BY CHRISTINE BARBOUR
The old train depot that houses The Rail was built in 1902, which helped the three owners of Bloomington’s classy new craft-cocktail and small-plate establishment settle on “pre-Prohibition cocktails” as a theme. Says co-owner Colin Boilini, “Way back then they pretty well had it figured out. It’s an American thing, the cocktail. America did it best and first. It’s an American art form.”
In the hands of what Boilini calls his “passionate crew of bartenders,” the cocktail is certainly a Bloomington art form. When he and partners Andy Aronis and Andy Butler (fellow Bloomington High School North 2004 grads) were thinking about opening the place a year ago, Boilini traveled from San Francisco to Chicago to New York checking out the craft cocktail bars that have sprung up around the country. He came back with a fix on what they needed to do—use only the best spirits and fresh juices (no premade mixes), stir and shake at the appropriate times, and always have the right glassware, and even the correct ice.
The correct ice? Who knew? The Rail has a premium icemaker that makes what Boilini says is “the largest, hardest, purest, coldest ice in the market,” so when the bartender is stirring and shaking, as required, the ice cubes are not melting and diluting your drink.
Despite the detailed focus on the drinks side, the partners aren’t shirking on the food. They decided early on that they wanted to offer small plates, and they were lucky enough to snag Jacob Fehrenbach, who had gotten his culinary training at Sullivan University in Louisville and had cooked at Upland’s Bloomington Brew Pub. Fehrenbach is serious and thoughtful about his craft; his goal in the kitchen is to have as much fun as possible, trying new things and seeing what he can pull off, and not to get stuck in his comfort zone.
And what he pulls off is really terrific. Since he works with local purveyors, the menu changes seasonally and depends on specials to showcase what is good in the farmers’ markets. Stars on the winter menu include a deconstructed deviled egg with fabulous house-smoked salmon; succulent lamb sliders with chimichurri sauce, caramelized onions, and super-good shoestring fries; and a luscious single meatball in a spicy pear-apple barbeque sauce with shaved parmesan on thick toast. Among the items planned for the spring menu are a house-made sausage-and-cheese board; a lamb patty melt with sweet potato fries and pork rillettes; plenty of specials like salmon roulade with red bell pepper, olive, and andouille sausage served on wilted spinach; and pumpkin gnocchi with blue cheese, prosciutto, and sage.
Desserts vary nightly, but can be stunningly good, with selections like pumpkin-bread pudding, pomegranate/grapefruit crème brûlée, or banana pancakes with dark chocolate and maple syrup.
The Rail is a “throwback in spirit” to an earlier time, says Boilini. It’s a charming and intimate space where the food is wonderful and the drinks are creative and fun. Ask him if he is running a restaurant with a great bar or a bar with a terrific kitchen and he looks bemused. “I guess I’ll have to leave that to you,” he says. Figuring it out is a challenge Bloomington diners and drinkers will be happy to accept.