You don’t go to the Pony Room looking for a boisterous bar scene.
The 35-seat equestrian-themed drinkery is woven into the hills of Rancho Santa Fe, in a resort hideaway. The Pony Room is where you sup on Maine lobster sliders and melt into tan leather chairs — after a spa day on the same Rancho Valencia property, perhaps? You mount ivory bar stools braced by wooden horse legs, and sip Robert Parker-rated wines pulled from an Enomatic dispenser.
And you shouldn’t miss Chris Simmons’ $13 specialty cocktails. Thanks to 14 years of barkeeping and a liquor-store job in college, Simmons knows his spirits. If you catch the bar manager working the Pony Room (the compact guy with the shaved head and mellow, dinner-jacket manner), he’ll ungrudgingly share his mixology knowledge.
2 ounces Hayman’s Old Tom Gin
1-and-a-half ounces Dolin Sweet Vermouth
1/4 ounce Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Preparation: Add all liquid ingredients into ice-filled pint glass or shaker and stir. Strain into a chilled, rounded coupe glass. "It was designed, believe it or not, after Marie Antoinette’s cq breast,” Simmons says of the glassware’s legend. Garnish with an orange twist.
Bartending lore says this cocktail is the precursor to the martini, and hails from 1860s Northern California. Using a citrus-forward gin, a sour cherry liqueur and a very common bitters, this Martinez deviates from the dry-vermouth martini by going with a fortified wine aka sweet vermouth. “The story I love to tell is that bartenders didn’t take care of their vermouth and (it would) spoil,” Simmons says of the ingredient evolution. “Eventually people got smart and asked for less vermouth and then went to dry vermouth.” But you’re going with good stuff here.
The Old Fashioned
1 and 3/4 ounces Maker’s Mark
1 sugar cube or 1 teaspoon of white sugar
3 dashes Angostura Bitters
Small splash of soda water
Preparation: Add sugar cube, bitters and small splash of soda water to a rocks glass. Muddle until sugar dissolves. Then add several large ice cubes and bourbon. Stir until well blended. Garnish with orange and lemon twists.
“This is not the old tennis-club Old Fashioned, the one with that bright red cherry and an orange slice.” Simmons suggests Maker’s Mark Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey — “It’s a little bit on the sweeter side and makes the cocktail easier to drink.” For a smokier Old Fashioned, get a Knob Creek bourbon; for spicy, try Wild Turkey rye whiskey. “The best thing about the Old Fashioned is its simplicity. It’s not complicated, but done well, it’s delicious.”
The Spicy Paloma
1-and-a-half ounces Blanco Tequila
1/2 ounce serrano infused simple syrup*
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
Fresh grapefruit slice
Preparation: Add tequila, simple syrup and lime juice to an ice-filled pint glass or shaker. Shake and strain over fresh ice in a tall Collins glass. Top the glass with soda and garnish with grapefruit wheel.
*To make serrano infused simple syrup: Slice four medium-sized serrano peppers in half lengthwise. Place in medium-sized saucepan with 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water. Simmer over low heat while continually stirring until sugar dissolves and desired spice is achieved. Approximately 15 minutes. Cool and use.
Called the “Neck Shot” on the Pony Room menu, this is a popular Mexican cocktail. “A layman’s explanation is it’s a spicy margarita with a grapefruit twist,” explains Simmons.
The Pony Room is located at Rancho Valencia Resort in Rancho Santa Fe -- ranchovalencia.com
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Photos by: John Gastaldo