Middletown’s new destination for craft cocktails, born of its owners’ love for spirits, offers an elegant throwback to the days before the speakeasy.
Mark and Jen Sabo, a married couple from Portland, opened Conspiracy in September, “focusing on and inspired by pre-Prohibition classics.” The bar, tucked into a second-floor space at 350 Main St., features a mix of classic and unique cocktails, cheese and charcuterie and unique ambience with vintage and modern touches.
The Sabos are both medical professionals — Mark is a pediatrician and Jen is a pediatric dietitian — and this is their first foray into the restaurant industry as owners, though Jen was a server throughout high school and college.
Over the past decade, the two have gotten into the history and culture of cocktails, building their home bar and sharing knowledge with friends and family, Jen says. “Then we decided that it was something we enjoyed so much, we’d love to share it with more people.”
The couple thought Middletown would be the perfect spot for their concept.
“There’s nothing quite like it in this area,” Jen Sabo says. They drew some inspiration from other local cocktail bars, she says, like Little River Restoratives in Hartford and 116 Crown and Ordinary in New Haven, along with establishments in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
The Sabos’ experience among Middletown’s bustling dining scene has been “really fun” so far, Jen says, as other business owners, bartenders and restaurant staff have flocked to Conspiracy. For visitors to the city’s restaurant row, “ I think Middletown has a really wonderful balance. You park in one spot, and have 40 different opportunities to try something.”
THE ATMOSPHERE: The Sabos call the space’s decor “modern Victorian,” with pops of color, vintage glassware and relaxed seating for 49 guests with leather chairs, booths and banquettes.
“We wanted to be a place where people would be comfortable coming and hanging out for hours — just enjoying the atmosphere and drinks and not feeling like they’re rushed out the door,” Jen Sabo says.
THE DRINKS: Conspiracy’s cocktails are a mix of “classics, variations and new creations”: a Boulevardier on tap; the Final Word, a twist on a Last Word with rye whiskey, green chartreuse and maraschino; a clarified pisco punch with tamarind and hawthorn hibiscus tea; and a Grasshopper with creme de menthe, creme de cacao, vodka and cream.
Hot brown buttered rum with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and orange zest is poised to fight winter’s chill, and the Campfire Old Fashioned has become a popular staple, with bourbon, smoked maple syrup and angostura topped with a scorched marshmallow.
For something different, there’s absinthe, in American, Swiss and French varieties served in traditional fashion, and boilmakers, pairing shots of liquor with local craft beers. Jen Sabo says she’s looking to expand the wine list with orange wines (a style of white wine where the grape skins stay in contact with the juice) and pét-nat natural sparkling wines.
“Tiki Mondays” bring some vacation vibes to the space once a week, with a variety of special rum-based cocktails like a mai tai, peach tree punch, daiquiri and “Dr. Funk” with herbsaint, demerara, lime, lemon and house grenadine.
THE FOOD: Conspiracy offers a wide selection of cheese and charcuterie, with a spotlight on cheeses from Connecticut’s own Cato Corner and Arethusa and others from Vermont, Maine and Rhode Island. Meats from New England Charcuterie Company feature bacon-bourbon salami, ‘nduja , coppa and pork and pistachio pate. There’s even a vegan cheese option ($10) with two cashew-based cheeses made by Dr. Cow of Brooklyn.
Conspiracy also offers shared plates like pickles, soy-cured eggs, conservas (or tins of vegetables and seafood) with fresh bread; crostini with housemade labneh and za’atar roasted tomatoes, and arepas with plantains, BBQ pulled pork and black bean fritter. Four varieties of grilled cheese sandwiches come with red wine braised short rib and goat cheese, honey BBQ pulled pork and sweet potato, smoked maple cheddar and speck with za’atar tomatoes and alehouse cheddar.
The bar also offers waffles as a late-night treat, with a variety of flavors and toppings.
PRICING: Cocktails are $9 to $12. Share plates, arepas, waffles and grilled cheeses are $5 to $13. Cheese and charcuterie boards are $15 to $30.
HOURS: Conspiracy is open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Sunday from 3 p.m. to midnight. Closed Tuesdays.
Conspiracy is at 350 Main St. in Middletown. 860-236-0211 and conspiracyct.com.