Call it a speakeasy, or simply a cocktail bar, Cardinal is the recently soft-opened surprise component of the dream project from Third Street Goods co-owners Holli Medley and Kathryn DiMenichi.
The semi-secret destination for drinks and snacks is hidden away behind their Grant Park neighborhood market, which had its grand opening in January in the Beacon development on Grant Street.
Medley and DiMenichi, who met while working as bartenders at Leon’s Full Service in Decatur, define the mission of Third Street as combining “the freshness of a farmers market and the convenience of a big-name grocery.”
And while they’re offering as many seasonal, regional and organic products as possible, there’s also an emphasis on goods from minority- and female-owned businesses.
Some of that figures in the menu at Cardinal, too. But there’s a certain sumptuousness to their simple bar snacks that is as much about curating as cooking.
Currently, you’ll find the likes of a Root Baking Co. baguette served with Sparkman’s butter, a mix of marinated olives with CalyRoad feta cheese, and smoked sardines cleverly served in the tin with piri piri, pickled veggies, quail egg, and crostini.
Not surprisingly, given their backgrounds, Medley and DiMenichi had big ideas about the bar program, as well as how the atmosphere and service might best work together to create a welcoming milieu for drinking and relaxing.
The build-out manages to turn what could have easily been an edgy industrial-style room into a soft-focus setting for curvy leather banquettes, antique store coffee tables and chairs, and retro lighting fixtures. But at the center of everything is a horseshoe-shaped bar hand made from mahogany.
The concise beverage menu, with tasting notes, features American, Italian and French wines by the glass or bottle, American craft beer and cider, and seven house cocktails.
The Cardinal, made with gin, dry vermouth, muscadine wine and honey, is the signature drink. But maybe the most emblematic offerings are on the sherry and vermouth list, served by the glass or as bottle service with accompaniments, such as rocks, seltzer, tonic, lemon and olives.
Last week, Medley and DiMenichi sat down at a table at Cardinal, where they talked about going into business together, and melding a market and a bar into a symbiotic concept.
“The idea for the business started from coming up as a bartender fresh out of culinary school and seeing farmers delivering produce directly to restaurants,” Medley said. “Back then, the only way you could find that kind of produce was at a restaurant or a farmers market. I thought, ‘We should have a grocery store. And on top of that, we should put a bar in the back of it.’ “
“I’ve been in the industry since I was 14 years old,” DiMenichi said. “I washed dishes and prepped salads at a pizza place in Stone Mountain. Food has always been a thread, even though I studied art and became a painter. Holli approached me at Leon’s, and had this idea, and I thought, ‘Yeah, this totally resonates with me.’ ”
Along those lines, Medley said the prime directive for stocking Third Street, and by extension Cardinal, is produce from nearby farms and farmers.
“There is so much agricultural bounty in the state of Georgia and in the Southeast that we ought to have that on our shelves,” Medley said. “Why not have strawberries from Watsonia (South Carolina)? Or apples from North Georgia? We want to cultivate our neighbors and communities here. Even with our wines, if we go to France, we’re still looking for small, independent or family-owned or female-owned businesses.”
“People ask us who the chef is here,” DiMenichi said. “But it’s all collaborative. And I think it will probably always be. We meet all the time about what sounds good, what’s going on in the store, and what’s really special that we could feature on this side. It’s really what would we want to snack on at a bar?”
“Our goal is to use really good ingredients that are in season and as local as we can get,” Medley said. “When you start with a good product, it’s easy to put something very pretty on a plate. But the bodega up front is more everyday pantry items. Back here, it’s more esoteric and intentionally left field. I don’t have an oaky chardonnay. But I do have an indigenous white blend from Portugal that will blow your mind.”
Summing up, Medley said the name Cardinal embodies the sense of comfort and conviviality they aim for.
“Cardinals in the American South are representatives of your ancestors,” she said. “They’re someone coming in to check on you, and tell you it’s all going to be OK.”
1039 Grant St. SE, Suite B40-A, Atlanta. thirdstreetgoods.com/cardinal.
Scroll down for more images from a First Look at Cardinal in Grant Park
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.