Jason Bodley wants to make his cocktails sing.
At Oak & Alley in Warsaw, through the back entrance at the end of a nondescript street, Bodley throws a bag of ice on the floor in preparation for mixing a drink. The sound cracks through the small bar behind Three Crowns Coffee at 114 S. Buffalo St., located in the Saint Regis Club’s building, where Bodley, the barman and co-owner, has found his calling.
For Bodley, the sounds of a cocktail in progress – a clink of ice, a spoon in a glass, the quick slice of a cucumber – and his imaginative creation of each one is almost like making music.
“I always wanted to go into music,” Bodley said. “These drinks are like my albums. It’s an art. I pick what songs I want, I try to piece them together, and I sell them to people. The difference is there’s a garnish, a taste, a color.”
And they’re unlike anything you’ve had before. Bodley has notebooks full of cocktail ideas for the bar, which he runs with co-owner Dave Gustafson, bartenders Sam Albertson and Josh Fricke, and chef Nathan Freiburger. After attempting to play music for a living in Nashville, Bodley served as bar manager at Cerulean in Winona Lake for two years before opening Oak & Alley.
“I turned down a job with health benefits to bartend at Cerulean,” Bodley said. “It was the dumbest, best decision I ever made. I had zero experience with cocktails, but I became obsessed. Bartending is like music, except people are paying you to do it.”
Cocktails at Oak & Alley run $5 to 10, with names like Bloody Good Time (Pisco, beetroot and rhubarb) or Coffee & Cream (Three Crowns espresso and homemade bourbon cream).
Oak & Alley opened April 1, and it “never stopped being the funniest joke that we opened on April Fools Day,” Bodley said. “We’re babies, but I think people are coming back because this is coming from an honest place. We have some really good parties. Either our favorites are in or it’s our favorites and a bunch of new friends.”
Featured summer cocktail:
Blackberry Basil Fizz
- 1½ London Dry
- 1⅓ oz. Citra syrup
- 3 large basil leaves
- ½ oz. lemon juice
- 6 blackberries
- 1 long cucumber slice
The secret to a perfect cocktail: Balance is key. If you can find room for your spirits and citrus and fresh ingredients, once you taste them all together, you’re somewhere else. You want to take people away. We also use local wherever we can, make house syrups. We drink for a living, so it does matter to me what kinds of ingredients we’re ingesting.
For summer in a glass: Basil on everything – it’s a beautiful bitter and adds a spice. We use it to replace absinthe in some drinks. And mint in everything, my god. We’re also making a strawberry drinking vinegar to use in cocktails.
The best perk of being a bartender: Since I was 19, I wished I could make art for a living. I’d been unhappy in a job for so long. Now I’m so happy doing what I’m doing. I feel completely fulfilled right now; I get to create and perform here.
The worst drink you’ve ever made: I made this drink called Whiskey Business that had a really detailed gradient of white foam dots – it was a three-minute garnish. Another drink had jalapeno as a garnish. I was cutting them in half and yanking out the seeds with my finger and thumb all night. By the end of the night, my eyes and hands were so swollen, I had to put cream on them for hours.
What’s in a name: The name for the bar came from my best friend. He thought of Oak and Alley, because the entrance is in an alley. We were going to put in a metal counter, but as soon as he said the name, I said, ‘We’re going to put in an oak one aren’t we?’ and we did. I have drinks named after people, situations, religions. I do lots of research, look at what’s gonna grow and pair it with what I think is interesting.
What most people don’t know about bartending: I do this because I’m passionate about taking care of my friends. It’s an awesome avenue for that. I like to research medicinal ingredients and put them into a drink; juniper berries used to infuse vodka are good for the stomach and hibiscus is good for your heart. As much as we want to put something out there, we’re also doing it because people need a drink.