Wednesday, November 21, 2007

W. And "21"

I don't know what it is about the "21" Club, but I love writing about the joint. Maybe it's the rich history, the clubby decor, the ghosts of it famous patrons of yesteryear (Welles, Bogart, Hemingway, etc.), the storied wine cellar, the fact that it's the only restaurant left in New York to require a coat and tie—or all of these. But the place is rich in material. I've penned features on it four times in the past three years. The angle this time is that George W. Bush has yet to visit the place, and is threatening to break "21"'s streak of hosting Presidents. It ran on the front page of the New York Sun today. As loath as I am to giving W. any kind of publicity, here it is:

White House Says There's Still Time for '21'


American presidents have little in common aside from the address 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., an oddly shaped office, and a tendency to inspire midterm election losses. But, since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, they've shared at least one other experience: They've all visited the "21"Club, the jacket-required restaurant and former speakeasy on West 52nd Street.

John Kennedy dined at "21" the day before he was inaugurated. Richard M. Nixon frequented table 14 so often the management affixed a gold plaque with his name on it to the ceiling above it. Jimmy Carter held a luncheon there before the commencement of the 1976 Democratic Convention. Indeed, every president from Franklin Delano Roosevelt on has paid a call while occupying the White House, according to general manager Bryan McGuire.

But nerves are a little raw and feelings are a trifle hurt at "21" these days. Since taking office nearly seven years ago, President George W. Bush has made himself a stranger. Not one lunch. Not one dinner. And now time is running out. "We'd really like it if he comes while he's still president," Mr. McGuire said.

A spokeswoman for the restaurant, Diana Biederman, added: "He's going to break our streak. He's got a cook at home and I understand that, but we just take it so personally."

There's clearly no Bush family bias against the old saloon at work here. The first lady has been to eat many times. In fact, during the 2004 Republican convention in New York City, she was quoted by the New York Post as saying "21" was her favorite restaurant. The Bush twins, Barbara and Jenna, have been seated there, both with and without their mother. The canteen has also enjoyed the patronage of President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara.

The current president's administration is likewise fond of the eatery, with its checked tablecloths and $30 hamburgers. "Condi's been here," Ms. Biederman said. "Cheney's been here. Everyone's been here but him." What's more, the place is catnip to would-be Presidents. Senators Kerry, Biden, and Clinton, as well as Mayor Giuliani — they've all passed through the establishment's famous wrought-iron gates.

When this reporter called the White House to see if the president himself had any plans to visit "21," a press office spokesman, who asked not to be named, replied: "There are no updates in his schedule at this time. Obviously there's a lot of time left in his term."

"21" has never been forced to extend formal invitations to the White House before; presidential visits just seemed to happen as a matter of course. "How do you do it?" Ms. Biederman said. "I could send a letter to the White House, but it would be like 'Who's this stalking girl?'"

However, personal inquiries have been made. "I mentioned it to Mrs. Bush and I mentioned it to the daughters several times," a former manager and host at "21," Bruce Snyder, who retired in 2005 after 36 years on the job, said.

The reply: "He doesn't like to go out to dinner," Mr. Snyder said.

So if the president is a homebody, and won't come to "21," why not bring "21" to the president? Perhaps, during his next visit to Manhattan, the restaurant could deliver food to his doorstep — the way Grace Kelly served Jimmy Stewart a "21" dinner in his Greenwich Village apartment in the 1954 film "Rear Window." The restaurant has thought of it, and ruled it out, Ms. Biederman said. "The problem with sending food to him is the Secret Service would be all over that," she said. "When Dick Cheney was here, they had tasters."

Moreover, Ms. Biederman added, the point is that "we want him here."

Past presidents have seemed less averse to eating out, according to Mr. Snyder. "I remember President Nixon the most," he said. "He came before he was president, while he was president, and after he was president." During one of Reagan's visits, Mr. Snyder, just to be on the safe side, escorted him to the bathroom. "I wanted to see that thick hair in the light." President and Mrs. Clinton celebrated daughter Chelsea's 17th birthday at "21" — staying so late that the family was given a tour of the saloon's famous wine cellar at 2 a.m., with Hillary herself pushing open the 4,000-pound cement door.

