Below: the Ninglet, one of their signature cocktails. Hendrick's Gin, fresh-squeezed lime juice, and St. Germain elderflower liqueur.
I'm finding myself in Chicago this week, and didn't think I'd have much time for serious cocktail research...but a friend took me to the California Clipper, and I think I'm in love.
This gorgeous speakeasy-ish place has been open since 1937. Low lighting, Deco accents, red neon, and they're named after a Pan Am Boeing 314 flying boat. They feature board games, bingo, live music on the weekends, (not to mention a resident ghost) and proudly proclaim that they don't have a single TV in the joint. And you've gotta love a place that has so much of a sense of history that it posts its phone number on its website as "EVerglade 4-2547."
So: how were the drinks? The cocktail menu was promising, featuring classics like Sidecars and a Perfect Rob Roy. And when was the last time you saw a Grasshopper or Brandy Alexander on a bar menu? My companion started with a Champagne Cocktail for her first round, and switched to straight Champagne for subsequent drinks. And I had Stingers. It felt marvelously decadent to sit on a chromed barstool in a dim bar, with old Pan Am posters and Naugahyde booths in view, drinking a Stinger, listening to Neko Case, and catching up with an old friend.
Couple things about Stingers -- whenever I describe the ingredients to someone, they typically recoil in horror at the perceived sweetness. But a properly made Stinger (as these were) isn't overly sweet; it's a brandy-based cocktail, and you should definitely taste the brandy without any of the tooth-coating stickiness of one of those sorority-girl drinks with the outré names. (Upon tasting it, my friend's eyes opened wide, and she exclaimed "TV's Moesha!") And a well-constructed Stinger feels unbelievably elegant...while managing to sneak up to you without your realizing it. It may have been the other drinks in the evening (such as a "bull" -- an unholy-yet-refreshing amalgamation of rum, beer, and lime juice at the Mexican restaurant across the street) or the general giddiness of finding a new gem, but after a few I'd reached the stage in which I am acutely aware of the exact angle of my head at all times.
Or was that the Purple Martin? I also sampled this house drink, which consists of grape soda (on the gun, even), Malibu coconut rum, and a smidgen of lemon juice. I must admit the flavors went together better than I'd feared, but it wasn't quite my cup of tea. (Another thing about starting out with Stingers is that you pretty much have to stick with Stingers, I've found.) But this was a rare misstep, and the place had enough good-humored elegance to keep me more than happy. As I text-messaged to a friend while I was in my cups, "I've just found that I would buy if I won the lottery." And, in a way, finding the California Clipper felt like winning a mini-lottery all on its own.
Death & Company, the Lower East Side haven much beloved by the purveyors of this blog (see: [a], [b]), is currently suing the New York State Liquor Authority for unfairly targeting them, being one of the newer kids on the block, for filling the gentrifying streets with drunk people.
As the Gothamist mentions, D&C is barely on the radar of actual offenders on this tip; the Cherry Tavern and the Sidewalk Cafe, to randomly name two on that block, are both way louder at street level and create way messier drunks than the vastly classier upstart. But those two bars have something the new kid doesn't: tenure. And the sedate people moving into the neighborhood have decided, once again, that what makes the neighborhood interesting enough to live in in the first place makes it less than savory to actually live beside.
If Death & Co. closes, it would be a very bad sign for more than just the other bars in the LES, who would clearly be next on the hit list; it would be another nail in the coffin of what is honestly my favorite neighborhood in New York, where I lived happily for two years, and where I would still be living, noise, drunks and all, if the newcomers to the area weren't so goddamned hell-bent on gentrifying the place into homogenetic oblivion.
Hang in there, guys. We have your back.
Just across the street from LeNell's in Red Hook, Brooklyn, you'll find The Good Fork, a nice little (emphasis on "little" there) restaurant that's worth a visit.
I had this French 75 as an aperitif, and it was delightful. The Good Fork uses Prosecco instead of Champagne (and ditches the simple syrup normally found in a French 75 made with Champagne), and it lends the drink a lovely fruity, floral quality.
Last week, my friend Patty and I decided to go check out Death & Co. in the East Village. Yes, it was the first time I'd been there. I know that this is an absolutely ludicrous thing to say in 99.999% of the developed world, but there are almost too many top-notch cocktail bars in New York -- one can get paralyzed for choice, especially when each choice is gonna be great, and when they're all in the same neck of the woods, serving up what is essentially the same sort of thing. I first discovered Angel's Share, then eagerly awaited the opening of Pegu Club, then found myself in Flatiron Lounge, and kind of just worked that troika for a little while, before branching out to PDT and now finally Death & Co. (Yes, that means I haven't yet been to Little Branch, or Milk & Honey, or Employees Only. Apologies. I'll get there. Really.)
The place was full when we got there, which surprised us as it was a little after eight on a Wednesday night. No problem, though: Aaron at the door very kindly took our names and phone numbers, and told us he'd buzz us when there was an opening, in about 25 minutes. So we toddled off down the block to the Cherry Tavern, a wonderful friendly little hole-in-the-wall that aspires to divehood but is too friendly (and frankly, not disgusting enough) for true dive status. (It's home of the famous "Tijuana Special": a can of Tecate and shot of well tequila for $5, not to mention the "Old Glory Special": PBR and shot of whiskey for $4.)
As luck would have it, we'd only gotten about three or four sips into our beers when my phone rang. They had a place for us. Would it be okay if we sat at the bar? I think that'd be just fine.
We were greeted by bartender Damon, who proceeded to roll out the red carpet, set the stage, and generally blow our minds for the next couple hours.
