By Cameron Lee
January 4, 2016
Charlotte is going through an uncomfortable growth period that may leave some feeling a bit uneasy. With condo projects, chain restaurants and strip malls breaking ground on what seems to be a weekly basis, we are inundated with articles and stories of new construction replacing old landmarks that loyal Charlotteans have held near and dear to their hearts. As the city experiences prosperous growth, there seems to be a conflicting mix of beliefs; some who seem to have no concern for history and nostalgia, while others may be clinging too much to the past.
The 15th floor of the Ritz-Carlton may be an unlikely place you would expect to reconnect with an important piece of Charlotte’s culture. While much has changed in the city over the last 15 years, at some point you’ve probably been served a cocktail by Bob Peters. “I was actually born here, so I’ve seen a ton of change in the city and also in the bar and restaurant scene. I like what I see. Sure, I miss some places that have closed, but you have to embrace change because it’s inevitable.” Peters has been a staple in Charlotte’s cocktail scene for over 18 years, with experience dating back to the Porcupine Cafe, The Steeple Lounge (currently Peculiar Rabbit), Fat City, Tutto Mundo, and more.
From serving an immense amount of vodka tonics to young club-goers at places like Alley Cat to hand-crafting specialty cocktails at places like Soul, Pisces and Tutto Mundo, Peters has not only seen the city change through infrastructure, but also through style and trends. “At Porcupine Cafe, they had a beautiful food menu and an exclusive California wine list that blew the heads off of every wine aficionado that walked in the door. Everyone turned their nose up at the idea that California winemakers could produce anything that could hold a candle to the almighty French wines. It was fascinating to watch the general public’s opinion slowly change in those early years.”
Peters now approaches his recipes much like a chef at a Michelin star restaurant. He allows the freshness and seasonality of his ingredients to dictate his concoctions to evoke truly memorable experiences. “My philosophy in developing new recipes is driven by the seasons. Inspiration can come from anything at anytime, however, in order for that new recipe to make it on to the next menu, it must make sense to the season.” He was enthralled when the Ritz-Carlton allowed him to start his own rooftop garden where he now grows and picks most of his own ingredients and accoutrements.
Upon our arrival for our informal hangout, Peters was adamant about letting us know the Punch Room has a firm sitting room-only policy (37 seats). When asked why, he detailed a moment from the previous weekend, when a gentlemen came into The Punch Room, and after taking one sip of a specialty cocktail, he uttered the words “God, I am so relaxed.” This is the type of reaction that leaves Peters at ease. “This is a place you can carry on a conversation, somewhere that feels intimate but never crowded, a place to have beautifully hand-crafted cocktails, a wonderful small plate, and impeccable service. When you get all those things at once, you have no choice but to feel carefree, almost like you’re out of town on a luxurious vacation.” This sort of relaxation is much appreciated and valued in a predominantly fast-paced city.
During our time with him, we talked about music, food, heritage, and the advancement of the cocktail industry. He taught us of the origins of punch, from its introduction from India to the United Kingdom as a practical method to keep sailors jovial in the seventeenth century, to the evolution of the modern cocktail in the mid 1800s with the “father of American mixology,” Jerry Thomas. He gave us a lesson on the subtle differences of local gin, and managed to give an impromptu lesson on Mezcal to a group of Johnson and Wales students touring the hotel. One of the students yelled enthusiastically, “Hey, you’re that guy from the magazines. The Best Of thing!” He humbly goes into his teaching mode and asks the students about their favorite cocktails. Peters is indeed the best at his craft, but maybe more so in the lost art of conversation and consciousness. He wants you to be aware of your surroundings, the ingredients, memories, senses, and the feelings that can make you think you’re on an extravagant getaway. In a city where many are eager to stand and shout, Bob Peters would like for you to sit, relax, and enjoy friendships– new and old– over a quality cocktail.
Here are 5 cocktails Bob Peters prepared during our CLTure Cocktail Hour.