The Takeaway: Focuses on the theater of cocktail making. Cocktails are too saccharine for many western palates. While it could be possibly refreshing for someone who wants a surprise factor for each cocktail, the concept feels a bit gimmicky and contrived. Excellent presentation and aimed toward tourists.
We were led to the secret back entrance of Operation Dagger by Leon at Native. The bar has a hipster-centric, clandestine vibe, with hundreds of lightbulbs – some off, some on – crowding the ceiling leading to the moderately-lit bar. No recognizable alcohol bottles are in sight. In their place, large brown glass medicinal bottles neatly line the shelves.
The menus don’t list ingredients – but rather, taste profiles of each cocktail. The descriptions are somewhat whimsical, reminiscent of [Scotch Malt Whisky Society drink names]. They all seem intriguing, but appear to fall on the creamy and/or sweet side. The least sweet-sounding cocktail is the Gomashio 2013, which lists “toasted sesame, cucumber, ginger”, but was then described by the bartender as a sour-sweet drink.
We settled on the nominal Moscow Mule, which promised “fermented rye, blackberries, honey, and coriander snow” and the Egg 2014, with “salted egg, caramel, and vanilla”.
For the Egg 2014, a large glass jar of hay was brought out, and a bartender carefully torched the straw center to carve out a crispy black hole. In the “nest” a cup resembling an egg was filled with a creamy liquid concoction. Next to it, a bright fuschia Moscow Mule was filled with liquid nitrogen and a topping of ice shavings. The drink preparation rituals were clearly designed for spectating and instagramming.
The drinks fell short on taste. The Egg 2014 tasted at best like a non-alcoholic hot buttered rum with the addition of extra caramel, extra vanilla, and extra sugar. The Moscow Mule was sweet, fruity, and unchallenging. Both went down easily – but it also seemed like there was minimal amounts of spirits added. We made our exit after only the two cocktails, and we certainly left more sober than when we wandered in.
While Operation Dagger’s young bartenders seem eager-to-please and its cocktail-making showmanship is novel, the bar is clearly meant to be visited once as a tourist or as a place to bring out-of-town guests. But it is hard to imagine it as a standard watering hole – or a place to camp out for the duration of the night.