Listen Local, Drink Local

Ever notice the upscale restaurant or bar around the corner that adds live music — awkwardly, loudly and not in keeping with the concept — to keep music-loving guests around after dinner? One venue in Arizona cleverly accomplished the latter without resorting to the former. Digestif in Scottsdale, Ariz. lives up to its namesake by offering a bar menu divided into multiple categories, including extensive digestif and aperitif cocktails, using house-modified spirits.

Manager Shantal Abdo makes Digestif’s house limoncello and sometimes other citrus ‘cello flavors, including lime, grapefruit, mandarin orange and Meyer lemon, at different times. Abdo also is experimenting with a specialty cocktail called the Bloodless Mary — house-infused bacon vodka, heirloom tomato water and pickled Belgian endive with a Bellota ham-dusted rim. But that’s a story for another day.

The management wanted the bar to be a place where patrons come in a little before dinner and linger for a bit after the meal to enjoy the complexity of a handcrafted cocktail. They realized the space needed something more to entice people to remain.

“We tried live music, but acoustically the space doesn’t really support it,” says general manager Pavle Milic. “I serendipitously ran into local indie music heroine Kimber Lanning at a music convention in Tucson. She approached me with an idea, and I was sold immediately.”

Three months after opening in earlly 2008, listening booths were built inside the restaurant along one wall. Patrons enjoy the music of local indie bands via headphones, while at the same time enjoying their signature and classic cocktails. Lanning owns a music store called Stinkweeds in Phoenix, and Milic leaves the decisions on what to stock in the listening booths to her discretion.

“The soundtrack at the restaurant is indie, so incorporating a listening station and selling indie CDs was quite appropriate,” Milic says.

The presence of the booths is a conversation starter, Milic says. Guests wander over with their cocktail or glass of wine to give a listen and read the CD jackets — including guests who hear about the listening booths beforehand and come in curious to see and experience it.

“The European tradition of serving a little digestif lets us entice guests to sip, relax and stay just a tiny bit longer,” he explains. And now the listening station adds a soundtrack to that philosophy as well.

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