A couple days ago, some friends and I went to dell'anima, a new-ish Italian place in the West Village. It's primarily a wine bar and restaurant, but they're trying to introduce New Yorkers to the Italian custom of the aperitivo: a sort of Continental happy hour with cocktails, wine, and munchies like olives, pickled artichoke hearts, and other antipasti-type things to nibble on.
GM and partner Joe Campanale is quite the wine guy (he was formerly a sommelier at Babbo -- a pretty impressive accomplishment for anyone, but especially amazing considering that he's 23), but his restaurant has an interesting collection of house cocktails. He says that he and the bar staff enjoy the spicier, more bitter flavors out there (the bar has quite a collection of amari), and he credits Clinton Addison, dell'Anima's head bartender, for putting the cocktail list together.
When we walked into the restaurant, the first thing I spotted behind the bar were king-sized bottles of Regans' Orange and Angostura bitters, so I knew the bartenders would know their trade...and then when my eye ran across the shelves and saw things like Luxardo and Punt E Mes, I figured I was in for an enjoyable afternoon.
Fortunately, I was there for long enough, and with generous enough friends, that I was able to taste everything on the list. I started with a Roasted Orange Negroni. The Negroni works well with orange -- see the wonderful variation that is the Cinnabar Negroni, which doubles the Campari (!) and adds some orange bitters -- so I figured this would come together nicely. The bartender muddled a roasted orange, and added Miller's Gin, Campari, and Carpano Antica Formula, and served it up with an orange twist for an amazingly rich, spicy, elegant drink -- the Carpano Antica vermouth played very well with the Campari.
But there were a bunch more cocktails on the list to try.
I love New York, but sometimes you gotta get out of town every now and then. So I just got back from a week in the Bahamas with my girlfriend -- and while I was there, I was anxious to check out the Nassau cocktail scene.
Our resort had an open bar (several, in fact) with top-shelf liquor, but the bartenders weren't too into the classics; one bartender I talked to said the most-ordered cocktails were the tropical ones: Sex on the Beach, and the two main Bahamian specialties of the Bahama Mama and the Goombay Smash. (I'm not a coconut fan, so I skipped both of those.) I had a Tom Collins that was about one part gin, one part club soda, and half sour mix...and my attempts with other drinks fared no better. The bar had Cognac and Cointreau, so I tried to talk a bartender through a Sidecar, but he cut me off, saying "Just tell me what goes in it, and I'll do the rest." I got a tumbler that had equal parts Courvoisier, Cointreau, and sour mix on the rocks, complete with a lime wedge. At a different, quieter bar, I tried to get a Daiquiri, but the bartender said that they "don't do frozen drinks here."
Most of the week, I contented myself with gin and tonics (not to mention the local Bahamian beer Kalik, which is light, crisp, and eminently quaffable in hot weather.) Outside the highball realm, I did have a surprisingly well-made Rusty Nail. The bar also had a row of self-service frozen-drink machines, serving up smoothies in pina colada, mango, banana, and strawberry flavors. They were virgin, but the bar tended to leave a bottle of Appleton Rum within easy reach for do-it-yourself spiking.
We got outside of the resort bubble a few times, though, for some trips into Nassau proper. At the "Fish Fry", a strip of seafood joints on Arawak Cay just west of downtown Nassau, we had some fine conch salad and some excellent fried grouper. All the places there (as well as some other hole-in-the-wall places around town) served Sky Juice (also known in some places as "Shuttle Juice"), a mixture of gin and coconut juice. I didn't try it -- again, I'm not terribly big on coconut -- but it certainly seemed to be popular among the locals, and I can see how it'd be a refreshing tipple.
The other day, my girlfriend and I checked out a new restaurant on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Madaleine Mae has been open since Super Tuesday (even if its website is emblazoned "Fall 2007"), and serves up some tasty Southern food including superb fried chicken, some very good succotash, and even an appetizer consisting of some perfectly-cooked huge sweet Carolina shrimp, served on the New York Post. (!)
But this isn't a gastroblog, after all -- it's a cocktail blog. And the reason I'm mentioning this place is because they give "rhum cures" top billing on their website, their beverage list, and even on their signage above the restaurant's door. Infused liquors are big right now, and Madaleine Mae's approach is interesting: a "rhum cure" is simply rum that's cold-steeped or infused with various other flavors -- vanilla, cinnamon, and various tropical fruits all figure prominently. The fabric-topped bottles behind the bar contain eleven different variations on the theme, among them the Goyave Punch (described as "a calming remedy for nerviosity") that consists of rum infused with guava, carambola, passion fruit, and ginger root, the "Esprit Clair" (mango, guava, bay leaf, vanilla, and tamarind), and the "L’extrémité" (anise, cinnamon, vanilla.)
My girlfriend and I had an "Amour Pur" (vanilla, cinnamon, bois bande, and maybe some sugar syrup), and a "Restoration" (vanilla, ginger root, cloves, juniper berries) and enjoyed them very much. The Restoration was particularly interesting, with the predominate clove note added to the ginny tang of the juniper -- it was like a Pink Gin, but with a lot more going on in the glass.
I talked with the owner's wife after our meal, and she told me that they were inspired by the rhum cures they'd had while vacationing in Guadeloupe, and that these rhum cures were more than just cocktails -- they're looked on by Guadeloupeans (Guadeloupois? Guadeloupes?) as folk medicine. And apparently they're not just home remedies, also have something of a mystical element, too, as in voodoo or Santeria.
At any rate, homemade infused liquors are big right now, and this was a take on the trend that I enjoyed greatly. The bar also has a large selection of fine rums, and I'm already plotting my return.