Walking into the newly renovated Spirited, it takes a minute for your eyes to adjust to the new scenery.
And that’s how new owner Kurt Janowsky wants it.
“You’re not sure if you’re in a cocktail bar or an opium den,” Janowsky said. “And that’s OK with us.”
Gone are the days when the downtown South Bend cocktail bar was decorated with earthy touches and light blue walls. Now, the walls have been painted a deep eggplant purple with black ceilings, gold accents and very dim lighting using open flame candles, vintage Edison light bulbs and hanging crystal chandeliers.
“We are trying to do something different and we wanted to really lean into the name Spirited,” Janowsky said. “We decided not to change the name and go a little further to kind of take another meaning of spirited with tarot cards and crystals. … And I think we pulled it off.”
Janowsky purchased Spirited from former owners Tim Firestone and Brooke Donegan late last year after the bar closed in November 2020 partly due to the downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Janowsky said he wanted to add to the growing cocktail bar scene in the area, looking to offer something different than its neighbors. The bar reopened for business under the new ownership last Tuesday.
With tarot card and palm reading posters, a slight incense aroma and large gothic-style stained glass windows hugging the bar shelves, Janowsky and managing partner Elizabeth Wilson have transformed the space into what they describe as a French Quarter, New Orleans-theme.
“I don’t like drinking in a brightly lit bar,” Janowsky said. “It’s fine if I’m having a family dinner but if I’m having a cocktail with my spouse or girlfriend, I like being able to slink back into a corner and be unseen if I want to be unseen.”
Contrary to initial reporting, the bar is not a whiskey bar with Janowsky clarifying he didn’t want to directly compete with The Exchange Whiskey Bar, where he still maintains a partnership but relinquished overseeing operations to partners Prime Hospitality Group last summer.
Instead, Spirited offers a variety of different alcohol-based signature cocktails that Wilson, a 20-year veteran in the service industry who most recently was the bartender at Cafe Navarre for four years, has crafted based on seasonality and customer’s preferences.
“Sometimes the cocktails just come to me,” Wilson said. “A lot of it is just research and development, spending time with my peers, just knowing flavors that blend well together, what is doing well in markets and what we’re looking at moving forward and what people are drinking.”
Wilson said she uses a lot of obscure culinary ingredients, saying that customers have recently been interested in experimenting with flavors. For example, there is the gin-based You Don’t Mascarpone Me utilizing the Italian soft cheese mascarpone, the whiskey-based I’m In A Glass Case of Emotion that is smoked with bourbon-soaked oak chips and the Morgue-arita, which is similar to a margarita but has activated charcoal.
The cocktail bar currently has 10 signature drinks, all ranging between $7 and $11, but can also offer more traditional cocktails like a gin and tonic and classic old fashioned as well as wine and beer options. Wilson anticipates rotating the signature cocktail menu on a seasonal basis.
“The development of it also comes back to seasonality and obviously things are going to change,” she said. “I spend a lot of time at the Farmer’s Market, looking at things that are in season, knowing the flavor profiles and finding what I can match to be able to create something unique for everybody.”
Currently, the food menu of Spirited is simple, with snacks and small bites. Janowsky said there may be an opportunity in the future where customers can order food from the Cafe Navarre menu and that will be brought to Spirited. But this is a bar, Janowsky said, not a restaurant.
“A well-made cocktail is what’s going to keep making people keep coming here,” Janowsky said. “Liz is the best at what she does in the area, I think. We’re proud and fortunate to have her and she’s going to run a great bar.”
Spirited is open Tuesday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.
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