Category Archives: At the bar

AntiManhattan

Jen’s firm held its holiday party last night, at the St. Regis Hotel in midtown Manhattan. And it was a rollicking time, with an open bar, passed hors d’œuvres, a long buffet table, and the annual talent-show face-off between the attorneys and the support staff. Which is less painful to watch than it sounds.

I took ample use of the open bar, so much so that I’m really feeling it this morning. When I wasn’t drinking red wine or mineral water, my drink of choice all evening was Dewar’s on the rocks. Can’t really screw that up. Some ice, a healthy pour of scotch, and the imbiber is ready for action.

Jen started on champagne, switched to red wine, and then after hosting the talent show, moved over to Manhattans. I went up to the bar for her first one, and aside from not having bitters, it was an okay drink–two parts Canadian whiskey to one part sweet vermouth, stirred and strained into a cocktail glass. I was impressed that the bartender didn’t just sort of wave the vermouth bottle around the mixing glass or something, but he seemed to know what he was doing.

It was later that things were dodgy. A different barkeep was working, and when I asked for a Manhattan, he just sort of blinked at me slowly. He thought for a minute and grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, poured that, and then blinked at me again. “Uh, sweet vermouth, right?” I said, “Yes, please,” but further held my tongue.

Sweet Christmas!

If you can’t get a good Manhattan in Manhattan, the world is completely falling to shit.

Chestnut, Brooklyn

Jen and I dine out a lot, and one thing I want to discuss in this space is the cocktail menus in the restaurants we frequent.

We’ve all been to eateries that don’t have a full bar; they’re beer and wine only or–horrors!–they have no liquor license at all.

Worse, in some ways, are the places that serve spirits but fail to train their staff on how to sell, mix, or serve cocktails. You ask for anything more complicated than a martini, cosmo, or gin-and-tonic, and the waitron squints at you and says, “We don’t serve that here.”

With that in mind, it’s always fun to find a place where the owners think as much about the bar as they do the kitchen. Over at the blog The Art of Drink, Darcy’s been writing about his experiences in managing the bar at a new restaurant, Mint. It’s fun and interesting to watch how Darcy has crafted a good cocktail menu for his customers.

On Saturday, Jen and I went to a Brooklyn restaurant, Chestnut. (Check out New York‘s review, if you wanna know more.)
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Flatiron Lounge: Red Hook Fizz

Flatiron Wedding-Melee AftermathThe day we got married, Jen and I corralled our wedding party and celebrated with drinks at Flatiron Lounge. Six months later, it’s time to celebrate, so my bride and I convened Friday evening at Flatiron for after-work drinks.

Because I leave work at 4:15 each day, I find it fun to arrive at a good bar like Flatiron or Pegu early so that I can sit grab a stool and talk to the bartender before he or she gets weeded with the after-work crowd. We’ve been back to Flatiron twice now since the wedding, and both times bartender Katie has provided our drinks service. She’s friendly, professional, and easy to talk to, so it’s fun to go in and chat a little about drinks.

I knew already that I wanted to start with a rum-based drink. I’m still learning rums. Too many experiences with badly mixed Captain Morgan drinks have turned me off the taste, I’m afraid, but I know it’s important that I rectify that if I’m to be serious about this hobby. So it’s time to develop my palate.

Luckily, Flatiron had mai-tais on its guest-mixologist menu; a classic drink for all the right reasons, a well-mixed mai tai is balanced and tasty. I know I’ve had them before, with cheap rum, poured to the point of overpowerment. Sad. But Flatiron does them right, of course, so I asked Katie what rum she used for it, and she showed me the bottle of Appleton Estate. This sparked a good conversation about rum brands, distilling methods, cane syrup vs. molasses, and so on.

I had nearly finished the mai tai when Jen arrived. I let her sample some of the remainders, and she liked it too. It’s one for the repertoire.

Jen and I worked through the menu. My second was a Singapore Sling, while Jen ordered a Gin Shagler for her first–muddled cucumber and mint, mixed with gin and topped off with Champagne. Quite tasty.

I then ordered a Negroni, but Jen stumbled her way into something interesting. I blogged earlier about going to Dressler and getting served an impromptu Seelbach. We’ve experimented a bit with the recipe at home, and Jen wanted to see how Katie would make one.

But when Jen asked, Katie said she’d never heard of it. We described the drink, but by this point, I couldn’t remember the proportions, just the ingredients. (And not even those, really–I forgot the triple sec.) So she thought for a moment and said, “Do you mind if I offer you my take on that?”

When she came back, she sat down my Negroni and a fluted drink for Jen, who took a sip and was pleased. Katie said, “That’s a Red Hook, but topped with Champagne.” Paul’s got more on the Red Hook at Cocktail Chronicles, but it’s basically a variation on the Brooklyn cocktail. Made with rye, Punt y Mes, and maraschino, the Red Hook is hard-bitten and ribald, and the champagne smooths it out without sacrificing its character. Think James Woods in a tux.

