Eat This Week: Bad Kitty Lounge brings craft cocktails in a space that’s ’like mid-century modern puked’
Special to the Daily
Don’t look for Bad Kitty Lounge on Google Maps – you won’t find it. Don’t bother with the phone number on the web page, either. But if you’re tenacious enough to spot the sign near the Covered Bridge and wander down to the cozy cocktail nook, you won’t be disappointed.
Bad Kitty Lounge opened on Halloween 2020 in the space that was once home to Loaded Joe’s – a fact that seems to throw some guests for a loop when they show up for coffee at 8 a.m. and the doors are locked tight.
“I had a guy offer me some free business advice that I’d sell more coffee if we opened before 11 a.m.,” said co-owner Steven Teaver. “I said we’d sell more coffee if we actually sold coffee.”
The speakeasy vibe may have been unintentional but co-owners Teaver and Brandon Bigalke have embraced it, much as they have embraced the various challenges that come with opening a bar during COVID.
Teaver and Bigalke have plenty of experience in Vail’s dining scene. Bigalke moved to the valley from San Francisco with PlumpJack, the outfit that opened Pendulum (now Fall Line) and the now extinct White Buffalo in Vail Village; he opened Local’s Left in the Transportation Building in 2019. Teaver most recently served as the beverage director at Four Seasons Vail; after 20 years in the valley, he’s worked at most of the fine dining establishments as general manager or sommelier. But the idea for Bad Kitty came, as many fine ideas do, while the pair were at Vendetta’s. They heard that the space would be available and bam: They knew it was time.
Stroll into Bad Kitty Lounge and take a pause at the entryway to appreciate the explosion of colors and textures. The diminutive space has several distinct areas, each with its own personality and atmosphere.
“I like to jokingly say it’s like mid-century modern puked,” Bigalke quipped.
The green leather-tufted bar is reminiscent of the bar in one of the first places Teaver worked – a country club in Atlanta. The largest table in the place, clad in yellow leather which seats five or six people, has a tiki bar feel to it. The wood paneled wall by the bar evokes the basement “rumpus room” that every ‘80s kid wanted at his or her house. And the bathroom? Well, you need to see that for yourself.
The layout is one of the pieces that works really well with the COVID restrictions, Bigalke said.
“There’s a section there – there’s a section here; the bar’s a section. Unintentionally, it’s as COVID friendly as it can be,” he said.
Capacity for Bad Kitty is 24 people; with the current restrictions, only six guests can enjoy at a time. And though Teaver and Bigalke are looking forward to a time when the bar can be “packed,” they’re embracing this current reality.
One solution for the times when Bad Kitty is at capacity is the canning machine that lives behind the bar. Bartenders will can custom cocktails for guests that they can enjoy outside while waiting or take home and imbibe. With a little advance notice, Bigalke said they can create a six pack (or more) of cocktails to enjoy on the mountain or on a rafting trip this summer. Tying the knot? Why not raise a can of the bridge and groom’s signature beverage? The possibilities are endless.
When you do make it inside Bad Kitty Lounge, don’t ask for a cocktail menu – there isn’t one at the moment. Teaver said he and Bigalke have a spreadsheet of the different drinks they’ve created and crafted but it’s not ready to be rolled out yet.
“That’s one reason we don’t have a cocktail menu right now because (with the limited capacity) we can touch every guest that comes in, talk to them and see what they’re in the mood for,” Teaver explained.
“It’s an intimate experience with a guest of like, ‘so what do you like to drink?’ Let’s actually have a conversation here and let’s create an experience for you instead of like, ‘I’ll order this’ and it’s like Burger King ordering,” Bigalke said. “It’s an experience that we’re creating for people. And it’s something that you’ll go home and be like, ‘Hey, they made me this really cool drink.’”
For example: Are you a whiskey drinker who eschews the sweet drinks? Bigalke might hand you the winter old fashioned, a version of the classic drink with a distinctly festive flavor. In the mood for something fruity and tropical? The pros at Bad Kitty are happy to oblige.
And if you’re tempted to play “stump the bartender,” well… “You could try,” said Teaver with a laugh.
But the element that’s missing from a typical cocktail-forward, extremely hands-on bar experience is the pretention. There are no monocle-wearing, tweezer wielding peacocks behind this bar. Yes, they all have beards. But so does approximately 80% of the male population in the valley.
“We’re a dive bar with a cocktail problem,” Bigalke said.
Perhaps that’s the best way to explain Bad Kitty. It’s the best part of a dive bar – the friendly, welcoming, unassuming atmosphere – with extremely enjoyable drinks. Belly up if you can and if there’s a wait, well, it’s well worth it.
Bad Kitty Lounge is located at 227 Bridge Street in Vail. It opens at 11 a.m. daily (for the most part) and closes at 10 p.m. (ish). Visit badkittylounge.com or @badkittylounge on Instagram.