KNOCK WOOD: Pepper Smash might try a little too hard at times, but its drinks are legit.

Bar Review: Pepper Smash

Don’t be frightened away by the shiny surfaces and candy-colored drinks.

Parking at the Shops at Legacy on a busy Friday evening was nothing short of a nightmare. The wind was picking up, and dark clouds were gathering as I circled various streets and drove up and down multistory parking garages. I rolled past the same traffic-directing cop at least three times.  

After 20 minutes, I seriously needed a stiff drink. Fortunately, where I was headed had plenty of those. I finally spotted a couple leaving and drive-stalked them to their car. Soon after, I was darting past trendy restaurants and boutiques on my way to Pepper Smash—a craft “cocktail kitchen,” as they call it. 

The front door leads to a small station, from which the rest of the bar was mostly obscured. The hostess swiped my ID (it’s technically a private club), and then I passed through a giant, wooden, keyhole-shaped archway. It felt a little like advancing to the next level in a video game. 

The long bar spanned nearly the length of the room, and cubbies full of liquor bottles occupied the wall behind it. The place seemed to be made entirely of glossy wood. Square alcoves displayed comic-book panels. Weezer played overhead. 

I grabbed a table near the open kitchen and scanned the cocktail menu. It’s divided into six sections: Bubblez, Bourbonz, Classicz, Concoctionz, Skinnyz, and Free Spiritz (which the menu notes are free of liquor, not free of charge). The flagrant misuse of the letter “z” made me twitch, so I quickly decided on the bar’s eponymous signature drink, a vodka-based concoction with red bell pepper, jalapeño, and onion. Preston, our attentive server, recommended a Vanilla Old Fashioned for my bourbon-loving sidekick.

At the bar, a bearded bartender wearing an “I am Groot” t-shirt was filling a long-stemmed glass with pink cotton candy. A waiter collected both the glass and a silver shaker. Curious about any drink that involves a lump of candy floss, I followed him out to a table on the patio. He poured the contents of the shaker over the cotton candy, which shrank down into the glass. The two women at the table sampled the bubblegum-colored drink. 

“It’s not as sweet as you’d think,” the brown-eyed lady said. 

Her petite friend was a freelance writer visiting from Colorado. “I write about bars,” she told me. “Mostly beer.”

“Oh,” I said, feeling self-conscious. “What would you write about this place?” 

“It’s all about the performance,” she said, gesturing at the cotton candy martini. “We got popcorn. It was sort of on fire when they brought it out. You’d breathe out a little puff of smoke after eating a piece. I mean, I don’t even like popcorn, but it was awesome.” 

As we talked, it began to rain. I scampered inside. The bar, like The Shops at Legacy in general, has a clean, white-bread, planned-out feeling. The menu misuses “z”s, and the drinks seem candy shop-inspired. But the Pepper Smash cocktail was no joke. It was delicious and strong. 

“There are places around here that serve a super-sweet martini that looks pretty and tastes like diabetes,” Elora, the manager, explained. “Craft cocktails are our thing.” (She even helped rework the cotton candy martini to make it less sweet.)

Elora told us that in addition to using fresh fruit in almost all of their drinks and making their own syrups, the bartenders are basically pyromaniacs. “The onions in your drink were blowtorched.” She looked at my friend’s bourbon. “Your orange peel was blowtorched, too. We like to blowtorch.” 

Newly appreciative of our beverages, we finished them and headed out—only to discover that The Shops at Legacy was drowning in a Noah-style downpour. Since my car was parked approximately a thousand miles away, we decided to stay on the dry side of the giant keyhole and order another round. 

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