Despite its Prohibition vibe, Chartreuse Craft Cocktail Lounge is not a speakeasy. In the early evening, light pours into the space, where customers sidle up to the live-edge bar to confer with nattily dressed bartenders. The lime green stools, a nod to the colorful name, are a modern touch against the 1930s-inspired decor, including antique armchairs and Tiffany-esque light fixtures with a subtle, peacock pattern. And, unlike the secretive nature of a speakeasy, locals can’t stop talking about this new addition to downtown Bonita.
For owner Danielle Dyer, the bar has been a long time coming. In 2016, she bought a building in downtown Bonita for her home healthcare business. Then, three years later—keen on the growth she witnessed in the area—she purchased a second building on Old 41 with the intention of opening downtown’s first craft cocktail bar. COVID-19 threw a wrench into the plan: Not a single drink could be shaken nor stirred for almost two years due to delays, but Chartreuse finally opened its doors in June.
Behind the bar, the spirit selection eschews popular big-name producers in favor of high-quality boutique labels. Margaritas, made with a house mix, employ G4 Tequila, an artisanal brand that’s been family-run since 1937. The spiced rum and Coke will get you a pour of aged Venezuelan Diplomatico or full-flavored Rhum Barbancourt from Haiti. “We have a higher quality well with different varieties that people don’t normally carry,” Stephen, Danielle’s husband and co-owner of Chartreuse, says. “What’s fun is to change people’s palates, not just with the cocktails, but with what’s in them.”
To craft those drinks, the Dyers brought in a team of experienced bartenders, including Carlos Cabrera, a certified United States Bartenders’ Guild Spirits Professional, who cut his teeth at Detroit’s trendsetting Sugar House before moving to Florida four years ago. Their approach starts with a specific flavor or aesthetic cue, like “I want a green drink with pink foam,” Cabrera says. Or the bartenders may start by thinking about how to transform a classic cocktail into something new. The latter approach is how he developed the rum-and-Chartreuse-based Three Monks and A Dash, a spin on the Three Dots and a Dash tiki cocktail. A reference to the monks that produce the green liqueur, the drink adds lime, honey, falernum, allspice and rum to balance Chartreuse’s characteristic bitterness.
Herbal Amari also shows up in several cocktails, including the fruity Hurricane Patricia with passionfruit, citrus, Pasubio amaro and white tequila; the Just George, comprised of rye, Averna, Fernet and bitters; and the Italian Crusta, which features bitter Montenegro, Carpano Antica and Averna, alongside fresh grapefruit juice. Finished with a chocolate-sugar rim, the latter cocktail has become a runaway favorite.
For wine and beer, Chartreuse has a small but thoughtful selection. At any given time, wines by the glass may include a Spanish petit verdot and Oregon pinot noir, while beers range from a Belgian tripel to Miller High Life, cheekily served in a Champagne coupe. “Miller High Life is the ‘Champagne of Beers.’ We picked it so we could serve it in a Champagne glass for the late-night crowd,” Stephen says.
Regardless of what you’re drinking, one element is key to the lounge’s success: communication. Chartreuse’s bartenders spend time with each customer, pinning down their palates and preferences. That personalized attention is reflected in the bar’s no-standing-room policy. Each guest gets their own stool or plush lounge chair, which sometimes leads to waits on weekends. (Reservations are accepted.) “My husband and I wanted to make sure there wasn’t a shoulder-to-shoulder, yelling-over-people situation,” Danielle says. “We want it to feel swanky, but be really chill and comfortable, not hoity-toity or pretentious.”