In Good Spirits

A Spirited Fight

By Cheré Coen  |  Photography courtesy of Peter Kern Library

Knoxville’s Peter Kern Library, a speakeasy bar in the Oliver Hotel, loves paying homage to literary figures but last year fought the virus with a unique cocktail.

Like most libations establishments, the Peter Kern Library — a lounge, not a library, inside Knoxville’s Oliver Hotel — had to shutter its doors during 2020’s COVID-19 lockdown. While in hibernation, General Manager Kevin Armstrong decided to change up the printing of the cocktail menu, narrowing it down to one sheet and printing it in-house.

​And he added a few fun cocktails to the mix.

“It seemed the opportune time to rename the cocktails,” Armstrong says.

​The Peter Kern Library sits tucked deep inside the hotel, a speakeasy-style bar with dark wooden walls covered in books. The historic building hails back to 1876 when German-born Peter Kern began the Kern Bakery and Confectionery in downtown Knoxville. As a later hotel, the room was used as a reading room, complete with library and a grand piano.

​When the present-day Oliver Hotel was renovated and opened in 2009, owners decided to make the reading room a speakeasy bar with a library flare, serving up craft cocktails named after literary characters, an expansive whiskey and bourbon selection, and beer and wine in a cozy setting. Cocktails made with fresh ingredients — sometimes with herbs from Armstrong’s garden — offer nods to literary characters such as the “Holly Golightly” from Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “Mustapha Mond” from Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.”

The winter menu includes a “Removed Reading” section, honoring books threatened to be removed or that have been banned from public places such as schools and libraries. There’s “Curley’s Wife” from John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” a mixture of cognac, Cointreau, lemon, cranberry sauce, and pimento dram, and “Aunt Polly” from Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer,” something akin to an apple pie with flavors of cinnamon and cloves.

“The current menu’s definitely a holiday-cold weather kind of menu,” Armstrong said.

But back to that menu change-up last spring, when Armstrong and staff were coming out of the COVID lockdown. They decided to veer afield of the literary names, adding the cocktails “Spanish Flu,” “Exotic 2020,” and “COVID Killer.”

​“We did clever names that captured the times,” he said.

​COVID Killer has become so popular, it remains on the menu. The drink combines Japanese whiskey, lemon juice, ginger liqueur, simple syrup, honey bitters and a Bowmore 12 Scotch float with a mint garnish.

​“It’s a mash-up between a whiskey smash and a modern classic called the Penicillin,” Armstrong said, the latter owning the alleged healing properties of honey, lemon juice, and fresh ginger.

We suggest you remain vigilant against the virus — wear your mask, get the vaccine, — but here’s a killer drink that may take the edge off the pandemic.

COVID Killer

2 ounces Toki Suntory Whisky

3/4 ounces house-made ginger liqueur

3/4 ounces fresh squeezed lemon juice

1/4 ounce simple syrup

1 squeeze Bittermens Krupnik Herbal Honey Bitters

1/2 ounce Bowmore 12 Scotch

4 mint leaves (expressed)

​Directions: Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and strain into a glass. Float Bowmore 12 Scotch by holding a bar spoon upside down over the drink and slowly pouring the Scotch over the back of the spoon, making contact with the side of the glass and letting it flow into the drink. Garnish with mint sprig.

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