Jen liked it enough to have two.

Mixed and muddled at Balance

Cocktail king Dale DeGroff and Esquire columnist David Wondrich educated 40 happy cocktail geeks, bartenders, and other spirits-industry types on Tuesday evening at a Garment District bar called The Balance. My ticket in was a Valentine’s Day gift from my lovely wifey, and I can’t think of a better present.

I arrived early, before The Balance opened, and waited on the sidewalk. Another guy was lingering on the sidewalk as well. A woman approached us and began friendly conversation: Are you here for the mixology seminar?

She asked if I was “in the industry” and I said, No, I’m just a cocktail geek. The other guy, Ted, was also a geek like me, but the woman, Hanna, does PR for the food and wine business.

Hanna also knows Dale DeGroff, from her time in wine PR, so she very graciously offered to introduce me to him as we entered Balance. So we walked up the stairs, went around the corner, and saw on the bar an array of full champagne flute. The bartender said, “Please! Have a champagne cobbler.” We each grabbed a drink (YUM!) and with flute in hand, I met Dale DeGroff.

Aside to mko: Eeeeeeeeee!

Hanna had already told me what I’d heard from so many others—that Dale is warm and friendly and a very damn nice guy, and that his wife, Jill, at least equals, if not exceeds, his charm. I didn’t, unfortunately, take the chance to talk to Jill, but Dale is down-to-earth, friendly, and approachable.

After we milled about and chatted, Dale opened the seminar. He made a few brief comments about his champagne cobbler recipe and introduced David Wondrich. David discussed very briefly the history of alcohol and drinking, explaining that among the first “cocktails” was beer or wine fortified with a little spirit. From there, he described the history of the punch and provided a recipe that he says approximates an old-fashioned spiced rum punch, from British-controlled India.

From punch, he moved on to the birth of the Gin Cock-Tail. To oversimplify his explanation a bit, the cocktail seems to have arisen as a way to make bitters more palatable. As the name implies, bitters are bitter-tasting—they’re a compound of spirit and botanicals used for medicinal purposes and to aid digestion. The idea arose to make the bitters more palatable by diluting them. To paraphrase a certain dotty nanny, just a spoonful of gin and sugar helps the medicine go down.

This idea has pedigree: British sailors fought scurvy by consuming limes and their juice; cutting the bitter lime with gin—hence the gimlet. The same happy breed of men quaffed quinine-laced tonic water in India, to fight malaria. The tonic was so bitter, they cut it with gin and citrus—hence the G&T.

Getting back to the point, a Cock-Tail was initially any strong spirit, sugar, and bitters, shaken over ice.

Wondrich is a crazy man. The bitters he used Tuesday were Stoughton bitters, a common sight in the 1800s, but virtually unknown since at least Prohibition. His batch was a brew that he’d cooked up himself, adapted from recipes found online.

Wondrich’s cocktail The Enchantress comes from a rare bartenders’ manual by a fellow named Charles Campbell. How rare? Only one copy is known to exist, and that’s in a rare-book room at a library in San Francisco. (mko, if you’re still reading, you have homework.)

Holy God, but I could go on and on talking about Tuesday’s seminar: how charmed I was by the space, how much I liked sampling each cocktail, how I talked LeNell’s ear off after the seminar, asking her tons of questions about how and why she got into this business. (I’m still embarrassed that I inadvertently broke up her conversation with Jill DeGroff, but they were both gracious about it.)

But David and Dale were great—funny, open, super-knowledgable, open to questions (lots and lots of questions). I can’t wait to do this again [that’s a PDF—be careful].

Mixed-up, muddled, shaken, and a little verklempt

Jen’s V-Day gift to me (mko will be so envious):

Mixed Up, Muddled and Shaken: A Curious History of the American Cocktail

Presented By: Dale DeGroff, David Wondrich
Tuesday, April 18 2006, 6pm to 8pm
The Balance
215 West 28 Street
New York, NY 10001

Dale DeGroff, author of The Craft of the Cocktail, and David Wondrich, Esquire magazine’s Drinks Correspondent and author of Killer Cocktails and Esquire Drinks, will escort you through the highways and byways of more than two centuries’ worth of cocktail history, as you learn how to make some of the finest examples of the bartender’s art. Drinks will include the original “Cock-Tail,” the Brandy Smash, the Enchantress, Champagne Cobbler, General Harrison’s Egg Nog, and other great classic and original drinks.

Enjoy this hands-on seminar and the wonderful collection of cocktail memorabilia at The Museum of the American Cocktail’s new location in New York.