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In Fine Spirits 

Keeping tabs on Cleveland's bar tab.

Grandpa and his "beer and a bump" buddies would probably tumble right off their barstools if they could see what Clevelanders are drinking nowadays. According to bartenders at some area dining rooms, regional imbibers have gone gaga over Cosmopolitans, those fruity, easy-sipping cocktails of vodka, triple sec, lime juice, and cranberry juice. "Maybe it's from watching Sex and the City," muses Jennifer Ruck, barkeep at Moxie (3355 Richmond Road, Beachwood), "but it seems to be what everyone is drinking." In fact, Cosmos are just the tip of the ice cube: While the national trend has been a return to classic gin martinis, Clevelanders continue to prefer vodka by a long shot, says Nate Bee, bartender at Erie Bleu (4204 Detroit Avenue). "About the only time anyone orders gin around here is in a gin and tonic," he says. And at downtown's One Walnut (1801 East Ninth Street), the picture is pretty much the same. Grey Goose vodka, says bartender Devin Rench. "That's what Clevelanders are drinking."

We are also getting our RDA of vodka in cocktails like the Dirty Martini, with a splash of olive juice, and in sweet Chocolate Martinis, with Stoli Vanilla, Kahlua, and Bailey's; add a splash of espresso, and -- presto! -- you've got yourself an Espresso Martini. "The ladies love 'em," says Ruck, "especially as an after-dinner drink." Meanwhile, over at Erie Bleu, Bee says that Campari, the classic Italian aperitif, is making a comeback, both mixed with soda and as an ingredient in a Campari Martini, with vodka and a splash of grenadine.

As for wine, Chardonnay continues to be popular in the heartland, the bartenders say, although reds -- especially Merlots and Syrahs -- are coming on strong. Australian Shiraz, in particular, is developing a following among Northeast Ohioans. "It's going to be the next Merlot," Rench predicts, "and it's still a good value, too."

So how best to toast the holidays? Bee suggests that either his Dawg Pound (hot chocolate with coconut and berry liqueurs) or Snow Belt (hot coffee with chocolate and mint liqueurs) would make a dandy cold-weather choice, but for Moxie customers, Ruck says, a bottle of Opus One, the ultra-premium, ultra-pricey Napa Valley red made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot grapes, may be the way to go. And then there are the purists. "Personally, I like a bottle of champagne," says Rench. "You really can't do any better than that, now can you?"

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