Saloon Stakeouts: Opening Season

A rendering of the Empire Room, soon to class up Midtown's bar scene.

The snow’s a-meltin’ and the birds are a-flutter–could it be that spring is about to, you know, spring? Considering all of the hot new cocktail bars looking to open in the next month or two, I’d say NYC is going to have quite the warm awakening:

  • Dram: On the cusp of “officially” opening after two years of being in the works, this Williamsburg cocktail den from Thomas Chadwick will add to the budding excitement of South 4th Street, where Pies ‘n Thighs recently relocated nearby (and just two blocks from Bar Celona). Although the menu will rotate constantly, bartender Nick Jarrett has a stirred drink on the menu called “The Devil’s Pocket” (aged rum, Armagnac, Amaro del Capo, and Rainwater Madeira) that I hope to try soon. Dram’s also offering a Mai Tai with housemade toasted orgeat. 177 S. 4th St., Brooklyn.
  • Painkiller: Dutch Kills‘ Richard Boccato and Giuseppe Gonzales are mixing scorpion bowls, pina coladas and a more laid-back way of drinking with the gritty style of NYC’s Lower East Side–sounds like paradise to me. Keep your eyes peeled for an opening by the end of the month. 49 Essex St.
  • Zengo: Richard Sandoval’s forthcoming Latin-Asian restaurant, to feature former Elettaria chef/owner Akhtar Nawab as chef de cuisine, will offer a tequila library–I for one am looking forward to getting schooled. Near Grand Central.
  • Empire Room: On the ground level of the Empire State Building, this latest gem in the Hospitality Holdings‘ line of upscale bars is expected to open soon. Look for an Art Deco theme and a cocktail menu by Jonathan “Cocktail Guru” Pogash, president of the USBGNY. 350 5th Ave.
  • Lighthouse: From the owners of Macao Trading Co./Employees Only, this Williamsburg restaurant will feature a Mediterranean menu, oyster bar, and pickles–no word on the cocktail plans just yet. Construction is now underway. 145 Borinquen Pl.
  • Freemans Upstairs: Last month, Freemans was finally granted approval to move forward with plans for a second bar upstairs. With Star Chefs’ Rising Star Mixologist Maxwell Britten behind the stick, this is one Lower East Side addition to keep an eye on. End of Freeman Alley.

Red-hot, fresh-off-the-mill rumors:

  • Albert Trummer, owner of Apotheke, is working on opening a new bar in Tribeca.
  • A rum-centric bar in Lower Manhattan may be in the works from the owners of Mayahuel.
  • A whiskey-centric bar may be coming to Williamsburg soon.
  • Sasha Petraske, owner of Milk & Honey and other fine tippling establishments, is working on opening a new jazz and cocktail bar called Hi-Note on 39th St. & Lexington Ave., if the funding comes together.
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Dizzy Recap: Manhattan Cocktail Classic, Day One

Charlotte Voisey's "Belle Epoche" and Julie Reiner's "Solernum II"

Charlotte Voisey's Armagnac cocktail and Julie Reiner's Cognac cocktail

A cocktail should be consumed quickly, “while it’s still laughing at you”–Harry Craddock, American bartender and author of “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” circa 1930.

Of all of the bustling corners in America where working men and women have enjoyed a stiff tipple since the early 19th Century, no metropolis has done more for the history of the cocktail than New York City [hey, David Wondrich said it, not me],  so it was fitting that this past weekend’s Manhattan Cocktail Classic preview went off without a hitch. There’s so much to digest (believe me, my liver is still working on it) from all of the seminars, tastings, and parties, that it’s hard to believe that this was just a two-day affair. Based on the success of the weekend, I can’t imagine how much of a knockout the grand event, taking place May 14-18, will be.

