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May 19th, 2010

Manhattan Cocktail Classic 2010

mcc-scorpion-bowl

It started with a festive gala amid the marble-and-granite splendor of the New York Public Library and ended (for me, at least) with a wee-hours dinner at the 1930s-Eurasian-exotica-inspired Macao Trading Co. In between, I …

  • Ate an exquisite smorgasbord at Aquavit with Karlsson’s vodka reps (that’s right, I said vodka) and a bunch of sassy bartenders from L.A. and San Francisco.
  • Drank punch at Death & Co. and tequila at the Summit Bar.
  • Heard Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing and Distilling chronicle his 15-year adventure in craft distilling and sampled his 100-percent-rye Old Potrero whiskies.*
  • Enjoyed Laird’s apple brandy cocktails at the “official bar of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic” and met the 230-year-old distillery’s vice president, Lisa Laird Dunn.
  • Took detours to McSorley’s Old Ale House and Jimmy’s No. 43 for a few rounds of beer.
  • Entered a phone booth at Crif Dog from which I slipped into PDT (Please Don’t Tell) for a Romeo y Julieta, a rich, woody concoction involving Ron Zacapa Centenario rum and tobacco essence.
  • Sipped a Mai Tai accompanied by exotica music and the squawking of live parrots at the exclusive (because it’s in somebody’s apartment) Rhum Rhum Room.
  • Heard the engaging story of how cocktails migrated from America to Europe circa 1870-1940 (thanks, David Wondrich and Fernando Castellon).
  • Checked out a special tasting of new and unusual rums, whiskies, aperitif wines and syrups at wd-50.
  • Drank a 1940s-era Scorpion Bowl out of a two-foot-long straw at an Appleton Estate Rum party at the brand-new Painkiller urban tiki bar.
  • Clinked vintage cocktail glasses with my writer girlfriends at the new, Victorian-parlor-inspired Raines Law Room.
  • Arrived too late to get a cocktail at the Tanqueray 10 party at the Kingswood and was grateful to be handed a glass of Haus Alpenz’ newest import, the aperitivo Cocchi Americano, instead.

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So, as you can see, the opportunities for learning, schmoozing, tasting and debauchery at the first official Manhattan Cocktail Classic were slim.

But seriously … this four-day intoxinalia is clearly meant to rival Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans as a confab for professionals and enthusiasts alike to get acquainted with the latest products, recipes and industry knowledge and to hobnob with the illuminati of the cocktail and spirits world.

One of the advantages the MCC has over Tales is that there are many more serious cocktail bars in New York than in New Orleans, and those bars hold their own seminars in addition to the events taking place in the Astor Center — and in addition to being open during regular business hours. Also, every event featured real glassware, and the vast majority of the cocktails were well made despite being cranked out for thousands of people. The hospitality infrastructure in New York quite simply gets the job done.

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The disadvantages of the MCC vs. Tales have to do with all those things about New York that get under people’s skin: the frenetic pace and social jockeying involved in a typical night out, the difficulty of getting into exclusive speakeasy-style bars and, of course, the expense. Tickets to MCC events start at $50 (the gala was $100). Add lodging, cabs and dining out and … whoa. Still, it was a blast.

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Posted in Booze in the news, Cocktails, NYC | 7 Comments »

October 30th, 2006

Drinking in the old and new in NYC

Bull and Bear, NYCOn a brief trip to Manhattan last week, we experienced two different eras of New York City cocktail culture. Still giddy from our discovery of the Marconi Wireless, we headed to the Bull and Bear bar at the Waldorf-Astoria (Lexington Ave. and 49th St.), the grand, old hotel where the drink was invented early last century. It was about 7 p.m., and we found a standing spot at the crowded, wraparound bar that is the centerpiece of the room. A stock ticker’s red, digital letters scrolled by on one wall, and the people sitting at the bar seemed to be serious about their drinking. I guess out of a lack of faith that the Waldorf’s modern bartenders would have an encyclopedic knowledge of the obscure cocktails invented there, we played it safe and ordered Manhattans. These came in huge stemmed glasses and were very cold and very good, if lacking a little in bitters. I wouldn’t want to do it every day, but once in a while, it’s fun to pay the $15-per-cocktail admission fee to chill out in a plush, steeped-in-history bar staffed by polite older men in ties.

