If a cocktail at The Café is one act in a play, with a cast of hyper-local ingredients starring in each and the stage set for an enchanting night out, the story being told can only be a homage to Westerly. The bar and restaurant is a collaboration with non-profit arts center The United Theatre, so this analogy isn’t a reach – nods to current productions often find their way onto the menu – but it’s the real-life stories of the town thoughtfully teased into some of The Café’s beverages that keep locals coming back.
“Food and drink are the canvas that we paint on, but we’re really in the business of people, whether that’s our staff, our guests, anybody that walks through our doors – we try to meet them where they are and elevate their day,” says manager Stephen Corrigan. Owners Chuck Royce and Dan King opened The Café during early winter of 2021, in the grips of the Omicron variant of COVID, but that didn’t keep Corrigan from his commitment to intentionality, exceptionality, and balance.
“We have quite a distinct look and feel here at The Café. It’s sort of a golden era Hollywood type of bistro where stars are treated like locals and locals are treated like stars,” Corrigan continues. He gestures to the art on the walls, classic ambiance of the interior, and everyday life of downtown Westerly buzzing just beyond the window, his enthusiasm palpable. For a man who devises new cocktail ideas while stuck in traffic on I-95 and sourced artisan crystal-like ice for the I Can See Clearly Now series of perfectly clear beverages beckoning spring, Corrigan’s overseeing of The Café is kismet.
Working alongside bar supervisors Virginia Graham and Kylie Sarosi, Corrigan brings a drink program that’s “creative but not simply for the sake of being creative” and poses each new libation against the classics. “We always try to bring it back and say, ‘does this fit what we’re doing here? Does it make sense within the context of The Café?’” he explains.
It only follows that Corrigan, originally from the Hudson River Valley area of New York, would take his first encounter with soupy – the soppressata of Westerly legends – and make a cocktail out of it. With recipes brought over from Italy, soupy is a tradition that Tim Cotter of the United Theatre is familiar with. “Everybody gets together with big jugs of wine and they spend hours making this sausage and then cure it by hanging it from the rafters in the basement because the temperature’s perfect and it hardens and cures. Around Easter, they break it out and everybody gives away their soupy to their friends,” Cotter explains.
“I thought, how do we make the most iconic Westerly cocktail ever?” says Corrigon, whose soupy pilgrimage brought him to Dipper’s Packing, where Michael Dipollino gave him uncured sausage to experiment with. Corrigan had the idea to fat-wash it with bourbon, a process of combining any fat with any spirit, letting it sit refrigerated until the fat separates, and then straining it through coffee filters to remove any oiliness, essentially creating an infusion.
After a few tries, he and the bar team found a winner that even garnered praise from Governor Dan McKee when he paid a visit. Calling on a classic, Dipper’s Sipper is a play on an Old Fashioned. “It’s got a little spice, and you get that little bit of sweetness from the sugar,” he explains, “then the citrus of the orange bitters and spice from the soupy start to come through on the finish.”
Through his unofficial Rhode Island schooling, Corrigan also turned the state drink into a cocktail – the Little Rhody is a boozy coffee milk using Dave’s Coffee Syrup, espresso beans, vanilla-infused
vodka, and milk.
Much like a visit to the theater, other drinks inspire escapism. An espresso martini with chicory coffee is a trip to Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter, and, nodding to a gallery show that ran through last month featuring the works of Barbara Shermund, a Dorothy Parker-inspired martini-esque cocktail.
Corrigan credits the energy, talent, and collaboration of his bar team, front-of-house manager Lisa Christina, and executive chef Brandon Gale to carry out The Café’s refined vision. “I have this incredible team. I consider myself the luckiest man in Rhode Island,” says Corrigan with a laugh. “And I say it over the bar every night. It’s a real privilege. This town is something really special and so we really try to celebrate it.”
3 Canal Street, Westerly • 357-0300
Drawing thousands of film, arts, and theater lovers – locals and out-of-towners alike – The United collaborates with The Café to bring guests a curated arts-centric experience. “We’re trying to get the word out that Westerly is a great place to be on a Friday night,” says Cotter. “So many people still don’t know it, and even if they don’t come to The Café, if they go somewhere else in Westerly, that’s fine because Stephen’s busy enough!” Find a lineup of shows at UnitedTheatre.org.
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