Ghost of Grandeur cocktail surrounded by twigs and cinnamon sticks (photo by Josh Dobay Productions)
Food + Drink

Bartenders to Know: The Crew at Cleveland’s Cloak & Dagger

Cloak & Dagger is home to mixologists who craft seasonal delights and imaginative offerings inspired by various themes, all complemented by seasonal food pairings.

Walk into Cleveland’s Cloak & Dagger, located in the Tremont neighborhood overlooking Lincoln Park, and you may well feel you’ve entered a writer’s study. Leather couches, dark wood, candles, velvet chairs and bookshelves lined with leather volumes all lend an almost literary atmosphere to the space. Even the menus patrons use to select their drink choices resemble artfully designed booklets.

And yet, Cloak & Dagger has another distinction from other bars that’s not as visible as its ambiance. All the food, and in fact all the cocktails, are vegan, which means that substitutes must be found for all the creams, egg whites or sweeteners like honey that other bars use in their cocktails. Instead, such replacements as non-dairy milks, chickpea brine, even a substance called agar made from seaweed find their way into Cloak & Dagger’s cocktails, giving them a depth of flavor and richness that their legions of repeat customers have learned to love. In fact, many of those customers are likely not at all aware of the vegan substitutions that have been made.

Still another distinction at Cloak & Dagger is the fact that all those cocktails have been invented by the bar’s cadre of imaginative mixologists — Mitch Didion, Haley Rataiczak, Kevin Giustiniani and Ben Kriznan. They play off themes invented by the bar’s co-owner, Casey Gerber, using seasonal ingredients of their own choice to create an array of cocktails that range from bright, floral and fruity to strong, boozy and alcohol-forward.

My Call of Dionysus fell into the latter category with a mixture of bourbon, grappa, sherry, roasted grapes and olives, balsamic, rosemary, thyme and black walnut bitters. The many ingredients blended seamlessly into one delicious whole. It’s a cocktail I won’t soon forget!

A popular theme at Cloak & Dagger last year was cocktails based on signs of the Zodiac, followed by another concept called “Secrets of the World.” As Gerber explains, “we hope to capture the essence of each changing season, presenting you with a feast for the senses.”

Divided into four “acts,” the winter season offered cocktails that provide comfort and joy during the dark winter months. In the spring, with the theme of “A New Life Begins,” expect brightly colored cocktails using innovative techniques in preparation.

Haley Rataiczak mixing a drink behind the bar at Cloak and Dagger (photo by Josh Dobay Productions)
The wintertime lineup of cocktails included such imaginative offerings as a “no egg egg nog” called “Ghost of Grandeur,” with bourbon, Jamaican rum, cognac, amaro, vanilla liqueur, chai, gomme syrup, coconut and soy milk, nutmeg and cinnamon.

While most drinks cycle off the menu each season, a number of popular drinks from past years continue on the menu as “Legends.” One of them, Rabbit’s Foot, is made of blanco tequila, ginger agave, cayenne, pineapple, lemon and aromatic bitters. It remains one of their biggest sellers. A number of curated beers and wines are also available, and if a customer wants a classic drink like an old fashioned or negroni, the bartenders are happy to oblige.

Food items created by chefs Evan Flauto and Jared Kent at Cloak & Dagger also change with the seasons and are designed to be easily paired with the cocktails. In winter, expect a Japanese radish salad, a Moroccan chickpea stew, mushroom stroganoff, a French dip made with roast beef seitan, a smoked carrot gravlax bagel and another made with braised leeks and mustard seed “caviar.”

My own menu choices, sadly now gone off the menu, were a sunflower risotto and butternut squash steak that were so flavorful and hearty it was one of the most satisfying meals I’ve had in years. I definitely want to return to sample their new choices, both cocktails and food.

All the bartenders have the freedom to create their own cocktails, provided the ingredients are seasonal and it corresponds with the underlying theme created by Gerber. A collaborative element comes into play at frequent meetings, however, where each mixologist can weigh in and help the others with suggestions on how to improve cocktails that aren’t working.

“If one of us is going in a wrong direction, we all can jump in and figure out the way to go,” says bartender Mitch Didion. “It’s the right way to tackle inventing cocktails. But we all have a lot of freedom in inventing our own cocktails. If you’re a bartender here, you definitely have a voice in creating our menu.”

Proof Magazine is for Ohio spirit lovers. It is produced by Great Lakes Publishing three times a year. Dont miss an issue by subscribing to Ohio MagazineView a digital version of the Proof Magazine Spring 2024 edition here.