Big Apple Sippin’
People often ask me where I learned my trade and my response has always been a frustrating (to those who ask), “Nowhere and everywhere”. While I find most bartending schools deplorable and not worth the paper that their “diplomas” are printed on (there are exceptions), books and mentoring can only do so much (unless you luck out and happen to work with one of the few great mentors). The solution, I’ve found, is at the bottom of a cocktail glass. That is, provided that the cocktail has been crafted by someone else.
What am I going on about, you ask? Read on.
I have found, over the years, that perhaps the best way to learn about bartending is to travel (and drink). My biggest leaps in cocktail development have always been after drinking bouts in cocktail meccas like New York, London and San Francisco, and while no one bar can take credit for molding me more than another, I have found I can gleam little gems of wisdom and technique from each establishment I visit, molding them all together, until I’ve developed a bar philosophy that is uniquely my own.
Whether it was the importance of ice from bar A, a shaking or stirring technique from bar B, a new use for an ingredient from bar C, a new way to organize the well from Bar D, or a myriad of other techniques from bars E-Z, I would never have learned the subtleties of the craft unless I stepped out of the house, into a bar and had a drink, with eyes wide open, observing all around me, looking for what works, and just as importantly, what doesn’t.
The reason why I bring this up is because I’ve just returned from New York (for the second time in a month) and I am always amazed at the professionalism of the bars and the barkeeps that one can find dotted throughout all the differing neighborhoods on the island.
My latest foray in New York afforded me the luxury of being able to visit Pegu Club, Death & Co, PDT, Employees Only, Tailor, 21 Club and the Flatiron Lounge (but unfortunately, not Passerby, which has gone the way of the dodo. A shame as it was one of my all-time favorite bars).
Let’s start the trip with:
Death & Co.
This fantastic little bar is quintessential New York, decked out in speakeasy elegance. While I normally go on and on about the cocktails that I’ve had when I visit a bar with ‘tenders as skilled as these, this is a perfect example of a bar firing on all cylinders, and I’m going to discuss what truly blew me away, (and an item often overlooked in most bars) the food.
Having just flown in from the West Coast, I had dumped my bags at the hotel and bee-lined straight to Death & Co., one of the main reasons that I had made this trip in the first place. After Alexander, my highly skilled barkeep, deftly conjured up a cocktail for me, I demanded to see the food menu as I was absolutely famished. Settling upon the Bacon-Wrapped Fillet Mignon, I sipped on my drink and had a conversation with my (at this point) quite vocal stomach. A short wait later, my dish arrived; beautiful little bite-sized pieces of succulent meat wrapped in bacon with a maple-rosemary Cognac glaze. Now I know I was hungry, but DAMN, this was tasty! Realizing that Death & Co was a serious about the food as they were their cocktails, I proceeded to order one more dish, the Jalapeño Short Ribs on Plantain Crisps. Let’s just say, that if I didn’t have more bars to visit that night, I would have stayed there and gone through their food menu one item after an other.
I finished off my short stay with a perfectly executed Genever Cocktail, after which I proceeded to:
PDT stands for Please Don’t Tell and can be found by entering Crif Dogs and then entering the phone booth to the left. Pick up the phone, let them know who you are and a buzzer will sound allowing the back of the booth to open, permitting you to enter the small hidden gem that is PDT. (Reservations are a good idea, as this is a small room.)
Sidling up to the taxidermy-ensconced bar I enjoyed a Benton’s Old-Fashioned (bacon-infused bourbon, maple syrup, Angostura bitters and an orange twist served up with a HUGE ice cube) and, of course, one of their famous deep-fried hotdogs. Mmmmmm deep-fried mystery-meat goodness and fat-infused booze: does it get better than this?
I was wise enough to go twice, (I ended up back in NY for a day right before I went to San Francisco) and therefore was lucky enough to be served by both Don Lee and the infamous (and now married, congrats!) Jim Meehan. If you happen to find yourself in the Lower East Side, get there post-haste!
I was fortunate enough to find Philip Ward here, as he was covering for the regular staff that was on a well deserved outing at the time. For those who aren’t in the know, Phil is ex-Flatiron alumni, and is now heading the bar over at Death & Co. I hadn’t had the pleasure of having a concoction designed by his hand as of yet, so to find him at the Flatiron Lounge was a pleasant surprise, as I had had drinks by Flatiron ‘tenders on previous visits. I’ve always enjoyed the Flatiron as it is an elegant room without any pretense and also boasts an outstanding cocktail program. Anyplace that is able to pump out flights of cocktails in a busy atmosphere gets my respect, as this is by no means an easy feat!
Plymouth Sloe Gin Launch
Plymouth (creators of my favorite mixing gin) has finally released their sloe gin in the States. I was lucky enough to attend the brunch launch with such notables as Gary Regan, David Wondrich, Sasha Petraske, Toby Cecchini, Martin Doudoroff, Simon Ford, Sean Harrison, Allen Katz, Willy Shine, Aisha Sharpe, Alexander Day and I’m sure some others who I’ve forgotten to mention (I should’ve written this a month ago).
While having brunch, downing Sloe Gin Fizzes and conversing with such a great group of people would’ve made a fine morning in itself, the highlight for me, was when Gary proffered to David a bottle of pre-prohibition whiskey for his 50th birthday, (which was that day) who in turn cracked it open right there and then and proceeded to share it with the rest of the table. I have a feeling that Gary was reluctant to let it go, for after his swig, we had to wrestle it from his death-grip (pictured above is what is edited to look like a struggle, so it must be true and not contrived…).
Later in the evening Plymouth had another launch event, this time at The Back Room, with all of the usual suspects showing up (Dale DeGroff, Lenell Smothers, John Deragon, Eric Seed, everyone else I’ve already mentioned etc, etc). More sloe gin consumption was had, and the night ended with my joining Dale and his lovely wife at Carnegie Bar and Books for a nightcap while listening to a live eleven-piece orchestra playing swing and jazz. What a way to end the evening…..
As I’ve discussed the other bars mentioned on previous posts, I’ll stop here. But don’t worry, there was more to my trip.
Next up: Kentucky.
Bacon-Wrapped Fillet @ Death & Co.