Monday, June 01, 2009

Drinking in Polite Society, Part I

"It's like they hit thirty and somebody puts out a light."
- Roger Sterling

New York City is a drinker's town. Everybody knows that. New Yorkers drink more, drive less and have more famous cocktail bars than anyone else. It's a perfect storm, really. Hell, Manhattan is even named after a cocktail. So it stands to reason that, for a gal like I, this filthy, teeming island is a kind of paradise. When my husband found this list of the twenty-five best bars in the city, we had to visit them all. We'd already been to most, but as we're both completists at heart, we needed to visit all of them.

It's often difficult to trace the genealogy of an idea, so I can't say with certainty how the cockamamie concept morphed from, "We should visit these," to "We should visit them all while in formal dress", but all of a sudden there it was. Perhaps there's some vestigial instinct in us left over from recent wedding seasons that compels us to put on itchy wool suits and try to curl our hair during the hottest, most humid days of the year, or perhaps it's simply the fact that our lifestyle affords us so few opportunities to really get dressed up, but whatever the case we decided we simply had to add formal wear to the occasion.

The next element to come into play was the recent cocktail connaisseurship of our friend and neighbor, who, for the sake of future job offers, shall be known only as Zeta. He had become a fan of such beverages as Old Fashioneds, Rusty Nails and other retro cocktails, and is obsessed with the signature Cock and Bull cocktail at Little Branch.

Our pursuit of cocktails, conversation and formal dress led us first to the Pegu Club. It was lovely and quiet when we first got there at about 9:30, if a little empty. I ordered a Jamaican Firefly, Rob a Douglas Fir Gimlet. Zeta had a Whiskey Smash, a twist on a mint julep... now, before you read on, keep in mind this shared Google doc accurately reflects our level of commitment to writing and therefore life. Note Zeta's thoughtful comments on his beverage, and Rob and mine's half-assed comments... which might be why Zeta gets things like job offers.

Andrea on the Jamaican Firefly: Yum.

Rob on the Gimlet: Double yum.

Zeta on the Whiskey Smash:
At Pegu Club - a rather elegantly furnished and dimly lit establishment facing West Houston street - we sat at a cozy table topped by an unobtrusive abat-jour near the window. The slightly aloof wait staff was right with us with ice-cold water, napkins, and menus. From the impressive selection of mixed beverages, I chose a Whiskey Smash, a rather lovely and refreshing variation on a mint Julep. The main spirit being, of course, whiskey, I was expecting the Smash to have a relatively strong body, but the bite of the spirit was greatly tempered by muddled lemon and fresh mint leaves. The delicately cloudy mixture was of a beautiful pale yellow, which bespoke of the dominant notes in the glass, but a clean mint finish would surprise my palate after each short sip. The old-fashioned glass was tastily decorated with fresh mint leaves, which amounted to the major component of the olfactory experience. Smooth yet zesty, the liquid poured down my throat easily, perhaps too easily. Once I emptied the glass, I realized that my taste buds wanted more Smash and fewer ice cubes. (Z.)

The atmosphere at the Pegu became more lively as the night progressed but unfortunately the music turned Euro-techno, and the club lost some of its appeal. Also, although it was nice to have company, were weren't sure the clientele lived up to our expectations, so we moved on to Little Branch. Little Branch, though, was packed, and nothing is so vulgar as standing in line, so we eschewed that place in favor of the Brandy Library. Because L.B. has some lovely cocktails, however, we shall return at another time when there are no throngs of people under-thirty types waiting to get in (except for the husband). I mean the whole bloody point of this enterprise is to drink like a grown up, not like some over-eager NYU kid. Which is why we've formed a special club to do it, because that's very adult.

The Brandy Library turned out to be superlative. Exceptional service, tasty nibbles, marvelous cocktails -- Zeta and I had Highland Coolers, which is Drambuie, whiskey and ginger beer -- and a staggering selection of whiskeys.

Here's a description of the Highland Cooler by Zeta, a man with a remarkable memory, considering the circumstances:
As soon as we settled at the long and comfortable bar at The Brandy Library the attentive Brazilian bartender slipped wide leather-bound menus in our hands. In the mood for a peaty scotch, R.Emmet asked for the gentleman's recommendations, and he immediately produces two samples from excellent bottles, which he accompanied with simple and informed comments. My initial pick was not, in fact, a Highland Cooler, but a Paradox, an armagnac-based mix. The bartender expertly mixed my drink, but was unsatisfied with the sedimentation of the creamy ingredient, and prepared another one. Since he seemed still frustrated with the result, I opted for a Cooler, which he privileged over the Paradox. The drink is a variation on the classic Rusty Nail: the main spirit is scotch, sweetened by Drambuie's citrusy heart, and finished with ginger beer. The Cooler came in a high-ball, with a decoration of lime and candied ginger. Although I did not care for the fruits hanging on the rim, the drink was outstanding. The house made ginger beer gave the otherwise hearty mixture a freshness and a bite that really transformed this classic into a sophisticated summer drink. The dainty beverage was of a nice cloudy dark amber, had a very delicate effervescence, and a surprising range of notes. At each sip, the cool sweet orange was quickly superseded by the more complex bouquet of the scotch, but it was truly the ginger beer that spiced up the finish, leaving the tongue tingly and ready for more. I paired up the Cooler with the Library's signature mac'n'foie, an ingenious dish that scrambles culinary traditions with utmost success. For atmosphere, service, libations, and bites, this place is a true gem. (Z.)

And thus the first meeting of our drinker's society was a resounding success.


P.L. Kerpius said...

Long live the drinkers society! I request an honorary membership upon my return the The Apple in July. With the summer temps at their highest, madam Kerpius will need a high-class cooler to refresh her.


Maggie Lyon said...

Y'all should get James in on this bizness. He was always mixing up fun, worthy cocktails, such as the Sidecar or the Dark n Stormy.