But if President George W. Bush doesn't make it to the "21" Club during his time in office, will the storied restaurant be diminished — just a little bit? Mr. Snyder laughs at the idea: "Guess what?" he said. " '21' is stronger than he is."

Monday, November 19, 2007

Treasure in Plain Sight

I really shouldn't give away my secrets, but...

Sometimes great wine treasures are sitting right there in plain sight, cheap, accessible, waiting to be purchased. Francois Cazin's Cour-Cheverny Loire Vally white is one such undeserved wallflower.

Cheverny is a fairly recent appellation in the Loire Valley. It was formed in 1991. It's in the Touraine area, due east of Vouvray. They plant a lot of stuff there, but this wine is made from the rare Romorantin grape. One of the only wines you'll find made from this grape.

The first time I had this wine—either a recommendation from Smith and Vine or an industry tasting—I thought, "Well, that's a very nice, well-made wine, very nice indeed, for $15," not realizing I was condescending to the wine. Last weekend, I bought a bottle of the new vintage and opened it with a friend. His eyes lit up. And I thought, "Damn! This is a great wine! And at $15? What am I doing? Why don't I have a case of this? It's perfect for everything."

The Cour-Cheverny is a light to medium-bodied wine, with great acidity and minerality. A clear, steely yet welcoming wine that knows its mind and doesn't try to impress, yet does impress with its quiet greatness. There are vegetal and eucalyptus notes, with citrus and grape tastes up front. It's an unshowy, suberb piece of work. And it's right there. I see it on the shelf of more fine wine stores in NYC. Easy to get. $15! But it has an unfamiliar name and no varietal on the label, so people pass it by. Don't. Get it.

East Village Tikis

One of the most high profile (and only) tiki drink places in Manhattan is a small space called Waikiki Wally's on E. 1st Street near First Avenue in the East Village. Learning that tiki expert Jeff "Beachbum" Berry was coming to town, I made a date for us to check out the place. Alas, scheduling did not allow our paths to cross. But I still had a curiosity about Wally's. So, a couple nights afterwards, being in the area with an hour to spare, I stopped by.

Having been to the superior Forbidden Island in Alameda, California, just last month, I was in a spoiled frame of mind, I admit. So the decor inside Wally's seemed a little cheap. The thatch roof about the bar was a bit rote, the waterfall too kitschy. But, overall, it was a pleasing enough attempt at tropical design.

I sat at the bar. The bartender admitted to being a newbie, having only worked a handful of shifts and not yet used to the menu. But he was friendly and companionable. I scanned the menu. There were "Frozen Grogs" and "Maui Martikis," a couple of which called for vodka. I didn't approve of this at all. When I go to a tiki joint, I want rum. I ordered a Blue Hawaii, which, according to the menu, contained dark rum, coconut rum (specific brands were not named), blue curacao, pineapple juice, peach juice and peach schnapps. (This diverges notably from Berry's recipe in "Surfin' Safari," which asks for sweet & sour and vodka and has no peach juice or schnapps or coconut rum.) It was served in a simple tumbler, the kind you might get your tap water in, with a wedge of pineapple. It was perfectly pleasant, if not exactly exciting, and the coconut rum dominated too much.

From there I went to a Hibiscus Heaven, which is a signature drink for Wally's. It contains vanilla rum, creme di cassis, red passion Alize, mango juice and peach juice. Same glass, same pineapple wedge. It began to feel like musical cocktails. I remembered how distinctive each drink at Forbidden Island had been, each in its own glass with its own garnish, each possessed of a singular look. This was another placidly pleasant drink, but devoid of zip.

I was sort of glad I hadn't dragged Berry there, though I would have loved to have heard his opinions on the drinks. Perhaps I'll take him to Otto's Shrunken Head on 14th Street.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

In Praise of Movia

I just polished off a bottle of Movia's Lunar 2005 and was reminded how much I like this maker's wines. They are pungent, mineral-laden, rich and full of character. Oh, and did I mention I'm talking about the whites?

