Quick question: Is what you drink most important? Or where you drink it?
I’d wager you’re willing to entertain both arguments based on past experience. For myself, a sunny sidewalk table in the French Quarter has more than once rescued me from a cocktail tottering into watery insipidity. And a sublime bourbon and a big ice cube has at least once compensated for a disagreeable staff at a musty bar.
What we’re all looking for, of course, is both: a great drink enjoyed in illustrious surroundings. And it’s a bonus when this occurs unexpectedly. That was my experience during an overnight stop earlier this year in Chattanooga, a small city with a large cocktail scene.
The place? Unknown Caller, a cocktail bar open since 2018. With its understated entrance, plush banquettes, and brick walls, it projects a hidden, speakeasy vibe, at once intimate and theatrical. Settle in and you’ll soon have the feeling of being somewhere you shouldn’t be. The best spots are often those where you feel as if you’re playing hooky from life.
The drink? The Jungle Witch. Created by former Unknown Caller bartender Brandy Cross, it first appeared on the menu in 2019 and outlasted all other cocktails to become the longest lasting on the bar’s swiftly evolving list. The concoction has just recently been quietly retired, however, so it’s time to try it yourself.
An updated variation of the Jungle Bird—a 1970s tiki drink now revered as a modern classic—the Jungle Witch uses, instead of the standard pineapple juice, pineapple-infused Campari that is mixed with aged rum, lime juice, and a rich, cinnamon-inflected syrup.
Like the original, this variation makes for an excellent midseason drink, one that allows you to look back at the warmer days of fall while acknowledging that the cool days of winter are nigh. Pineapple and rum recall sunshine and warmth; the biting notes of the Italian aperitif ground it with the earthier notes of the fallow season. The highly recommended absinthe spritz suggests something more ethereal. “It’s tropical, decadent, slightly bitter, but balanced,” says James Heeley, the owner of Unknown Caller.
This is a more complicated drink than this space typically features, requiring two days of lead time to infuse the Campari and the additional labor of creating a cinnamon syrup. But winter is coming. Days are getting shorter, and time starts to feel ill-defined. It’s the season for baking and the crafting of elaborate cocktails.
What’s more, all that buildup adds another ingredient to this drink: anticipation. Summer drinks demand immediate gratification; winter drinks invite a slow build. And the leftover pineapple-infused Campari, Heeley suggests, may be profitably deployed in a classic Negroni cocktail, now with a nod to the islands. (Added bonus: Save the pineapple pieces in the fridge for an overproof snack.)
Your only remaining task? Find the perfect location in which to drink it. A wood-paneled room would be ideal. A comfortable spot on a couch would, in our experience, also work just fine.