Aerin It OutColumnsFood & Drink

Getting a Taste of Historic Poplar Tapas, Wine & Spirits

A crystal clear evening

‘Twas two weeks before Christmas, when all through the house
A hangover was stirring, I was quiet as a mouse;
With Netflix in the background, I sat in a chair
In hopes that PTO would send tidings of nightlife happenings there;
As I laid down my head my phone produced a sound
A text from my editor coming inbound;
An invite to a tasting menu? Don’t mind if I do
A Q.C. holiday miracle suddenly came true…

And that’s how I found myself at a one-of-a-kind Crystals & Cocktails event at Poplar Tapas, Wine & Spirits in the historic Fourth Ward. A quick glance on Instagram revealed that the night ahead would be truly magical. My eyes sparkled watching a glittering display of amethyst candleholders surrounding a purple cocktail of what appeared to be liquid crystals being stirred with a dazzling stick of purple rock candy to the sprightly tune of “Tapas Y Sol.”

Poplar Tapas
Jenni’s Pisco Rainbow cocktail (Photo courtesy of Poplar Tapas)

The caption uncovered what I had in store: five courses paired with five dreamy cocktails in one of the coziest crannies of Charlotte. The perfect recipe for a gem-loving gypsy who’s constantly on the hunt for tasty small plates and cocktails.

“Wow is this a restaurant?” my Uber driver exclaimed as I steadied my heeled ankles for the dismount out of his tall SUV. Once safely on the ground, I smiled, regaining confidence, and assured him it was. I turned to see the beautiful display of twinkling lights on the front patio and the warm invitation from the entryway. Despite the fact that I’ve passed this familiar house many times, just like my Uber driver I had never taken the time to find out what was going on inside.

A historic landmark, the Morrison House is named after the Morrison family, who owned the property from 1906 to 1949. The house was owned and occupied by descendants of Dr. Robert Hall Morrison, founder and first president of Davidson College and an early Presbyterian pastor.

In the dark of night, you may mistake this aesthetically beautiful piece of Charlotte history, located at the corner of West 10th and North Poplar streets, as just another piece of real estate. If you made the same mistake I did, you’re missing out on an adventure to Peru and Spain by way of tapas, wine and cocktails.

As I stepped through the door, I felt the coziness and excitement of entering a home that I’d ogled from afar. My curious eyes swept from left to right admiring the tasteful décor, the dark gray walls, the mysterious artwork, and the stairs laced with string lights as if I was stealing decorating inspiration before the hostess could stop me. I let my fears of “what I wouldn’t see” fall by the wayside as the secrets, history, and nooks of the home were soon shared with me by the “Magical Mistress of Ceremonies.”

My nosy heart rejoiced as Trish Ellington explained the history of The Morrison House and how Poplar Tapas’ vision was brought to life by Lucia Zapata Griffith, a Charlotte architect, and executive chef Bruno Macchiavello, both influenced by their upbringing in Peru.

After the tour of Poplar Tapas, I sat down at my table in the corner of the room and anticipated the libations, eats and people-watching to come. As the other guests arrived, I rejoiced at each awkward, curious glance from strangers wondering my purpose in the room as I was attending sans a partner in crime. (Though later their curiosity would subside because I was joined by Kathy Chandler, a member of the Poplar Tapas family.)

I simply returned the favor by glancing curiously back when the same strangers were ordering cocktails before the cocktails…

The intimate experience began with an introduction of the star players, then the mood was set by Mystical Mixologist Jenni Holloway as she walked through the room burning sage and swinging a Koshi chime side to side. What may have been a step outside of some’s comfort zone felt to me like just the kind of eccentricity that spells home.

[Related: My Favorite Food in Charlotte After One Year of Exploring]
Guest chef Edwin Cruz talks with Aerin Spruill. (Photo courtesy of Poplar Tapas)

What followed was three hours of pure bliss. Before each course, our Mystical Mixologist explained the cocktail, outlining the ingredients and highlighting the infused stone — the mystical properties and benefits of each one — making it easier for me to attribute my “mood” to energy transfer versus a cozy buzz. After each plate was placed, guest chef Edwin Cruz explained the intricacies of the dishes, spotlighting their organic and pure nature, which I can honestly say rang true with each bite.

Along the way, guests were encouraged to ask questions, adding to the atmosphere of having a decadent dining experience in the comfort of one’s home.

Course 1:

Dish: Ceviche two ways — Peruvian and Mexican.

Drink: Paired with a fluorite-infused cocktail; Jenni’s Pisco Rainbow featured peach schnapps, lime juice, Sprite, blue ice, and purple rock candy to garnish.

Course 2:

Dish: Tacos three ways — al pastor, grilled marinated chicken, vegan carnitas, with a small slice of perfectly grilled corn and an edible (and absolutely divine) nopal leaf on the side.

Drink: Paired with an Obsidian-infused cocktail; Edwin’s Authentica Jarritos, in clay cups from Mexico rimmed with chamoy and chili powder. This is the cocktail my dreams are made of.

A variety of dishes from Poplar Tapas. (Photo courtesy of Poplar Tapas)

Course 3:

Dish: Prawns with chorizo and ajillo sauce on a bed of mashed potatoes and rice paper crisp.

Drink: Paired with Butternut Bliss infused with citrine, dark rum, orange liqueur, and yes, butternut squash!

Course 4:

Dish: Seared scallop served in the shell with sweet potato and carrot puree, white wine, and homemade garlic butter sauce.

Drink: Paired with Rosé Frappe infused with pink quartz, raspberry vodka, coconut rum, Rosé Cava and grated nutmeg.

Course 5:

Dish; The most “mystical” end to the evening touted grilled oysters two ways and served over dry ice, which offered a visual exclamation point to bookend the night’s tasting menu.

Drink: Paired with a jade-fused Frozen Jade Julip that featured bourbon with coconut creme, creme de banana, mint garnish and flambeed bananas.

Course 5 (Photo courtesy of Poplar Tapas)

After experiencing the carefully curated menu and night fostered upon collaboration between Mystical Mixologist Jenni, guest chef Edwin, and the staff, it’s safe to say that Crystals & Cocktails conjured a truly organic experience through flavors, stones and vibes.

There’s a rich, savory history to experience at Poplar Tapas, and you don’t have to wait for a tasting event; it’s happening daily. Events like this just highlight the team’s ability to turn what already feels like an intimate dining experience into one that can’t be found anywhere else.

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