Monday, October 1, 2007

Cafe Carlyle, Bemelmans Bar: A Comparison

I had chance to visit the Cafe Carlyle and Bemelmans Bar, both in the Carlyle Hotel, the other night, as this lousy picture (of the latter tavern) will attest. (Imagine it as tobacco-smoke-stained Impressionist painting. Suddenly, it looks pretty classy, doesn't it?) I was at the Cafe to see Eartha Kitt, and then sequed to Bemelmans across the hall to soak in more music—and to sample what I had heard was an inspired cocktail list.

The brusque bartender at the Cafe Carlyle did not have the ingredients on hand to make a Sazerac, but at least he knew what the drink was. And his Manhattan was finely honed. Furthermore, the wines-by-the-glass list featured the luscious Prince Poniatowski Aigle Blanc Vouvray 1990 which has been making its way through town. The bartender was surprised to see it on the menu and had to go rooting around in the basement to find a bottle. It was worth waiting for, a ripe, rewarding glassful.

The Bemelmans was packed, an convivial scene. Did you know there's a cover charge to sit at the friggin' bar at this place? Ten ever-lovin' bucks! Well, I sat anyway, and ordered something called the Carlyle Punch, which has a secret recipe. All the bartender would reveal was that is has a base of rye, and all I could see was that he topped it with a spray of seltzer. I sensed some grenadine in there somewhere, and a fruit juice of unknown variety.

The drink was good, getting better as I reached the bottom. I noticed the Gin-Gin Mule was still on the list, a remnant of the long-gone Audrey Saunders (Pegu Club) era. Brian Van Flandern, former head mixologist at Per Se, was recently drafted to "snazz" things up, whatever that means. Don't know if he's responsible for the punch.

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