It’s hard to walk into Root Squared and not want to move in immediately.
Perched a floor above the upscale restaurant Square Root and overlooking one of the most architecturally intact stretches of Magazine Street, this recent cocktail spot feels like the living room of an international sophisticate, say James Bond or, in his sexier moments, Sherlock Holmes.
Root Squared exudes a classic, restrained European sensibility: Dark walls accented with reclaimed wood and black leather seating contrast with high ceilings, tall windows and a marble mantel.
A glance out one of the many windows reveals the well-preserved row of brick fronts and attic dormer windows across the way — a view that could be New Orleans or London from this century or the last.
And judging by the small crowd gathered around the bar and on the balcony for happy hour, Root Squared’s cosmopolitan feel extends to its sharply dressed clientele, many of whom look like they’ve crossed the dateline in order to sip carefully rendered cocktails and nibble on house-made charcuterie from the bar’s kitchen.
With his tartan tie and artfully mussed hair, bartender Ian Clarke embodies the new level of sophistication found in the most recent wave of New Orleans bars.
He notes that for those interested in craft cocktails, the city is undergoing an exciting period, one true to its long-standing history as an international city unafraid of drawing inspiration from diverse sources.
Indeed, in addition to Southern and European stalwarts, unexpected tastes from Asia and South America pepper Root Squared’s eclectic drink menu.
According to Clarke, the recent influx of film professionals as well as the yearly rise in tourists has translated into an increased demand for more upscale offerings and for more destinations outside the French Quarter.
However, at $12 a cocktail, Root Squared may prove too upscale for some wallets, and those not in the jet set may want to stick with the 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. happy hour that offers well-made basics like Highballs, Old Fashioneds and Bucks at $5 a pop, bottled beer in the $3 to $7 range and daily selections of wine at $6.
But for those seeking well-tailored drinks, Root Squared deserves to be a destination.
Like its physical space, Root Squared’s cocktail menu centers on an intriguing mix of the old and the new, the foreign and the local.
Whereas some bars may focus on infusions and overly mixed flavors, here the choices land on simpler preparations, such as homemade bitters or ginger syrup that highlight, rather than cover up, the taste of the alcohol.
Clarke also prefers limiting ingredients in favor of finding softer, more approachable versions of old standbys like vermouth. It’s a level of refinement that not only encourages experimentation but also reconciliation as many drinkers find themselves rediscovering alcohols they had previously sworn off as too harsh.
For instance, the alluringly dark Rye Cooper uses only two ingredients — rye whiskey and sweet vermouth — and yet delivers a surprisingly, even dangerously, mellow finish.
Clark’s “picnic” of vermouth and soda is another infinitely drinkable duo, and his as-yet-unnamed combination with Old Tom Gin, white Spanish vermouth and muscadine shrub lacks the bitter edge of most gin-based drinks and offers easy sipping.
Shrubs, or “drinking vinegars,” abound at Root Squared and add bright dashes of Old World tradition. Once a mainstay for adding tang to preserved fruits and vegetables, shrubs found their way from Europe to Colonial America, only to fall out of favor and need with the advent of refrigeration.
Given the current desire for the crafted and in-house, it’s not surprising to see shrubs making a comeback.