If you’ve been to Tacoma’s 1022 South cocktail bar, you’ve probably experienced the magic of Chris Keil. And while I don’t get down there near enough, I’ll say Keil’s cocktail program is (was) one of my favorite in the state. Maybe ever? He introduces seemingly argumentative ingredients—like bourbon and Chartreuse—and tempers them with a fleet of uncommon liqueurs and bitters and tinctures. It should feel precious. Instead it’s kind of exhilarating.
So it was big news in T-Town when Keil and 1022 South parted ways last week. Here’s his farewell. It’s pointless for me to dwell on it, so I’d rather talk about this: Keil is busy opening his own place, called Hilltop Kitchen. He’s partnering with Matt Sweitzer, one of the guys behind Cal’s Classic American in Kent and Cal's Classic American Kitchen deep in the Amazon, but the project isn’t affiliated with Sweitzer’s restaurant group.
The name and the partner suggest Americana. Not so. This time around, Keil is focusing on spirits of Latin America—like cachaca, tequila, rum, and my newly beloved mezcal. He got into rum in his early bartending days working at a “tiki-esque” bar. And Keil says he likes mezcal because it’s a spirit made mostly in tiny batches by individual farmers in Oaxaca, a sort of boozy take on the farm-to-table way of thinking. Expect lots of housemade stuff, including some shrubs. And plenty of whiskey. Because really, why not?
While the cocktails will be a serious business, Keils aiming for something more casual and let-loose than his previous digs. “It’s going to be the kind of place where you can go and get a really fun, fancy drink and you might even be able to dance…maybe.”
Reclaimed materials are helping make over the 913 Martin Luther King Way space, the former Tempest. The kitchen will be putting out “a Northwest take on Latin American street food,” says Keil. There was talk of tacos and pupusas and local/seasonal ingredients.
Hilltop Kitchen is about a month away from being an actual place where you can go drink; the target open is June 1. Facebook can keep you apprised of its progress.