For Several years, Kathryn DiMenichi and Holli Medley knew the name of their eventual bar would be Cardinal, a bird they believe watches over them along with the spirits of their ancestors. The eccentricity of Cardinal, which opened in April, hardly stops there—and you should thank your burning sage it doesn’t.
To think of Cardinal as a mere speakeasy doesn’t do justice to its extraordinary whimsy. Two friends have created a free-spirited space—hidden behind their small food market, Third Street Goods—not only for congregating over iced vermouth or CBD juice drinks but for highlighting priorities such as waste-reduction and locavorism. The community vibe inside Cardinal is a logical extension of the one that distinguishes the compound where it’s situated. The Beacon, a collection of low-slung former industrial buildings, now houses an art center, several restaurants, a brewery, and a “pinfall” (bowling-meets-football-meets-cornhole) parlor with sets by popular DJs. It’s looser and more nightlife-oriented than similar developments. The south Grant Park location, formerly known mostly to graffiti artists and mounted police whose horses still graze in a nearby pasture, is adjacent to a yet-to-be-completed portion of the BeltLine trail.
Finding Cardinal in all of this is part of the fun. Once you’ve arrived at the Beacon from the surrounding maze of one-way streets, you’ll make your way down the hall of the main building, a former commercial cinnamon-bun factory, and enter a mysterious corridor with a plush curtain, a scattering of herbs and dried flowers on the floor, and, painted on the wall, a pink triangle symbolizing nature’s golden ratio. Just be sure to consult your lunar calendar before going to all that trouble: The bar is never open when there’s a full moon.
DiMenichi and Medley have worked as bartenders at beloved establishments including Leon’s Full Service, where they met. Medley, who went to culinary school in her native Alabama, and DiMenichi, an Atlantan with an art background, stick to a routine in which one of them is always behind the bar while the other runs the store or the kitchen. The cooperative approach helps make Cardinal feel more like an intimate experiment than a traditional drinking destination.
As befits a conscientious and creative joint like this, the cocktail menu offers low-ABV cocktails, sherry and vermouth bottle service, smartly curated wines such as a pungent red from Puglia with a beer bottle cap, and nonalcoholic drinks boosted with CBD oil. The eponymous signature drink, a riff on a gin martini poured in a classic small coupe, honors the South with delicate (and not too sweet) touches of honey and Georgia muscadine wine. The more daring Amiright (arak, rum, and lime) and Hip to Hip (bourbon, curaçao, coconut, lemon, and salt) serve to shroud Cardinal in additional magic.
On the tiny bar menu, snack-sized mortadella sandwiches on potato rolls with tangy housemade mustard are the only hot food item. Beautiful, smoked Portuguese sardines are served in their tin can, along with pickled quail eggs from Alabama, hot piri-piri sauce, housemade pickles, and toasted rounds of baguette to sop up their rich oil. There’s also a generous helping of marinated olives tossed with mild Caly Road feta; a salad of peaches, blueberries, and freshly snipped herbs served with a mound of sumptuous housemade ricotta; and a simple cheese plate with a choice of Gouda flavored with nettles, buttery young cheddar (both from Working Cow Dairy in Alabama), Sweet Grass Green Hill from Georgia, or Point Reyes Original Blue from California. The sublime pointy baguettes accompanying both the cheeses and the Sparkman’s butter (churned in South Georgia) are from the best baker in town: Root Baking Company in Ponce City Market.
At peak strawberry season, the kitchen put out a strawberry salad, strawberry syrup, and strawberry leather—as unlikely to find in a bar as the house Bibb salad with lemon vinaigrette and homemade croutons.
The space exudes its owners’ deep-held beliefs in planetary harmony and cyclical renewal: You can’t help but feel relaxed hanging out here. The walls are a seductive pool-table green, the old-fashioned horseshoe bar is crafted of rich walnut wood, large tables in various corners foster conversation, and the hypnotic lighting (the owners have been collecting vintage fixtures—most of them globes—and light bulbs over the past year) make it easy to fall under Cardinal’s spell.
Cardinal is not your typical bar. Ethereal cocktails, Southern snacks, and warm, artistic, female energy coalesce to create an idyllic refuge. The mood here is dictated not by the culture of excess or the lure of debauchery but by the bounties of nature and the cycles of the moon.
★ ★ ★ ★
1039 Grant Street
Three of cardinal’s must-order cocktails
This rumination on a gin martini has whispers of honey and muscadine wine.
Yes, you are—especially when you feed me this concoction of arak, rum, and lime.
Hip to Hip
You’ll want to slow dance with this mashup of bourbon, curaçao, coconut, lemon, and salt.
This article appears in our September 2019 issue.