On day one, I arrived at Astor Center just in time to sit in on “Have Cocktail Shaker, Will Travel,” led by Charlotte Voisey of Hendrick’s Gin, Simon Ford of Plymouth Gin, and St. John Frizell of Redhook bar Fort Defiance. This seminar covered the enthralling period when New York mixologists took their craft overseas, both before, during, and after Prohibition. Before the 1920s, bartending was taken very seriously in the States, and mixologists had a much-respected, if not celebrity status that was well-received across the world. Charlotte spoke of London’s reverence for cocktails during the Prohibition era, and how American bartenders came over and loosened things up a bit, especially Harry Craddock who was head bartender at the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel during the 1920s and 1930s. Since Craddock is believed to have created the “White Lady,” that was our first cocktail of the seminar (gin, Cointreau, lemon juice). Simon followed with stories about “Professor” Jerry Thomas, considered the father of American mixology, who brought his showman style of bartending across the U.S. and Europe before settling back in New York in the 1860s. To commemorate Thomas, we drank the gin “Daisy” (gin, orgeat syrup, maraschino, lemon juice). Then St. John Frizell gave an enthusiastic account of the life of Charles H. Baker Jr., a traveling bon vivant famous for writing “The Gentleman’s Companion Vo. I & II”  in 1939.  St. John has done extensive research into Baker’s life and offered insight into how the writer used his inheritance money to travel the world on round-the-world cruises that were popular for featuring “flapper pirate”-themed parties. Baker, who hung out with the likes of Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, recorded better than anyone the exotic recipes of what people were drinking and eating during his time. We tried one such concoction, the “Barbados Buck” (rum, ginger beer, lime juice), which was a tropical number, indeed.

After a much-needed lunch with a few of the ladies of LUPEC NYC, I returned for another round of seminars, starting with Sasha Petraske’s “Cocktails for Your Home Cocktail Party.” Sasha’s primary message was that if you are going to throw a decent cocktail party, you must have decent ice. For proper cocktails, the storebought bag of ice or the ice cube trays that have absorbed the flavors of the contents of your freezer (God forbid, fishsticks) will simply not suffice. Sasha recommends cleaning out your freezer in advance, making an ice block using a plastic tray, cracking the ice before your shindig, and then refreezing it until used. Other factors to take into consideration are the amount of glassware you will need, your dishwashing capacity, and how much liquor to buy (expect to serve five drinks per guest, if you’re throwing a rager). Sasha explained one easy way to keep glasses chilled during a cocktail party–employ a 19th Century method of creating a grid of glasses on top of a bar table, filling the first row with ice water and the second row with ice. By the time you need the glasses in the second row, the ice will have melted into ice water, which you can then toss before filling with the cocktail. Other tips and tricks: have four to six cocktail shaker sets on hand (as well as citrus peelers, bar spoons, citrus knives, and julep strainers), keep juice as fresh as possible by squeezing small (no more than 12-oz.) batches at a time, and for goodness sakes, taste your drinks before you serve them to guests. As examples of drinks that could easily be served at a home cocktail party, we tried the “Bee’s Knees” (gin, honey syrup, lemon juice) and the “Silver Fizz” (gin, egg white, superfine sugar, soda water, lemon juice). It was great to hear Sasha admit that when Milk & Honey first opened, drinks were made so meticulously that some customers waited up to 20 minutes for their drinks, which he now regrets. “No drink in the world is worth waiting 20 minutes for,” he said.

I then caught the tail end of “The Many Faces of Cognac and Armagnac” with F. Paul Pacult, Charlotte Voisey, and Julie Reiner. Cognac and Armagnac, France’s legendary brandies, use virtually the same grape varieties but are made differently. Cognac’s wines are turned into spirit through double distillation in an old-style pot still, while Armagnac is distilled only once in an unusual still that is a hybrid of a pot and a column still. I arrived just in time to try Julie’s Cognac cocktail (Martell Cordon Bleu Cognac, Calvados Apple Brandy, sherry, Gran Marnier, orange bitters) and Charlotte’s Armagnac cocktail (Armagnac, apricot jam, orgeat syrup, Solerno blood orange liqueur, lemon juice, orange bitters), which were both delicious.