Movia is a Slovenian winemaker that has been in business since 1820, but which in the past 10 or 20 years has raced to the forefront of the winemaking revolution in and around the Friuli region in northeast Italy. (Yes, Movia is strictly speaking across the border in neighboring Italy, but it possesses vineyards in Italy and is almost always grouped with the Italian makers of Collio. The wines are even carried at Italian Wine Merchants.) Winemaker Ales Kristancic keeps it natural and biodynamic. He leaves his whites on the lees for two years inside small Slovenian oak casks, and never racks the wines. The result is wines so dark and rangy and of the soil that casual wine drinkers don't even recognize them as white wines.

But they are wonderful wines. The Ribolla Gialla has a superb minerality and chalkiness. The Lunar, which is also made from Ribolla and is not filtered or tainted with chemicals, was so potent it shared characteristics with cider (the color) and beer (more than a hint of hops on the nose and palate). It is a ripe wine is ways other the fruity, which is what we tend to think of when we hear the word ripe.

I wonder sometimes why Movia wines are not more popular than they are. They're easy enough to find, at least in New York. It could be the price. They start around $25 or so. Perhaps the unusual grape varietals put people off. Or the fact that it comes from Slovenia, which must sound like a joke to some folks. Then again, the wines are so unusual there's no telling if the masses would take to them if they did try them. Americans have progressed a lot over the past 10 years, but they still don't seem ready for the the steely, mineral Friuli wines. Ah well. More for me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"Nick and Nora on That Prince of Wales"

That's what I heard a bartender say to another on my recent visit to PDT in the East Village. And a choicer bit of counter lingo you won't find outside the oldest greasy spoon truck stop on Route 66.

Translation: The Prince of Wales is a cocktail, the Nick and Nora a specialized Martini glass that PDT employes. The bartender wanted the drink in the compact Nick and Nora glass, which is smaller and rounder than a typical Martini glass, because otherwise the champagne in a Prince of Wales overwhelmed the cocktail. Thus, "Nick and Nora on That Prince of Wales."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Two With Champagne

The East Village near Tompkins Square is turning into a little warren of boutique cocktail havens. In addition to Death & Co. on E. 6th between First and A, and PDT on St. Mark's between First and A, there is The Bourgeois Pig on E. 7th between the same blocks.

The Bourgeois Pig is owned by one of the same people who run Death & Co. It was for some years in a small space on the south side of the street, but very recently moved to a larger space on the north side. My heart received a jolt when I first approached it as I saw the address was precisely that of the bygone Tompkins Square Books, a beloved used book store of my youth. To see a bar installed where stacks once stood was disorienting.

The interior in on the louche side: red light, silvery tin ceiling, an ornate chandelier of blown glass pieces which look like something between deer antlers and exploded champagne flutes. A curving bar dominated the left side of the room. At present, BP is more a wine bar than a cocktail joint, with an emphasis on French vino. There were, however, sections for champagne cocktails, wine cocktail and, uh, beer cocktails, as well as a couple champagne punches.

While the wine cocktails intrigued me, I was in the mood for something light and refreshing, so I chose the Violetta, a combination of 3/4 ounce each of Creme de Violette, lemon juice and Maraschino liqueur, topped with Champagne (they used Pol Roger). It was piquant, mildly tart, refreshing, a romantic drink. Wish I could have seen the color, but it was dark.

From there I walked a block to PDT, which is hidden behind a fake telephone booth door in a hot dog joint called Crif Dogs. (A telephone booth in an East Village hot dog place! You can't find a telephone booth at even the high-end places anymore.) Like Death & Co., like PG, it's a small, intimate place dominated by a beautifully lit bar and ringed by booths. The novelty of the bar is that imbibers can order franks from the low-rent Crif Dogs and eat them with their cocktails. (Hey—salty food and beer have always been a drinker's staple.)

