I'm sorry, sir, but we were slammed over the weekend and we're out of mint, and we may be out of rum too."
That was what my waiter apologetically explained one Tuesday evening at The Twisted Mango. I had ordered a mojito after he had touted them as a restaurant forte but then he discovered the lack of mint. The news was more intriguing than disappointing. A weekend that busy was a scene The Drinker needed to see.
Standing in the bustling bar area, as someone randomly sang out "It cuuuuuuts like a knife" for the umpteenth time, I fulfilled that desire. It was a Saturday night, shortly before a Bryan Adams concert at the nearby Red Hat Amphitheatre, which explained the frequent snippets of his songs blurted without provocation. (Two gentlemen even stood and toasted the Canadian rocker.)
The most ardent fan wasn't even going to the show. His chats with nearby customers and cell phone calls urging people to come downtown were all punctuated every few minutes with paeans to Adams' music. He told one person he had been there since 2, but I couldn't tell if he meant in Raleigh or in that particular seat. Either was plausible. His barstool soliloquies ceased only when someone on the restaurant staff informed him his car was getting towed. Out he dashed to save it.
Inventory management is a challenge the restaurant—open since early February—is still trying to conquer apparently. More than once during the evening you could hear various bartenders say they were out of this or that ingredient. The first time was as early as 7:10 p.m.
The bartenders were one of the restaurant's most appealing aspects. Despite the rush of people, the inevitable kitchen slowness it caused, calls from delivery services such as Doorstep and OrderUp, and the sporadic absence of cocktail ingredients, all four bartenders maintained upbeat, welcoming attitudes. They deducted charges from tabs when the ingredients issue prevented one woman from getting the drink she really wanted and when a dish wasn't what a customer expected. They were prime examples of why diners should always treat their server with respect even when things aren't going well. Most of the time it isn't the servers' fault.
Twisted Mango bills itself as "fine Caribbean cuisine." I've eaten at Carribean joints in Florida for many years, and what I tried and saw was as Caribbean as Olive Garden is Italian. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't authentic.
The drinks menu is where Twisted Mango is the most interesting. Margaritas, mojitos and frozen drinks of all stripes abound. The Screw-a-rita, described as a classic margarita with a little vodka and orange juice, is enjoyable, and the lemon mojito is as refreshing as lemonade on a hot afternoon, only with more kick. There are also shooters such as the Money Maker, Coconut Crusher and Dirty Bongwater if you're doing hardcore concert pregaming (or haven't turned 30 yet).
As someone whose favorite cocktail is either good bourbon or single malt Scotch over a couple of ice cubes, I was simultaneously aghast and drawn to the Bourberry and the In Cold Blood. The Bourberry features what sounds like a horrifying combination of ingredients: Woodford bourbon, Chambord, mixed berry purée, lemonade and ginger ale. Just putting it in print makes me shudder. So naturally I drank one. Surprisingly, it was pretty tasty. You don't feel as if you're abominating fine bourbon, because all of the extras suppress its presence and present themselves as just a slightly dark sweet drink. The In Cold Blood combines Maker's Mark, cherry bitters, muddled blood orange and simple syrup for another sweet, bourbon-based drink. Again, it's easily drinkable, assuming you have a high glucose tolerance.
Sometime during my sipping of In Cold Blood the Adams devotee with the about-to-be-towed car returned after being gone for two hours. He had gotten a room at the Marriott—as much for the right to use the hotel parking deck as for any other reason—and then returned to retrieve a T-shirt he had left behind and to pay his tab. And, of course, have another round or two.
This article appeared in print with the headline "The show before the show"