I don’t mind a loquacious guest or two at my bar, but honestly sometimes I feel like the kindergarten teacher. Is everyone playing nice today? That kind of stuff. I ask people how they are when they come in, check their vibe. I will say “how are you doing?” If you don’t answer, I’ll ask again. My thing is I want to make you a drink that you like, serve it to you professionally and efficiently. I strip the pretentiousness away.