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FT Undercover checks out three boozy brands


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FT Undercover

 Brands get boozy: (from left) the Smoke Bombs flight at Big Whiskey’s, Mutts Canine Cantina’s Barkarita and a French 75 at Cafe Intermezzo.

For those who know next to nothing about whiskey (aka me), flipping through the hefty drink menu listing 100-plus options at Big Whiskey’s is a bit intimidating. Luckily my (initial) confusion was short-lived as our bartender at the concept’s first franchise location in Las Vegas quickly steered me toward the Flights section as the best way for an amateur to acquaint herself with the world of whiskey. He wasn’t especially knowledgeable about the differences between single barrel and barrel strength, or the meaning of descriptors such as “bottled-in-bond,” but thankfully binge watching “Parks and Recreation” was about to pay off. Whiskey-loving curmudgeon Ron Swanson is known for his affection for Lagavulin, a Scottish whisky (spelled without the “e” for those distilled in Scotland) that was one of the tasters in the Smoke Bombs flight for $32. Decision made. Ardbeg Corryvreckan Single Malt and Laphroaig 10 rounded out the flight that lived up to its name and did a number on my palate and nostrils. Novice note: The coffee beans served with a whiskey flight are for sniffing, not eating, which I didn’t learn until it was too late. Apparently “nosing” your whiskey is just as important as sipping it.

The upshot: While it’s more casual dining restaurant than whiskey bar, Big Whiskey’s lives up to its name with a staggering number of options, though its bartenders would be wise to bone up on the offerings to guide the uninitiated guest. — LM


Yappy Hour at Mutts Canine Cantina is a puppy parent wannabe’s paradise. All of the snuggles, nuzzles, oooing and ahhing without the commitment and poop pickup. Oh, and there’s cocktails. The Barkarita was especially refreshing on a warm spring day at Mutts’ Dallas location, where an off-leash dog park covers an acre in the Uptown neighborhood and is accompanied by a counter-service restaurant and beer garden. Adirondack chairs and picnic tables are ideal for lounging humans and dogs alike, though most of the latter prefer to frolic in the open space, roll freely in the grass (and mud) or accept pets from adoring fans. Separate fenced spaces for small and large breeds help keep both safe and happy, and owners can purchase daily ($6.95), monthly ($16.95) or annual ($150) passes for access. The restaurant and beer garden are open to all, making Mutts an ideal spot to grab a couple drinks—the Texas Mule is also top notch—and a signature fried chicken sandwich and bask in the sunshine surrounded by playful pooches. A dog washing area rounds out the amenities, and a few Bark Rangers are on site for clean up duty.      

The upshot: Mutts Canine Cantina is pet parenting as it should be, and with a couple of franchise deals already signed in Texas it’s poised to take off faster than a border collie chasing a tennis ball. — LM


Perhaps forgetting I hate beer, my editor assigned Beerhead Bar & Eatery for this issue’s FT Undercover. But on a gorgeous spring day after a Chicago Cubs game in Wrigleyville, I couldn’t bring myself to go in: Too many bros, too many beers, and on the shaded side of the street. I needed an alternative, but in the franchise world there’s beer or beer or beer or sugary cocktails bigger than your head. (Wine-flight purveyor Vino Volo, please franchise immediately.) Then one day in Atlanta, the skies parted and there it was, Café Intermezzo, billed as the European Coffeehouse in America for nearly 40 years, which is now up to a mere six units but by rights should be many more. Marble-topped café tables line the streets, scrumptious cakes tempt from the display case, an enormous chandelier graces the dining room, and 38 pages of drinks make up the beverage book. I opted for a classic: The French 75 for 11 delicious dollars.

The upshot: A civilized alternative in a world awash in beer, Café Intermezzo offers a European sensibility. As for the hour I ordered my cocktail—let’s just say it was 5 o’clock in Paris. —BE

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