I was hungry and ordered one such dog, wrapped in bacon and topped with kimche. (I kid you not. And it was good.) I then asked my extremely helpful and friendly bartender to point me in the right drink direction. He suggested an off-menu concoction called a Jimmy Rutledge, which was a riff on an old drink I'd never heard of called a Jimmy Roosevelt, and was named after the master distiller at Four Roses Bourbon, who is celebrating 40 years on the job this year.

The drink was a fairly complex little ditty. The champagne glass was coated with syrup. Then in went a sugar cube dotted with bitters, Four Roses, champagne and a thin layer of Chartreuse on top. I find champagne-brown liquor mixtures hit my palate in an odd way. Still, the brisk, mature cocktail stood up nicely to the dog. The man knew his cocktail-food pairings.

I must have passed the bartender's test as a curious and learned gentlemen, because after that he asked me to test a bourbon they had been working on. It was infused with bacon! They planned to use it in a version of an Old Fashioned. I was hesitant, but it was delicious, the bacon very subtle and marrying well with the meatiness of the bourbon. Can't wait to taste the drink.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Three's a Charm

I visited the Silverleaf Tavern at 38th and Park the other day. Dale DeGroff had a hand in the cocktail list, so I thought it was worth a try.

I was having a hard time choosing my cocktail. The Silver Leaf Manhattan intrigued me, even if it was made with bourbon and not rye. And the traditionalist in me cried out for the Stork Club Cocktail. I mean, at how many bars can I order that? And then I saw the answer to all my problems: a flight of three cocktails for just $18. Just like flights of wines. Why hadn't I heard of this before?

One problem: the choice of the three was up to the discretion of the bartender, not me, and I still wanted my Stork Club and my Manhattan. But I was in luck, because my bartender was a mindreader. He selected just those two drinks. The third was a tequila based thing which he called Formula No. 4, or something like that, and insisted was on the menu. (It wasn't.) Each was served in a miniature glass.

Funny—I liked the wild card best. Wish I had paid attention when he told me the ingredients. Lime juice, Cointreau and something else, along with the tequila. Piquant and refreshing. The Stork Club and Silver Leaf Manhattan both had something going for them. But the Stork I found a tad too tart and strident, with it mix of gin, orange bitters, Cointreau and fresh Orange juice. I have a feeling that the oranges were underripe. As for the Manhattan, DeGroff had been infusion crazy on this one. The Woodford Reserve Bourbon was infused with vanilla beans and the sweet vermouth infused with chai and brandied cherries. (No really cherries were employed.) The result was interesting, but too much on the woodsy side, like the mix had been aged in root-infested soil before arriving in my glass.

The flight in and of itself, however, was undeniable fun.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

What Dead Celebrities Like to Drink

There's an interesting item on the Lost City blog about a trove of special reserve bottles that are being held for long-dead celebrities in the wine cellar of the famed "21" Club in Manhattan. Apparently, in the past, the restaurant had a policy where it would hold wine for favored guests until they were ready to drink it. But many people either waited too long or forgot the bottles were there. And so the wine sits untouched.

There are more photos of old bottles at Lost City. Worth a look

Friday, November 2, 2007

Jerry Thomas Gets His Due

Jerry Thomas, the 19th century cocktail wizard who has become the Joseph Smith of the religion called Mixology, was recently the subject of a massive article on the front page of the New York Times Dining Section. Or, rather, he is the subject of a new book by cocktail expert David Wondrich, and that book was the subject of the Times article.

The piece was fascinating—particularly the ways in which Wondrich translated 19th century ingredients and measurements into 21st century language—and I'm sure the book will be equally fun. I personally can't wait to read it. Here's the article in full for those who missed it:

The Bartender Who Started It All


IN 1863, an English traveler named Edward Hingston walked into the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco and stepped up to the bar. There he beheld a magnificent figure wielding two mixing glasses and “all ablaze with diamonds,” a jewelry display that included a clustered stickpin in his shirtfront, diamond cufflinks and an array of diamond rings. Just as dazzling were the drinks, unheard of in Britain: strange mixtures like crustas, smashes and daisies. Here was something to write home about.