Downtime was spent at the event’s official bar at Astor, where more than a dozen different cocktails were served each day, mixed by ROGUE Events’ who’s-who of bartending in NYC and beyond. This was also a great place to meet friends old and new, and to try a few new spirits. Compass Box Brand Ambassador Robin Robinson offered me an exclusive taste of Spice Tree, which officially launches later this month. Controversial for its non-traditional Scotch-making process (formerly the use of French Oak inner staves), Spice Tree is now made using three different levels of toasting on the French Oak barrel heads, offering  layers of complexity. The long finish was rich, boldly spicy, and warming, which was perfect for the rainy day. I also enjoyed a taste of Skinos Mastiha Spirit, a clear malt spirit made from the aromatic sap collected from mastiha, or mastic, trees on the Greek island of Chios. Uniquely nectar-like without being cloyingly sweet, the Skinos has a shochu-like mouthfeel with a subtly floral finish.

As if that weren’t enough imbibing for the day, the evening’s festivities were not to be missed. The brand-spaking-new Crosby Street Hotel (79 Crosby St.) was host to the launch party for Gary “Gaz” Regan’s latest book, “The Bartender’s Gin Compendium.” Libations, sponsored by Plymouth Gin and Beefeater London Dry Gin, were mixed by Jamie Gordon, Chris Patino, and Dan Warner. I was stoked to have my copy of Gary’s book signed by the man himself, hobnob with spirits writers from Imbibe magazine and the Village Voice, as well as chat a bit with Dale de Groff, “King of Cocktails.”

Keep an eye out for my round-up of day two of the Cocktail Classic, coming soon. I offer a hat-tip and curtsy to Lesley Townsend and ROGUE Events for serving 18,000 people over the weekend and organizing such a memorable affair!

Tickets & Details Announced for The Manhattan Cocktail Classic

manhattanclassic

I just received the press release announcing the schedule for The Manhattan Cocktail Classic:

NEW YORK, August 20, 2009—The Manhattan Cocktail Classic, New York City’s first-ever multi-day celebration of all things cocktail-related, today announced the details of its Fall Preview seminar series, which will take place during the day on October 3-4, 2009, at Astor Center in New York City. The seminars will be led by members of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic Advisory Board, which includes legendary mixologists, cocktail historians, spirits critics and writers, and speak-easy impresarios. Each seminar will be individually ticketed for $50, available through the website at www.manhattancocktailclassic.com beginning on September 7, 2009.

“I am very excited about the topics we have lined up for the Fall Preview,” said Lesley Townsend, Founder and Director of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. “It’s an unbelievable honor to have our Advisory Board members kicking off our event in this regard. Our hope is that this series will inspire the rest of the spirits and cocktail community to come forth with their own ideas for presentations for the first annual event in May of 2010.”

The seminar schedule is as follows:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

“Have Cocktail Shaker, Will Travel” with Charlotte Voisey & Simon Ford: Once the last legal cocktail was served on the eve of Prohibition in New York City, things would never be the same again. ‘Have cocktail shaker, will travel’ was the mindset of many a passionate barkeep in the 1920s when their craftsmanship turned criminal. Join Charlotte Voisey, Simon Ford, and other assorted friends for a jovial discussion on how New York has been influencing cocktail culture around the world for many years. Liquid refreshments will be served.

“Cocktails for Your Home Cocktail Party” with Sasha Petraske: Famed (and oft-elusive) owner and proprietor of Milk and Honey, Sasha Petraske will demonstrate the basics of creating cocktails in the home. He will go over how to set up and stock home bars of varying degrees of seriousness, as well as cover different scenarios of cocktail entertaining – from temporarily taking over your friend’s kitchen for a house party, to grabbing the reins at a fully-equipped bar. And of course, Sasha will teach you how to prepare some basic, ever-pleasing libations for these occasions. Participants will leave armed with a no-fail recipe list and a short set of directions for preparing basic cocktails with block ice and fresh juices.

“The Agave Session: The Magical Elixirs of Mexico” with Steve Olson and Special Guests: There is a heritage and culture associated with Tequila and Mezcal that dates back well over a thousand years, when the agave plant – also known as the maguey – was utilized by Mexico’s native peoples for virtually everything: from food and drink, to sugar, to shoes, soap, building supplies, and even medicine. Join us for an exciting tasting of this exotic elixir, each by artisan producers, as we pay homage to the heritage, history and culture of Mexico’s national spirit. It is also likely that agave-based libations will be consumed.

