Restaurant Review: Lock & Key

Lock & Key Front Door - Nick Drinks Blog

It’s always exciting when another craft cocktail bar opens and even more so when it is in your town. I present to you Lock & Key which opened 8/15/13 to the public. It’s an off shoot of the Oxford Inn in Royal Oak, MI. I got pretty darn excited about the place especially after I heard it was being filmed for a new Food Network show.

Lock & Key Interior - Nick Drinks Blog

The place has a fun vibe. It’s like a hunting lodge speakeasy. I have a funny feeling they re-purposed some furniture from Oxford Inn but everything is clean and well put together.

Before I go too deep into this recap. I want to say they tried really hard. Because of this it feels like someone followed a check list on how to open a speakeasy style bar.

Opening a Speakeasy-style Bar

– Get cushy, classic-looking furniture

– Make the lighting dark

– Get premium booze that most people aren’t familiar with (such as Chartreuse and Maraschino Liquor)

– Serve classic cocktails from the Jerry Thomas Bartender’s Guide.

While the above does make for a speakeasy-style bar, you still need to add some personality and some soul. That is what I feel Lock & Key is missing.

Drink List - Nick Drinks Blog

The drinks, while classic, lacked any imagination and customization. These are drinks that you can get at almost any cocktail bar. I would have loved to see what their bartenders made-up and are experimenting with. Granted (and this is a big point) it was only their first day of being open. This will hopefully come as the bartenders get more comfortable with their selection of booze.

Drinks - Nick Drinks Blog

I brought a friend with me, Dustin, and we each ordered our first round. The waitress was a bit green and asked us for what we wanted to drink before we saw the menu. That kink will work itself out. I got a Hemingway and Dustin got a Bitter Truth.

The Hemingway was a little sweet and didn’t have a lot of depth but wasn’t awful. I would probably not use Bacardi but that is a personal call. C+.

Nibbles - Nick Drinks Blog

We ordered some nibbles; sliders, shoestring fries & shrimp cocktail. They weren’t bad but they weren’t amazing. I’ve been pretty spoiled on sliders ever since my visit to Green Dot Stables. The menu seemed to have some discrepancies and one fairly awesome mistake. While the shrimp cocktail said it was served with Bloody Mary mix, it tasted mush more like standard cocktail sauce (horseradish & ketchup).

Dessert - Nick Drinks Blog

The bottom of the menu included a dessert served in a Bell Jar.

ball jar infographic - Nick Drinks Blog

For everyone unsure what a bell jar is, let’s take a look at the above graphic. Bell Jar can be used for science, for terrariums, for middle school reading or even for craft projects. Using it for a dessert would be awesome but that was not the case. It was a ball jar.  Add this to the update list for the next menu.

The beer menu was limited to one brewery but it looked like a good one. Kuhnhenn Brewing Co is their exclusive beer provider and they looked very tasty. This is for a second trip.

Absinthe Fountain - Nick Drinks Blog

After some snacks we were ready for a 2nd drink. I saw the Absinthe Fountain on the bar ready to go for the night. That was my next drink. The Green Fairy.

Green Fairy - Nick Drinks Blog

However instead of the Absinthe Fountain, I got an olive oil container filled with, hopefully, water. The drink was still tasty (not sure of the absinthe they used) but it lost big points for execution.

It was an enjoyable experience and there is potential in the bar but they need to do three things (in my mind):

1) Get a selection of drinks that reflect the bartenders personality. Keep the classics but bring something new to the table. 

2) Tighten up the service. Executional errors are fixable and distract from the experience.

3) Just like the drink selection, the overall bar needs some more soul. The decor needs some personality. The giant key and peep hole are cool so expand on that. Give us some background on the menu. Empower your waitstaff to learn about prohibition and the history of the drinks.

My recommendation is give them a few months to get their sea legs. On their opening night, they were barely 1/3 full. I have high hopes for the place and want them to succeed. By the time the Food Network show goes live (next few months), I’d love to see this place being the talk of the town. They have some work to do.

For some more pictures of the place – Full Flickr Gallery