When you’re dealing with a place called Rocket Surgery, you must address the name. It’s unavoidable. Rocket Surgery is, of course, a tongue-in-cheek blend of “rocket scientist” and “brain surgery” that simultaneously suggests genius and silliness. It’s a refreshingly playful name, an inside joke that everyone gets.
And maybe that’s why this craft cocktail bar doesn’t feel out of place in Travelers Rest. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. The façade is simple—white shiplap with French doors that open onto a patio beside Main Street. Inside, the décor is distinctly Mid-Century Modern: clean, geometric furniture is punctuated by striking Sputnik light fixtures above the bar and planters overflowing with succulents. And with lofty ceilings supported by exposed beams, there’s an alluring breeziness to the entire affair, especially when the French doors are open.
In other words, Rocket Surgery’s space is simple, approachable, and airy, not overdesigned and pretentious. It makes sense, and owner Andy O’Mara (of Sidewall Pizza) knows a thing or two about creating inviting neighborhood hangouts.
That sort of approachability extends to the menus at Rocket Surgery. Casey O’Mara—who happens to be Andy’s cousin—was enticed to come South from a Rochester, New York, cocktail bar to manage Rocket Surgery’s cocktail program. There aren’t any exotic creations here, just classics and twists on classics. There’s the daiquiri, glorious in its rum, lime, and sugar simplicity; the Gabrielle, a fresh pink blend of gin, elderflower, gentian, honey, lemon, and bitters; and for something to dwell on, the Prospector (bourbon, Averna, port, and house-made bitters). Of course, if none of the options appeal, there’s always the Rocket Surgery: a cocktail made to suit whatever spirit, flavor profile, or mood you’re wanting.
The shareable bites that accompany the booze follow the same philosophy. Snacks appear in familiar forms: shrimp cocktail, calamari, and crispy Brussels sprouts. The burrata and squash (marinated in balsamic) is a delightful surprise, as it’s served chilled. The fried stuffed Castelvetrano olives are similarly intriguing—a firm bite underpinned by a low heat from the Italian sausage inside.
But the main event comes in the form of sliders, all served on house-made brioche buns. The beef and buffalo options are safe bets, but there are plenty of interesting variations, as well—the turkey slider (brie, cranberry apple chutney, Dijon mustard) does an admirable impression of Thanksgiving in a bite. But the lamb (feta, spicy harissa, fresh spinach) and falafel (pickled cucumber, tzatziki) options might be the most rewarding. On the lamb slider, a juicy patty gets punched up with heat from the harissa, which then tapers into the soothing richness of feta. As for the falafel slider, the lightly crusted chickpea patty combines with the pickles and tzatziki for a surprisingly tangy bite.
It’s rare that inventive flavors and neighborly amiability can coexist without diminishing quality or approachability. That this balance exists at a place called Rocket Surgery makes the name more than a facetious sendup of genius. Instead, it’s a real, magical alchemy.
Rocket Surgery, 164-D S Main St, Travelers Rest, SC. (864) 610-0901; Mon & Thurs, 5–10pm; Fri & Sat, 5–11pm; Sun, 10am–3pm (brunch)