February 11, 2020 – First, there was a whisper. Cocktails at Cremer House? Us mountain folk, who already frequent this blessing of a gastropub up in the San Lorenzo Valley more than we should admit, were excited about the notion of a full bar. Then, there was the yellow notice on the window, advising of the impending liquor license. And then…we waited…and waited…and waited some more. “Not yet,” they said. “Any day now,” they said. Longtime general manager Mike Goss, who was with Cremer since the very beginning, eventually retired. And still no hard stuff.
And then, more than two years after that first glimmer of hope, the cocktail menu was unveiled. The unfolding of this story began in 2017, when the liquor license was actually first acquired. A series of events ensued, starting with owner Bob Locatelli hiring a bar consultant, then a bunch of permitting, approvals surrounding the historic building and some staff changes later. But then, cocktails arrived with a carefully crafted, curated list of drinks on offer, featuring top shelf labels with something to please everyone.
“It took a lot to get there,” explains Natalie Henry, who stepped into Goss’s management role when he retired. “Felton is such a close-knit community, it felt like I joined a family too,” she says of how she segued into the position. And actually, since her husband Peter Henry is executive chef at Cremer House, the whole place feels like a family. You might find Natalie’s name familiar, as she is also the co-owner of Twins Kitchen, a jam company she runs with her mom, Peggy Dillon. In fact, many of their specialties have been brought onto the Cremer menu, like the exclusive Chocolate Raspberry Jam on the cheese board or the Habanero Jam used in the margarita.
As for the cocktails? “We really wanted to make sure everything was properly set up. We didn’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” says Henry. Two years of careful examination, jumping through permitting hoops, and—equally crucial—finding someone to helm the bar program, explains the long wait. “It took awhile to find the right bar manager,” she admits.
That bar manager ended up being another longtime employee, Delaura Estes, who you will see behind the bar pretty much any time you pop into the popular neighborhood spot. She has risen to the task of training staff to make great cocktails in a tight little spot with very little storage for anything other than the star of the show, which is a huge rotating list of craft beer on tap. “It has been really challenging,” Estes says, “it is a very limited space, so what we carry liquor-wise is very refined.”
That challenge is certainly not a bad thing for us patrons, who will find that refinement in a handful of Classic Cocktails (all $9), such as a Dry Martini, both gin or vodka, offered with a twist or an olive, or a Manhattan made with Maker’s Mark. These drinks demostrate that even the bottles they use as their “well” are high quality. The very popular, and very large, Bloody Mary ($13) is a recipe that Estes has honed over most of her adult life (she admits she was obsessed with Bloody Marys in her 20’s). If you opt for the spicy version, you’ll get the house infused organic hot pepper vodka.
Another fun option is the “Spike as You Like” ($9), in which you get to choose any shot of spirit to pair with one of the Cremer house-made sodas. A recent variety on offer was a pineapple soda, which would be a no-brainer with a splash of mezcal.
There are also seven Craft Cocktails (all $12) that are very well thought-out. The “Down Town Felton” (DTF) is a riff on a Negroni, made with Fords Gin, Dolin Rouge Vermouth and the Italian bitter aperitivo called Cappelletti. The “Bear Necessities” is a mix of Bourbon, Green Chartreuse, Lime and Agave, that arrives with a little gummy bear as garnish. And even though Estes is intentional about changing the cocktail menu to fit the seasons, she just can’t take off the customer favorite “Margarita Habana” with Gran Agave Tequila, Trois Citrus, Habanero Jam and lime.
“It’s evolving,” says Estes. “The bar menu will become more seasonal. In the next couple of weeks I want to introduce some hot cocktails for the winter and continue to evolve from there.” There are also murmurs of brunch starting soon, or at least by summer, so let’s all look forward to some specialty daytime drinks!
Amber Turpin is a freelance food and travel writer based in the Santa Cruz Mountains.