One of the many good things about living in New York City is the easy availability of -- well, whatever you want. Including the finer things in life, such as access to not one, but at least two bars that I know of that could be classified as "temples of the cocktailian arts."
See, my cocktail repertoire is fairly limited -- at home, I tend to stick to gin and tonics (Sapphire, please), Manhattans (and their cousin Rob Roy), Old Fashioneds...and, truth be told, the occasional Caucasian. When I want to try something else, something exotic, I'll run down the menus at one of these places, and order something I've read about or otherwise strikes my fancy. It's how I first tasted the Aviation, the Bronx, the Negroni. Cuts down on having to keep ingredients around the house, and this way I know it's being made by someone who actually knows how.
(One digression: I'd never had a proper Sidecar until I'd gone to one of these bars -- frankly, I'd been afraid to order them in most bars I've been to. Because, most bars will screw it up. Same goes for the Old Fashioned -- 99.5% of bartenders will leave out the bitters or add water (or worse yet, soda) or muddle everything into a thick goo, or otherwise ruin perfectly good whiskey. I didn't have a good Old Fashioned until I learned how to make them at home.)
Incidentally, the other day I ran across the recipe for the James Joyce cocktail on Chuck Taggart's website, and realized that a.) it sounded really good, and b.) I happened to have all the necessaries already. I rushed home, headed for the kitchen, and produced a fantastically smooth, tangy drink. This one'll definitely make it into the repertoire.
But, I'm committing the grievous journalistic sin known as "burying the lede" here. Yesterday was Chico's birthday, and we decided to celebrate in true cocktailian fashion. We (B., me, Chico, and our friend Janet) headed out to a truly wonderful cocktail place which shall remain nameless for reasons that will soon become obvious. I'd been there only once before, and it was very, very good. This time it was to be downright magical. I have never had drinks like these.
I started off the first round with a drink that I'd read about and heard about, but never tasted. The Corpse Reviver No. 2 is an alchemical blend of gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, lemon juice, and a pastis such as Pernod or Herbsaint. It was a wonderful cocktail, with an amazing amount of complexity -- so many layers, so much going on in my mouth. What a way to start off the evening. (And, If I'd bothered to look over to the bar, I would have seen the bartender sizing me up before he constructed the drink--more on that later.)
Both Chico and B. had her favorite, an Earl Grey Martini. This drink is made from tea-leaf-infused Tanqueray gin, with lemon juice for zing, simple syrup for sweetness, and an egg white for froth. Delectable. Many other rounds of great cocktails followed, including a Pegu Club, a Gin-Gin Mule (with twin garnishes of mint and candied ginger), and a smoky Old Fashioned with Johnnie Walker Black as its centerpiece. (Never had an Old Fashioned with Scotch before. I think I like bourbon better for these, but this was an interesting variation that I'm glad I tried.) We also had some tasty bar snacks, including barbecued pulled duck "burgers", chicken satay, and smoked-trout deviled eggs.
As good as these drinks all were, though, there were two that utterly amazed me. As I'd mentioned above, the Sidecar is not a cocktail that I feel comfortable ordering at most bars. The lemon juice is canned, they use inferior triple sec, or the brandy is something you'd use to clean a concrete floor. We'd had some fine Sidecars at another cocktalian joint in town, and Chico decided to try the ones here. The drink he was served was a velvetey smooth revelation. They're good at the other place, but fantastic here. (The bartender shooed the waitress away as she was about to deliver the drink; he wanted to deliver this one himself, and shot Chico a get-ready-for-this look as he placed it on the table. He was proud of it, and justifiably so.)
And I ordered a drink from the menu of specialty cocktails. Described as "autumn in a glass", the Velvet Harvest consisted of pear eau-de-vie, apple schnapps, falernum, maple syrup, lemon juice, egg white, and tincture of clove. This was sweet, tangy, loaded with flavor, and smooooooooth. This is worth a repeat.
The best part of the evening, though, happened near the end. The place had quieted down a bit, and we'd fallen into a conversation with the bartender about my unusual Old Fashioned. He told us that he didn't usually muddle with an Old Fashioned, preferring to use simple syrup instead. Then he said that he knew that we were an appreciative audience from our first order, saying "When I heard you order a Corpse Reviver, I knew you guys would be fun. And when you knew enough to specify a Corpse Reviver No. 2, I figured you knew what you were talking about." After we complimented him on the drinks, he went on to ask me how I liked the Corpse Reviver. I told him that I'd never had anything like it, and that it was an incredible drink. I said that I don't usually like anise-flavored drinks, but had decided to try something that came so highly recommended. (And, it's only a few drops of Pernod in there anyway.)
Our bartender locked eyes with me, grinned, and said "Don't tell anyone, but that wasn't Pernod in there. That was the real stuff."
Wow. No wonder the cocktail was so complex and herbal.
What a memorable evening...and we will be back as soon as our livers (and wallets) recover.