When people think of Christmas time, images of a living room with a Christmas tree and fireplace, candlelit church sanctuaries decorated with ribbons and holly, or city streets lined with strands of lights and wreaths probably come to mind. It may come as a surprise to some, then, that a cocktail bar, of all places, could be the hub of some Christmas cheer, but LaSalle Kitchen and Tavern has been South Bend’s odd spot for merriment, themed cocktails and weekly Santa appearances from some of South Bend’s most notable personalities.
The third-floor restaurant is decorated with the standard lights and flourishes of seasonal greenery. The lighting is low, characteristic of a tavern and high-end cocktail bar. But where the Christmas theme really shines is in the taste buds, visits from jolly ole St. Nick and the charity. LaSalle pulled tricks straight out the North Pole’s recipe book to create several unique, LaSalle original Christmas cocktails. The iced peppermint mocha and candy cane cocktail taste like the goodies of grandma and grandpa’s candy dish mixed with the most decadent café specials. The cranberry old fashioned with rosemary garnish and The Manhattan Project have the classy look and taste for refined taste buds looking for a more serious drinking experience. LaSalle also has George Washington’s original recipe for eggnog, which includes rye whiskey, dark rum, brandy, and, of course, the creamy nog topped with nutmeg.
The eccentricity of the drinks is paired well with the eccentric figures who have come to LaSalle dressed in their best Santa outfit. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg was the first Santa of the season, though he chose to forgo the red suit and the beard. Steve Neeser from Teachers Credit Union, and Warren Kluck of the Jason Lee and Kluck show on 103.9 The Bear were among some of the other local personalities who have donned the red and white. Mark McDonnell, owner of LaSalle, and Andrew Galloway, the managing partner, will also made appearances throughout the rest of December.
The cocktails are decorative and full of the best flavors of the Christmas season, and the Santa suits have local celebrities hidden within them, but the drinking and socialite experience at LaSalle is not simply a debauched evening of expensive drinking. During the month of December, LaSalle has offered evenings of drink specials so that $2 of every draft beer goes to local food banks.
“The reason behind all this is promoting the charity for the food bank, especially during holiday season. The guest Santas are folks from community with good character and values who give back,” Casey Dvorak, manager of LaSalle Kitchen and Tavern, said. “We want to be a vessel during holiday season, and we want to help the less fortunate and make life better for someone else.”
But contributing to community charity in a way that not only serves community needs, but also allows space for sentiments of the season is what LaSalle has hoped to achieve, according to Dvorak. From hosting ugly Christmas sweater parties, to sipping on a cocktail that tastes like something out of a Hallmark Christmas special, LaSalle has made it a point make South Bend a little jollier.
“What we wanted to do is make a place downtown where visitors can come for the holiday ambiance.”