MARQUETTE - Since opening last August, Das Steinhaus has enjoyed a positive reception for its homemade German and European cuisine. But their craft cocktails - a growing trend where every element is handmade or tailored specifically to the drink - are truly unique.
Cocktail designer and bar manager David Cappeart said Steinhaus regulars who travel frequently to places like Chicago, New York and Los Angeles tell him they can't find cocktails like this anywhere in Michigan, except maybe a few bars in Detroit.
"The fact that they're locals and they can come here and get craft cocktails...I think they're thankful for it, just surprised," Cappeart said. "They didn't expect it, but they really appreciate it now that it's here."
With a collection of about 20 different kinds of bitters and growing, Das Steinhaus has a unique selection not found in other local bars.(Journal photo by Mary Wardell)
Featuring fresh-squeezed juices, in-house infusions and all the major spirits - gin, whiskey, vodka, bourbon and tequila, the cocktail selections are drawn from original invention, historical significance and seasonal twists.
"Most of these drinks are just renditions on classic cocktails," Cappeart said. "I'm not really interested in reinventing the wheel. I think cocktails that have been around for a hundred years or more - if they stuck around this long, they probably did something right. But I like doing variations on classic cocktails."
Cocktails on the menu, ranging from $6 to $10, include The Last Word, originally a prohibition-era Detroit invention; the Michigan Mule, a local twist on the Moscow Mule served in a copper mug; The Flag, a margarita with fresh juice and hibiscus extract; and the Peppered Petal, the only completely original cocktail on the menu. There is a weekly drink special that changes every Wednesday (this week is the Hemingway Daiquiri), as well as a daily fresh fruit mojito and $5 Bloody Marys every Sunday.
Cappeart's cocktails are especially distinctive because of his growing collection of unique and natural bitters, which are a maceration of high proof alcohol with herbs, grains and bittering agents.
"I think there's room for (bitters) in every cocktail, because they just add a layer that's not there," he said. "I always say it's the salt and pepper for cocktails. It's seasoning."
Cappeart was born and raised in Marquette and graduated from Northern Michigan University's hospitality management program in 2010. He developed his interest in mixology at school, when he worked at Elizabeth's Chophouse and especially when he was overseas. He was a lobby bar manager in Australia at a Hilton Hotel in Cairns along the Great Barrier Reef, where his clientele were from all over the world and where he was first given some freedom to experiment.
"It's just a lot of trial and error - being behind the bar making stuff. And reading," Cappeart said. "I like that you can never have your fill of it, you know; there's always room for improvement with your bartending. There's always going to be a drink out there that hasn't been created yet."
Marquette native Anthony Reynolds, day bartender and "idea man" at Steinhaus since last September, recently invented the Cobra Coffee, which is made from cold-pressed Dead River coffee and a mixture of heavy whipping cream, real maple syrup, cinnamon and a hint of vanilla, popular with or without Bailey's Irish Cream.
"The cold brew in itself is like two to three times more concentrated caffeine-wise than regular coffee, so if you don't cut it, people are going to get headaches after a glass," Reynolds said. "So it's a nice creamy drink; the Bailey's just really accentuates it."
Not all of Reynolds' inventions turn out. For every one that makes it on the menu, he said there were 20 that caused nausea or "tasted like heresy," specifically attempts at meat-flavored bourbons and vodka.
"When you work for Dave, you feel like creativity is encouraged," he said. "He doesn't look at it like you're wasting money, but that you're trying to come up with a new idea."
Heather Hoy, who recently moved to Marquette with her husband from Utah, said it's all about the bartender when it comes to quality drinks in town. She likes the Landmark and the Portside, but said Steinhaus has the most consistency.
"This is the best place I've found so far for mojitos," she said. "That's why I came here."
Cappeart said their success has been due to a warm reception locally, since they've seen a slow start to the tourist season this year.
"The community has been very accepting and positive, and it's really what's kept us in business this long, is locals," he said.
Future plans for the young restaurant are still pretty preliminary besides just growing as a business, Cappeart said.
"We'll see how it goes. You know, we've only been open for a year, so the possibility of a new space is always there, because we are in a smaller space. But for now, I think we're just going to see where this takes us," he said.
Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is email@example.com.