If there was anything I liked about Charlie’s Bistro, it was the location. The CBD is too crowded. When clubs skirt around the central business district it sort of limits who can go there. CBD just doesn’t seem safe anymore and so whenever I hear of new joints opening shop in the CBD I cringe, and it is the same reaction I had with Charlie’s Bistro.
They opened shop along Wabera Street, taking up the former Nakumatt City Hall that closed shop a while ago. Now, Charlie Bistro has taken the entire expansive space, making one of the largest, swankier (in a flashy sense of the word) restaurant in the CBD. Both the ground floor and first floor where the bistro sits reek decadence. Just peep on their socials and you’ll see.
But for a Tuesday, CBD is convenient. You can easily pop in, grab a cold one and pop out before the sun sets. I get there circa 5.30. It has an expansive entrance, all glass. Inside you can see patrons in different stages of their meet-ups. Some are digging into food, some are sipping cocktails, others are perusing menus, and some are just about to leave. The point is the place is full.
What I would really like to know though is if the crowd is the former Charlie’s patrons or they’ve attracted a new crop from the CBD’s numerous walkers. Of course, I spot a few college students around. You can always tell by how they dress. How they sit. They are not too comfortable with the surrounding. They are only there for the hype. To tag a location and dash. Because Charlie’s is one of those places that carries clout with its name. Saying you are there raises your social profile a few inches.
Since it is full I don’t get a nice seat. I find one next to a wall that looks unfinished. With a lot of foot traffic from the kitchen and waiters hanging around. I get the menu and go through it as I wait for a friend.
He’s more of a claustrophobic so when he arrives he suggests we go to the balcony. Which initially sounded like a good idea because, fresh air, but there you feel exposed. Eyes watch you from down the street. So, I would suggest finding a spot next to a window inside the establishment – until they find a way to add some privacy to the balcony.
A restaurant, smack in the middle of happy hour, runs out of ice cube.
With the new sitting spot, we get a new waiter. She hands us the menus then disappears. Now hers was not in a good way. Yes, there is a good way to disappear. This is where they hang back and give you time to decide what you’d like to order. Then when you are ready, and you lift your head up, there they are. Ready to take your order. But this one, she just fell back and was nowhere in sight. For almost twenty minutes, gone.
When I started this reviewing thing cocktails were my go-to drink.
How many times can one review a beer anyway? But the thing is I’ve now tried enough cocktails and when the brief came that I should choose something I’d never had by my editor I thought it was going to be a tough call. The thing is I personally vouch for whiskey sours and old fashions (not in that order.) I can’t stand mojitos. Everyone likes mojitos. Just not me. They are cliché and boring. Like talking about the weather and the color of the sky on a first date.
Long island ice teas are concoctions from Satan’s personal liquor cabinet. Those ones will fuck you up proper if you find a good mixologist. The last one I tried was from the former Charlie’s on my birthday and three of them later, I was inside an Uber, headed home.
But at Charlie’s, the cocktail menu is diverse. From daquiris to politans. They make sure they have everyone’s tastes covered.
Also under their ‘very tall ones’ they have cocktails with enticing names. Like a Bob Marley. Bullfrog. Mexican standoff. Etc.
Now, this is a soft spot for me. I am a guy that likes good wordplay. So I went for the Mexican standoff.
They compare it to a telenovela. Not the best start if you’re a guy.
But it says it has rum, vodka (triple distilled because any other kind of distilled is piss) lemonade and Mango Margarita. From the description, I think I’m already in love with the drink. If this was a soap opera I might be her Alejandro and she my Camilla Santa Cruz.
When eons later she comes back and apologizes for taking forever she takes our orders. We ask about the food and she makes some suggestions. A Lebanese beef burger to be exact. She doesn’t seem quite familiar with the menu though. Because she cannot, even to save her life, tell us what Lebanese beef is. Maybe she’s new. Maybe the menu is new. But the management should consider giving them a crash course on the menu. She only got away with it because we’d been waiting, and we’d left our petty shirts a home.
After she left my drink only arrived an hour later. That’s a big damper for me because I hate waiting. When I am made to wait I won’t cause a fuss or throw a tantrum, but I will register my displeasure in a vault of indiscretions and blacklist a joint from my patronage. The excuse for the lateness of my drink was that the restaurant was out of ice cubes. A restaurant, smack in the middle of happy hour, runs out of ice cube. It was as comical as our current government. There was only a rushed apology, a drink that came sweating and dripping on the table with no coaster or serviette to mitigate that. It was sloppy serving at its worst.
Maybe this is because they opened in a rush and everything was all over the place. But as a patron, this should not be my problem. They should deal with it and leave me out of their excuses. But again, I came with some slack to cut. Their previous joint was good and the current one was riding on its goodwill.
Their Mexican lamb and bacon burger is a bit on the drier side and has no character.
To the drink.
The Mexican standoff is not your ordinary cocktail. Even the name sells itself a shoulder above the others. It smells divine but looks bland. Much like the storyline of all Mexican soaps. I wish it had more color.
It has hints of coconut when you first sip it. Then after a while, you can taste the vodka on the back of your mouth. It is topped by a mango Margarita which gives it a kick of tropical sweetness. Though it was personally too sweet for my liking. My bias with sours is to blame for this.
However, after a few sips, the vodka taste disappears. Which is bad for me because I like my cocktails sour. Which might mean these are the end of my cocktail experiments.
But generally, the Mexican standoff is the wife material of cocktails. You don’t marry this one because you like her ass or face. You marry this one because she is a homemaker and you’ll never eat hardened chapatis in a stew if water and cabbage. You marry her because she is good conversation and you can see yourself tolerating her habits till death do you part.
Also, about the disappearing alcohol notes, don’t shy away. The taste of vodka might disappear, but the thing is potent. You get a nice rum-vodka (it also has rum btw) buzz that sustains for close to an hour. It is perfect for the sweet tooth with a low affinity to the bitter taste of alcohol. Although, it does feel out of place in the CBD. Looks like a drink that would do well on a hot beach somewhere at the coast.
For a burger and a cocktail, the bill set us back KES 1490-1,800, depending on the burger you order. The cocktail was on happy hour so it cost a fraction of the price (KES 500). I had a Mexican Lamb and Bacon Burger but the promised accompaniments didn't end up on my plate. The fries, while tolerable wee, not the best, I always prefer the smaller, crunchier ones. The burger was also on the drier side.
This is not a place I would advise you to go just yet. Give it two months or maybe three. Wait until they have an official launch. Then wait a few weeks after that. Then go. They need to run a tight ship if they are to come anything close to the former Charlie’s bistro glory.