Taj Mahal Bar is an interesting place. Dare I use the word “swank” to describe it? And I don’t mean that slime ball, gel in the hair, men wearing suits sort of swank. I use the term to describe the sexy backlit bar top and the extensive martini list which was created by this week’s #bartendercrush, Chris Spinato.
Don’t get me wrong: Taj is laid back. No dress code, no snobby attitudes. The establishment is split between an upstairs lounge with a sassy red couch and a few regular old bar tables, and a bar area that seats about ten. The thing about Taj is it can be what you want it to be. “You want a nice casual place to hang? Come here. You want a big party Friday nights? Come here. You want world-class local beer and great cocktails? We’ve got that too,” says Spinato.
I recently had the opportunity to hang with Chris, bar manager and tender at Taj Mahal. Besides good conversation, I had the pleasure of imbibing in a few of his specialty cocktails mixed with local luxuries like Tessora Lemone, OYO vodka and Watershed gin. Oh, and did I mention he has a beard? Will all my #bartendercrush -es have beards?
Name: Chris Spinato
Hood: German Village
Years behind the Bar: 7
Hobbies: Writing, being an American history buff.
Band/Book/Beverage: The Smiths, Animal Farm, Bourbon.
KL: You stuck around Columbus after college. You must like it here, right?
CP: I love Columbus; it’s a great town with great people. It’s as big or as small as you make it. If you want to be known around town, be a “who’s who,” you can do that. But if you want to have your own life or do your own thing, you can do that too. There’s a lot of Live and Let Live here, and as long as you’re a good person you’re going to be all right.
KL: If someone from out of town stopped into Taj and asked you to recommend a few “must see’s” around town, what would you suggest?
CP: Columbus has better architecture that people give it credit for. When’s the last time you went on a tour of the state house? The Wexner Center is a great architectural center as well. I’d definitely suggest a trip to German Village because it’s so historic. We have everything that every big city has that you can appreciate and enjoy in ways that you might not be able to in other places, because of our size. You can actually go to the museum here and not just be shuffled through the line.
KL: You have four beers on tap here. Planning on adding Yuengling?
CP: That’s the plan. I promise my customers and your readers that as soon as it’s available, I’ll have it in here.
KL: What’s the most popular drink order at Taj?
CP: Our dollar shot is obviously pretty popular. I let the bartenders pick out what they want for that. Tonight Gina wanted to make the Fruit Loop shot.
KL: What’s that?
[Cut to me throwing back a giant shot of sweet, creamy, cereal-flavored deliciousness.]
KL: So, I have a few friends who rave about the karaoke night here at Taj.
CP: That’s Friday nights. It’s a blast. It’s a night that I show up at work and I’m like “Cool. I’m going to have a great crowd in here, there aren’t going to be a lot of problems. I got my A Team staff working, got Jeremy [Kilts] behind the bar.” You know it’s going to be a good night.
KL: If you aren’t at work, where are you?
CP: Gresso’s, or Club 185 [both in German Village]. Club 185 is one of my very favorite bars in the city. If I ever got an ownership consortium to build a place, and make it viable, make it work, it would be a lot like 185. I’ve tried to take a lot of those German Village and Short North queues to add to here [at Taj] because there’s not really that sort of place on campus. I want to try to do something a little different and off the beaten path, because we’re a little different and we’re off the beaten path.
KL: I think it’s important to remember [as a bar manager] that not everyone who lives on campus is a student.
CP: Exactly. I’d be painting with too broad of a brush to say all of our customers are students. There are a lot of people who just live in the neighborhood and are out for a good time and great drinks. We’re the bar for that.
KL: How have you sort of embraced the community here in Columbus?
CP: The Watershed Gin is kind of my pet right now. We’ve really been focused on being local here, because Taj has been here for 30 years. I really want to stress what’s great about Columbus in the “Drinkershpere.” We’ve got Elevator beer on tap all the time. I promise that to my customers. And we have the Watershed spirits, the OYO vodkas and now their whiskey. We just stocked the Tessora Limone liqueur. It’s something I’m happy to do because I really believe in the products. I mean, that’s why we partner with Cbusr and are trying to partner with SBB. We really want to ingratiate all the great things about Columbus.
KL: I’ll drink to that.
Stop in at Taj on North High Street on a Friday for Happy Hour, and sticking around for karaoke. You might even have the pleasure of seeing Chris do a little Gaga.
This is a guest post by Kelly Laine. Kelly makes an infamous summer sangria, has a strong affinity for tequila, and favors an ice-cold Stone IPA or a tart Farmhouse Ale Saison when the weather’s right. Hobbies include hand-making custom bow ties, cooking while the music blares, Bikram yoga, and being inappropriate.