Prior to 2015, the two bars at The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte – that’d be its super-originally-named Lobby Lounge and its 15th-floor wine bar Urban Sip – didn’t exactly scream HOTSPOT.
Then that winter, The Ritz-Carlton pulled the trigger on arguably the best hire it’s ever made, luring “head mixologist” Bob Peters away from Pisces Sushi at The Metropolitan in midtown so he could help open The Punch Room (which would replace Urban Sip, a spot that never managed to generate any real buzz).
He raised drink-making to a high form of art by using cold smokers, hand-held carbonators, and fire; he had people lining up to get in on weekend nights; and he triggered a craft cocktail craze that seems to have spread to almost every corner of Charlotte.
And at least in some small way, then, Bob Peters is responsible for The Ritz-Carlton’s “refresh” of its Lobby Lounge, which on Friday re-opens with a slightly ritzier look, a considerably more creative, more adventurous menu of both cocktails and small plates, and a way, way cooler name. We’ll start our rundown of five things you should know about Kinship by explaining why Peters deserves credit, even though he’s not involved with the downstairs bar at all.
1. Yup, Kinship might not even exist in its new form if not for The Punch Room. Here, let Seamus Gallagher, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, back us up on this: “When we opened Punch Room, Bob took the whole beverage scene in Charlotte to another level, and the city’s exploded with experimental cocktails. Kinship is definitely not The Punch Room. It’s not meant to compete with it. But there are some really, really fun, unique drinks down here that we can produce on a bigger level (i.e., in larger quantities and more quickly, which is a must since Kinship is dealing with a capacity of 90 patrons – 18 more than before – whereas The Punch Room has just 37 seats).” Peters’ place’s influence can also be felt here in the decor changes, from the new contemporary wing-back chairs to the lighted cracked glass that now separates the bar from the hotel walkway (all design upgrades were led by Hirsch Bedner Associates, the Atlanta-based firm that outfitted The Punch Room).
2. Oh, did we mention The Ritz-Carlton doesn’t want you to think of Kinship as The Punch Room Down Under? There’s no question that high-concept offerings like Four the Crew – a suite of four glasses of Tito’s vodka mixed with lychee fruit and ginger syrup and served in a smoke-filled box ($60) – sounds like something you’d get from Bob Peters upstairs. But he actually did not contribute to the expanded cocktail list, which was created by Kinship “resident mixologists” Brett Leek and E.J. Kim, both veterans of the Lobby Lounge. Other offerings include an Old Fashioned with homemade orange marmalade, Luxardo cherry, Angostura bitters and Maker’s Mark ($18) and the $16 Smoked Pineapple Pear (smoked Hennessy, fresh pineapple and pear juice and compressed pear). But you can also opt for a $6 Bud Light, something you won’t find upstairs. There’s live Latin music now on Thursdays, and jazz still on Fridays and Saturdays (can’t get that at The Punch Room), set on a new raised stage where a fountain used to be. And it’s fine to stand three deep at the bar when on a busy night (can’t do that at The Punch Room).
3. As we said, Kinship is a way, way cooler name than “Lobby Lounge,” with – if you think about it – a pretty obvious message. “We came up with the word ‘Kinship’ because this is really the gathering area,” Gallagher explains. “People meet before basketball games, before football games, for drinks after work ... so we wanted to create something where people can come together. And the logo itself, you can see, the ‘K’ has a little knot in it, because that’s the symbolism of coming together, joining, almost like having family.” Like Four the Crew, its signature Kinship cocktail is meant for sharing: It’s a mix of Doc Porter bourbon, fresh cranberry, ginger syrup and Hellfire bitters that can be ordered in a hand-blown flask for two ($30).
4. New Chef Juan Pablo de la Sota Riva’s menu might just change your life, but... Whether you’re feeling completely unadventurous and want a plate of chipotle buffalo chicken wings with buttermilk dressing and crudite ($15) or in the mood to take your palate to a place it’s never gone before with charred octopus anticuchos (appointed with hominy corn, peppers, onion and cilantro salsa, for $16), the flavors here are sublime. But a word of caution: These are essentially tapas, meaning a hungry human might need two plates of those wings to themselves to really fill up, and $30 for wings is asking a lot. If you’re on a somewhat limited budget but still want to see what Kinship is all about, maybe eat a cheap light dinner at the EpiCentre and then mosey across Trade Street to sample the marvelous curry chicken meatballs with cashews, cilantro and curry sauce ($12); best thing on the menu. Quick note about that physical menu, by the way: It’s laminated and bound in a fashion that makes it very cumbersome to open wide and impossible to lay down on the table flat. Design fail, IMHO.
5. And finally, Kinship does presentation with panache, so make sure your phone is charged before you come. “The drinks now are very much, we like to say, ‘Instagrammable,’ ” Gallagher says, smiling. “And all the items on the menu, when they’re delivered to the table, people pull out their cellphone and want to take a picture of it.” Bob Peters – who has 42,000-plus followers on Instagram and is perpetually posting pictures of his Punch Room potions – would no doubt approve.
Address: 201 E. Trade St., inside The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte.
Hours: 4-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday; 2-10 p.m. Sunday.
Live music: Thursday-Saturday evenings.
Details: 704-547-2244; www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/charlotte/dining/kinship.