“The Many Faces of Cognac & Armagnac” with Julie Reiner, Charlotte Voisey & F. Paul Pacult: This one-time-only, comprehensive seminar joins celebrated master mixologists Julie Reiner and Charlotte Voisey with America’s spirits guru F. Paul Pacult on an extraordinary excursion deep into France’s legendary AOC grape brandies, Cognac and Armagnac. Participants will first be taken on a guided tour of tasting a half-dozen remarkable brandies to see how these distilled and oak-matured cousins compare and contrast. Then, they will be treated to a Cognac cocktail, made by Julie, and an Armagnac cocktail, made by Charlotte. A rare opportunity to spend 90 minutes with three of America’s most engaging spirits and cocktail personalities.

“History of the Cocktail in New York, 1810-1920” with Dave Wondrich: Among all the classes of American mixed drinks—the Cobblers, Sours, Fizzes, Coolers, Juleps and all the rest—the Cocktail stands as first among equals. If there’s something about a quick jolt of ice-cold, mixed-up boozy deliciousness that’s essentially American, then it’s quintessentially New York. And indeed, while many other cities have made key contributions to the Cocktail’s development, none has done so much as to shape it as Gotham. This seminar will attempt to track the interventions the city’s mixologists made in the idea of the Cocktail during the 110-odd years between its first documented appearance here and Prohibition. Liquid exhibits will be served.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

“Audrey and Gary’s Unparalleled Gin Palaver” with Audrey Saunders & Gary Regan: Audrey Saunders, Libation Goddess from New York’s Pegu Club, and perhaps the bartender most responsible for the resurgence of gin in the 21st century, will join Gary “gaz” Regan, author of The Joy of Mixology (2003) and The Bartender’s Gin Compendium (Fall 2009), to present gin-based cocktails, old, new, borrowed, and, well, you get the picture. They will wax lyrical on all things juniper; they will pontificate endlessly about the attributes of the Martini and of the MarTEAni, and they will display the splendor of cocktails made with dry gin, genever, Plymouth gin, and a most peculiar Old Tom. It’s probable that Saunders and Regan will flirt shamelessly throughout the workshop. The throwing of rotting fruit or vegetables will not be permitted.

“Glasses & Tools: How Do You Choose the Right Glass for a Drink?” with Dale DeGroff:  The choice of glass can mean the difference between a successful and elegant drink, or a glass of booze. In a commercial operation, the choice of glass can impact dramatically on the bottom line. At the home bar, the choice of glass can have an impact on the success of your cocktail party, and the well-being of your guests. Explore the classics with Dale DeGroff as he culls his glass collection to find the perfect glass for well-known classics and the tools to make them successfully.

“Call of the Rye” with Allen Katz: Ryes, Ryes my beloved, Meet me down by The Bowery. There will I give you my love. By history and culture, With song, per chance dance, A Savor to be kissed by kisses. O, my dear, come… Ryes at the day break. As the shadows enter over Astor. Awake. Inhale. O friends, drink, yea, drink abundantly, O, beloved.

“Sherry: The Cobbler and Beyond” with Andy Seymour: Sherry has long played an important role in the world of mixology and has emerged in this new age of the cocktail more popular than ever. Join Master Mixologist and U.S. Sherry Ambassador Andy Seymour for a fascinating look at one of the world’s most cocktail (and food) friendly wines. Taste five of the finest Sherry, representing its many styles, and sample cocktails that show off Sherry’s traditional side and what it is up to today. Come ready to shake, as Andy will lead the group in building their own version of the Sherry cobbler!

About the Manhattan Cocktail Classic:

The Manhattan Cocktail Classic is New York City’s first ever multi-day event celebrating the history, contemporary culture, and artful craft of the cocktail. Part festival, part fête, part conference, part cocktail party, the Manhattan Cocktail Classic brings together the unparalleled talents and opportunities of the bars, bartenders, and restaurants of our great city for two days of activities, both educational and celebratory in nature, championing the common ideals of authenticity, equality, sustainability, service, and pleasure. (There will be some drinking involved, too.) For additional information, kindly visit http://www.manhattancocktailclassic.com .

And there you have it!