The next night, it was a polite younger man in jeans who took care of us at East Side Company (49 Essex St. near Grand St.), a new East Village bar that is to the Bull and Bear what Scarlett Johansson is to Bette Davis. To be honest, we wound up there because we couldn’t get into East Side Co.’s nearby older sibling, Milk and Honey (134 Eldridge St.), a fabled “speakeasy” with no sign and an unlisted phone number. Along with Little Branch, these two bars comprise a mini-empire of intimate drinking dens established by Sasha Patraske, a mixologist-consultant a la Dale DeGroff (King Cocktail).

East Side Co., NYCYou enter East Side Co. through a heavy door that is almost indiscernably built into a wooden facade. You then find yourself in something like a windowless dining car lined in shiny, pressed tin and lit mostly by candles. The drink menu here is intentionally limited to about 15 cocktails, including fruit cups (i.e. a variation on a Pimm’s Cup), highballs, and standards. We started with a Presbyterian (bourbon and ginger-beer highball) and a Martini. When I ordered my Martini, I experienced the novelty of not being asked, “vodka or gin?” Our bartender, Anthony, simply made the drink as it would have been made 50 years ago — with gin. As at Milk and Honey, the barkeeps at East Side Co. freshly crack blocks of ice for each cocktail. A jagged-edged cube chilled my significant other’s second drink, a Manhattan, as he sipped it; Scott wasn’t sure about this method at first but took a shine to it once the cube had a chance to melt a bit. My second drink, a Negroni, was perfect, burnt orange peel and all. We were the only customers in the place; it was a Tuesday night and also way too early for the usual cool cats who frequent this bar. So, we exchanged life stories with Anthony, a native Chicagoan who is invited to drink with us up in Boston any time.

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May 16th, 2006

NYC cocktail field trip

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Left to right: MOTAC founders Gary Regan, Audrey Sanders, Jared Brown, Phil Greene, David Wondrich, Eben Klemm, Anistatia Miller, John Myers (hidden), Jill DeGroff.

May 13, 2006 was the 200th anniversary of the cocktail. Actually, it was the 200th anniversary of the first time the term “cock tail” appeared in print, according to the Museum of the American Cocktail (MOTAC). I went to New York to join in one of two anniversary celebrations taking place simultaneously that day: one at the new Manhattan bar Balance (215 W. 28th St.) and one at Commander’s Palace in Las Vegas, where most of the items once housed in MOTAC’s original New Orleans location now reside. At Balance, there was a small, satellite display of MOTAC artifacts, including a gleaming silver-plated Boston shaker set courtesy of David Wondrich, one of the museum’s founding members and the drinks writer for Esquire.

David happened to be standing right next to me as I ordered my first drink at the bar. Tickled to meet the guy, I put out my hand and introduced myself as a freelance writer from Boston. He mentioned the latest issue of Esquire with the annual roundup of the World’s Best Bars and apologized for the scant coverage of Boston, vowing to make up for it in the future. OK, David, I guess I won’t have you fired. He asked me what I was working on. “Uh, a web site,” is all I could come up with. Wow, way to impress the Esquire guy.

There were cocktail demos: David did a Rob Roy, Audrey Sanders of Pegu Club fame made a French Pearl (gin, Pernod, lime juice, simple syrup, mint), Gary Regan mixed a Bacardi Cocktail and announced, to loud cheers, that he had just become a U.S. citizen after 32 years in this country. Dale “King Cocktail” DeGroff was at the Vegas celebration (a live feed of which was played on a video screen), but his wife, Jill, and two sons were working the New York event. “Would you like to meet some of the mixologists?” Jill asked and introduced me to MOTAC founding member (the museum has a lot of founding members, who essentially fomented the cocktail revolution through chats on Robert Hess’ site drinkboy.com) and Portland, Maine, bartender — uh, mixologist — John Myers, who dreams up the drinks at a new restaurant called Oolong. One of the DeGroff lads was mixing drinks with fresh-faced, twinkle-eyed aplomb. As he smoothly stirred a Rob Roy, someone remarked that he had the same unhurried polish behind the bar as his father.

After the event, the core MOTAC bunch, plus a few others, regrouped at Audrey Sanders’ West Houston Street lounge Pegu Club. (Audrey bowed out, but who could blame her; it was the poor woman’s night off). Hanging out at a place where you can order Brooklyns, Scoff Laws, Corpse Reviver 2′s, and all manner of other vintage cocktails without the bartenders batting an eye is a real treat. The best drink I had there was a house specialty, the Fitty-Fitty: half gin (Plymouth, I believe), half dry vermouth, a dash of orange bitters, and a lemon twist, served in a glass that felt like it had been formed from an icicle. It had a cleansing effect, like a swim in a glacial pond.

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