Sitting back to relax in the 1911 St. Charles Hotel in Pierre isn’t the same experience that it used to be. What was once flooded with senators is now home to St. Charles Lounge and its “signature sips.”
Since Nathaniel Wilt became owner of the St. Charles Lounge in October 2016, he has offered a variety of his own exclusive drinks along with beer and a few classic cocktails.
The Aviation was created by Hugo Ensslin, head bartender at the Hotel Wallick in New York, in the early 20th century. The first published recipe for the drink appeared in Ensslin’s 1916 Recipes for Mixed Drinks.
Wilt says that many residents had lived in bigger cities and experienced better cocktails than what was available in the area when he arrived.
“I wanted to bring that to Pierre,” said Wilt. “I wanted to give them the chance to have a little bit nicer beer, nicer cocktails, nicer selection of spirits, but keep that rustic feel.”
As summer is fast approaching, the Cucumber Collins, a signature house favorite, is expected to become popular once again. The drink is made with Hendrick’s gin, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, simple syrup, peeled cucumber slices, and a splash of club soda.
“This is a refreshing cocktail, perfect for sipping on warm summer days,” said Wilt.
The Cucumber Collins isn’t the only house favorite at St. Charles Lounge. A spiked twist on a classic latte, the Sparkplug Martini, is another frequent order. It’s made up of fresh-brewed espresso (created with a $3,000 espresso machine), vanilla vodka, and Kahlúa all mixed together.
Wilt says not all available cocktails appear written up on the chalkboard menu near the bar.
“One of my favorite off-menu cocktails we create here is the Vieux Carré, a cocktail originally created in the 1930s at the famous Carousel Bar & Lounge in New Orleans,” he noted.
The drink has rye whiskey, cognac, Bénédictine, brandy, sweet vermouth, and a few different bitters.
Wilt’s Career Highlights
> Advanced Spirits and Mixology Certification by BarSmarts by Pernod Ricard. Certified Professional Bartender by the United States Bartender Guild.
> Level 1 Sommelier certification (under the tutelage of Master Sommelier Rob Bigelow).
> Multiple industry certifications (including a Bellagio Tequila Master Certification).
“It’s very similar to a Manhattan,” continued Wilt. “It’s a little bit more well rounded, in my opinion.”
Another borrowed recipe is that of the Cable Car. This has a mix of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, Orange Curaçao, and fresh-squeezed lemon sour, garnished with a cinnamon-sugared rim.
“The Cable Car is a cocktail created in 1996 by famed barman Tony Abou- Ganim,” said Wilt. “It’s a modern variant on the classic Sidecar, and it commemorates the Starlight Room in the [Kimpton Sir Francis] Drake Hotel in San Francisco.”
Though St. Charles Lounge mainly focuses on cocktails, there are also a couple options to satisfy an empty stomach. The lounge offers popcorn for those just looking to snack, and pizza provides a more filling choice.
More Of Whats On The Menu
cherry liqueur, Créme Yvette, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and simple syrup.
Cruzan amber rum, Appleton rum, simple syrup, orange Curacao, almond extract, and freshly squeezed lime.
Malibu Mango rum, fresh lemon sour, and a splash of cranberry juice.
Blanco tequila, La Pinta Pomegranate Liqueur, fresh squeezed lime juice, and Agave nectar.
Tanqueray Rangpur, fresh squeezed lime juice, and Agave nectar.
Walking into the former Pierre hotel, the historical feel of the building melds with the modern speakeasy atmosphere of the lounge Wilt has created. Belt-driven fans rotate on the ceilings, keeping the bar cool, while also maintaining the atmosphere. Prints on the walls are recreations of concert posters that date back to the 1960s.
Located in a room behind the lounge is a space for hosting events. In the past, St. Charles Lounge has hosted live music performances, trivia competitions, karaoke, and even a few holiday parties. Channeling college days, the lounge has even hosted a beer pong competition.
The lounge just went through a renovation that Wilt says has gone over very well with locals and visitors alike.
“From floor to ceiling, everything was recently remodeled,” said Wilt.
This includes a custom bar top. Many of his visions, he says, came from his vast background in the bar and restaurant industry. Before owning St. Charles Lounge, Wilt earned 10 years of experience bartending at the Bellagio and ARIA, two reputable resorts in Las Vegas. He came out to Pierre to “help modernize the bar,” and after six weeks and multiple offers, he accepted ownership of the business.
“The people are nice,” said Wilt of the area. “That’s the number one reason I stayed here.”