Home Sweet Happy Hour
With inspiration and a kitchen to spare, Dr. Eric Whittenburg brings the party home.
When the long workday is over and Dr. Eric Whittenburg drives back from Belleville, IL, where he works as a podiatrist, he doesn’t have to search long for a place to unwind with his favorite drink, the Manhattan . He can drive straight home and fix it himself on the first floor of his three-story home in Lafayette Square. What used to be a separate apartment entirely, when Eric and his family first moved into the 4,200-square-foot historic home, now serves as a cocktail bar, lounge area and second kitchen (the more traditional kitchen space resides on floor two). After visiting several favorite local bars (Taste, Blood & Sand and others) to see what they had, what he liked and what he thought would work for the space, Eric had a vision for how his personal bar  would look and function. Now, there are boxed shelves in place of cabinets, a new countertop, dishwasher and even a custom-made tap  (serving mostly local brews) that a friend, who used to install draft systems for Schlafly, designed and installed. And, of course, there are the bottles upon bottles lining the shelves—each with its own flavor and history.
The inspiration for the ultimate cocktail bar came out of necessity, really. Now that they have a 2-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son, Eric and his wife don’t go out like they used to. The idea was to bring the fun home, and their friends have certainly caught on. The first floor has become the popular gathering place on holidays and after events, and guests can count on their host to come up with a variety of concoctions, as Eric has become quite the mixologist. To stock the bar, Eric delved into the art of mixology by reading “Hemingway and Bailey’s Bartending Guide to Great American Writers,” complete with 42 cocktail recipes. He studied and bought ingredients for each cocktail, practiced and experimented with his own variations, and grew his repertoire. A doctor by day and bartender by night? We’ll drink to that.
Lining the windowsill are bitters, which Eric describes as the “salt of cocktails.” To make your own, combine herbs, spices, fruits and nuts of your choice, and soak them in high-proof alcohol, which will extract the flavors. The product will turn out bitter, hence the name, and will add an extra dimension of flavor to your drink.
Absinthe has to be diluted before drinking, and Eric’s absinthe fountain  allows him to prepare it the traditional way. Take a reservoir glass filled with the alcohol, place an absinthe spoon on top of it and a sugar cube on top of that. Slowly drip cold water from the fountain onto the sugar cube, which will dissolve and drip into the absinthe.
Lock, Stock and Barrel
To give his cocktails slight woody and tannin flavors, Eric ages them in a small oak barrel . Just make the cocktail (whiskey or gin-based is best), pour it into the barrel and let it sit for a few months—it’ll be well worth the wait.
What’s Old is New
Eric’s most interesting bottle from his extensive collection is the Old New Orleans 10-Year Special Edition, a rum distilled in New Orleans in 2000, where he happened to be living at the time. Though the distillery was completely destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, about 70 percent of the rum was saved as the barrels floated around in the warehouse. As Eric puts it, this rum is “pre-Katrina rum—they’ll never make it again.”
Photo credit: Lily Liu