A Cure For What Ails You
The Apothecary at Brent’s Drugs in Jackson, Mississippi, joins the South’s craft cocktail revolution.
by Amanda Wells
During those dry days of Prohibition, many career bartenders took to a new profession: serving up libations of a different caliber in soda fountains across the country. The creative flair that reared its head in drinks of an adult nature spilled over into treats for the whole family, and so the soda fountain became a celebrated piece of American nostalgia.
In 2009, when young and eager attorney Brad Reeves got word that Jackson, Mississippi’s favorite soda fountain and pharmacy, Brent’s Drugs, would be coming up for sale, he set out to salvage a beloved piece of the city’s history. And that’s exactly what he did.
“I lived in the neighborhood and just knew Brent’s as a landmark,” says Reeves. “There were employees who wanted to stay and a lot of customers that didn’t want it to change.” With the pharmacy moving out of the building, Brad expanded the seating and the kitchen to emphasize the restaurant and soda fountain.
“It was a hard balance,” he explains. “So many don’t want to see Brent’s change and wanted it to still be the Brent’s that they knew. The key was to make changes for the place to improve, not just for the simple sake of making a change.”
Soon after he purchased Brent’s, Reeves’ friend Jonathan Shull spurred a far-fetched idea that was sure to become a Jackson institution. Travel to other cities invoked a feeling in Shull that Jackson was missing a place to really experience a classic cocktail. “
After visiting many cocktail bars across the country, I developed a great appreciation for a well-crafted cocktail — especially the classics,” says Shull. “Brad and I both dove into the history of cocktails and Prohibition and decided Jackson needed a place to experience timeless, well-crafted cocktails.”
At the same time, Reeves was delving into the history of Brent’s and soda fountains in general. “There was a big back room where all of the prescriptions were stored,” says Reeves. “With the pharmacy moving out and the place becoming solely a restaurant and soda fountain, I wasn’t sure what to do with the space.” A place for classic cocktails and a nod to the art of crafting drinks in both the soda fountain era and long before, would prove to be the perfect fit.
The back room of Brent’s was soon transformed into a dark and moody place to cure what ails you: The Apothecary at Brent’s Drugs. Patrons file through Brent’s down a long, dark hallway to be met by an inconspicuous door leading to the new and improved space. At The Apothecary, you’re instantly greeted by a friendly host, plush velvet curtains and a majestic painting by Oxford artist and Shull’s friend, Bradley Gordon. Making up the bar are salvaged pharmacy cabinets, marble countertops, soda fountain stools and a spout spewing carbonated soda water (which was originally created to help dispense prescription drugs) — all a nod to the heritage of the place.
While the ambiance hearkens to the history of Brent’s, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. At The Apothecary, you can order up a perfectly crafted old fashioned, but we recommend springing for specialty drinks like the “Pink Phosphorescent” or the “Doc Noble,” a concoction paying homage to a Brent’s pharmacist from the 1950s who was rumored to have quite the affinity for whiskey.
The Apothecary’s bartenders, or cocktail artists essentially, use only the freshest juices and make all syrups from scratch, including grapefruit oleo and ginger beer syrup. You can also go for a “dealer’s choice,” where you’ll get a specially crafted beverage made just for you based on your favorite flavor profiles. The Apothecary also serves up non-alcoholic beverages, or “temperance drinks” as they were called during Prohibition, using the fresh ingredients inspired by classic sodas.
While The Apothecary set out to create carefully crafted drinks, the food program has received rave reviews around town. Sippers can satisfy their cravings with pickled local veggies, homemade tater tots, fried Gulf oyster sliders or sweet potato buttermilk pie served with homemade vanilla bean ice cream.
One of the goals of Shull, Reeves and their bartenders is to educate the public on different ways to enjoy classic liquor and push them outside of their standard drinking box. A recent “Rum Revolution” night introduced patrons to classic mai tais and knickerbockers. “Education of classic cocktails to our guests is one of our main goals,” says Shull. “But our overall mission is to stay focused, do what we love and do it well.”
Visit Brent’s Drugs and The Apothecary at 655 Duling Ave. in Jackson’s Fondren neighborhood. The Apothecary is open Monday–Thursday from 5–10:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m.-midnight.
Amanda Wells believes no place is more inspiring than the South. Growing up in rural Mississippi, one of the most literary rich places on earth, spurred a love of words she hasn’t been able to shake. She has written for many lifestyle publications, such as Mississippi Magazine, Delta Magazine and Portico Jackson, with a focus on travel and interiors. She resides in Jackson with her husband, three kids and teeny tiny yorkie.