East Atlanta's Octopus Bar opened last November and recently won Restaurant of the Year in Atlanta's 2012 Eater Awards. It's a late-night restaurant open from 10 p.m. onwards six days a week, and co-chef/owner Angus Brown recently took the time to talk cocktails and expansion plans. Read on below, and do be sure to check out O Bar's special Eater Cocktail Week drink, the Calabaza.
Octopus Bar caters to a lot of people in the industry. Does that change the way things run?
No, it's real exciting to have all those people— we feel honored to have so many great chefs and bartenders come in. The way that Nhan and I do the menu is just focusing on the things that we really want and like to eat, and a lot of people that come in have the same tastes.
You're thinking about expanding?
I'm going to Vietnam in January. I was originally going for a year, but that's been cut short because Nhan and I have plans to open a full-service restaurant, lunch into late night. We're thinking about just calling it Octopus. We're looking at spaces right now, but I'm going to spend at least six months in Asia. I'll be working as a chef at a couple places in Vietnam and traveling, I'm definitely going to Japan as well. We'll focus on the restaurant when I come back.
I'm going to be at the back in the kitchen and Nhan is going to be in front at the oyster bar, doing very dialed in and curated sashimi and stuff like that, like live scallops. Things we've been doing here and there, but we'll focus on doing it every night. That's what I'm really excited about. That's the kind of place I love— I love sitting at a bar, getting a really nice glass of wine and crushing some sashimi and oysters. That's my favorite kind of place to drink, and that's what we'll be creating, the kind of place where Nhan and I would want to go and drink and hang out, get some small bites.
But that's only a small part of the plan. The main focus of the restaurant would be coming from the kitchen— a full menu, not just small bites. That is actually what we are trying to get away from, just doing small bites. It will be an important part of the bar to have those things, but I will have full size and family style plates coming out of the kitchen as well.
What's your favorite cocktail on the menu?
Dan Sheel has been coming up with some drinks that are awesome. It's a play on a Negroni and we just put it on the menu. It's called the Thistle. [Octopus Bar also has a special cocktail, the Calabaza, on their menu for Eater Cocktail Week!]
How do you choose what drinks go on the menu?
We definitely try to pair the drinks with the food. I've had some great people working with me along the way— Stuart White from Miller Union is a good friend of mine, and he helped me out a lot. The Villager is his drink. He helped me set up the bar when we first started. We've had a few people since then, but we always try to keep the same philosophy as with the food, which is basically to use the best ingredients that we can get and don't do too much to them. It's a lot about sourcing and having high quality ingredients. We don't do too much crazy stuff— we don't do lemongrass spinach bitters or anything like that, we try to be straightforward. There are some great mixologists that need 150 ingredients but we try to keep things down to three or four ingredients.
What do you think the worst trends in the cocktail industry are?
Atlanta's cocktail scene is awesome. There are so many great bartenders and so many great cocktails. The only thing that bothers me is that sometimes you'll go to a place and everything will read so different on paper and then when you go through the list and try three or four drinks, they all kind of seem to taste the same. When they're too strong or too medicinal is when things get lost.
What's your go-to drink at home?
I'm definitely a bourbon drinker, especially when I'm at home. I've recently been drinking Whistle Pig, which is something that we've started carrying at the restaurant. Just like with the food, we try to always have things in the restaurant that we also have or want to have at home. Also, I love beer. I drink Anchor Steam—it's not like a crazy beer but it's definitely the first beer I drink when I get off work or anything like that. It's my go-to beer. I really like Terrapin, and the main reason why is that Wake 'N Bake beer.