Hingston was looking at none other than Jerry Thomas, “the Jupiter Olympus of the bar,” to lift a phrase from the bartender’s own drink book, the first ever published in the United States. In a cocktail-besotted era, Thomas was first without equals, an inventor, showman and codifier who, in the book known variously as “The Bar-Tender’s Guide,” “How to Mix Drinks” or “The Bon-Vivant’s Companion,” laid down the principles for formulating mixed drinks of all categories and established the image of the bartender as a creative professional.

Like Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone and Buffalo Bill Cody, he was the sort of self-invented, semimythic figure that America seemed to spawn in great numbers during its rude adolescence. More than a century after his death, he still casts a spell, a palpable influence on Dale DeGroff, chief animator of cocktail’s new wave, and his many progeny, from Eben Klemm of the B. R. Guest restaurant group to Audrey Saunders at the Pegu Club.

Thomas finally gets his due in “Imbibe!” (Perigee Books, $23.95), a biography and annotated recipe book by David Wondrich. Mr. Wondrich, a former classics scholar and the drink correspondent for Esquire, was intrigued by the often-puzzling recipes in Thomas’s book, and frustrated by Herbert Asbury, whose fancifully embellished version of Thomas’s life, presented in a reprint of the 1887 edition of “The Bon-Vivant’s Companion,” wraps sparse facts in a thick layer of myth, conjecture and purple prose.

Mr. Wondrich puts the drinks in context, with their ingredients explained, their measurements accurately indicated, and their place in the overall cocktail scheme clearly mapped out. At the same time, Thomas himself appears, for the first time, as a living presence: a devotee of bare-knuckle prize fights, a flashy dresser fond of kid gloves, an art collector, a restless traveler usually carrying a fat wad of bank notes and a gold Parisian watch. A player, in short.

“Before, especially coming from Asbury, I had a sense of Thomas as a magisterial, godlike creature,” Mr. Wondrich said in a telephone interview. “Now I see him as a sporty, Damon Runyon type.”

The sporty types can be hard to pin down. “Bartenders, then as now, were itinerant, and the sporting life was not big on documentation,” Mr. Wondrich said. “There’s only one bartender’s diary for all of the 19th century, and most of that consists of the author drinking a lot and being sick the next day.”

Mr. Wondrich tracked Thomas from his birthplace in Sackets Harbor, N.Y., to California, where he worked as a bartender, gold prospector and minstrel-show impresario, and back to New York, where he presided over a series of bars before going broke — probably, Mr. Wondrich theorizes, after buying bad stocks on margin. Along the way, Thomas plied his trade, by his own account, in towns as various as St. Louis, New Orleans, Chicago and Charleston, S.C. One newspaper obituary placed him, improbably, in Keokuk, Iowa.

As he wandered, he picked up on the latest developments in the art, inventing new cocktails and building a serious following for his particular blend of craftsmanship and showmanship, epitomized in his signature drink, the Blue Blazer, a pyrotechnic showpiece in which an arc of flame passed back and forth between two mixing glasses. At the Occidental, Thomas was earning $100 a week, more than the vice president of the United States. When he died, in 1885, newspapers all over the country observed his passing in substantial obituaries.

Thomas’s most celebrated bar was at Broadway and 22nd Street, occupying the basement and one bay of what is now Restoration Hardware. “They really ought to put some sort of plaque there,” Mr. Wondrich said.

On the walls of Thomas’s saloon hung caricatures of the political and theatrical figures of the day, many of them executed by Thomas Nast, including one, now lost, depicting Thomas “in nine tippling postures colossally,” as a newspaper reporter described it. Customers could look at themselves in fun-house mirrors that made them look fat or thin. By this time Thomas was middle-aged, with a wife and two daughters, and at 205 pounds one of the lighter members of the Fat Men’s Association, but still, undeniably, a sport.

Thomas’s life spanned the three great ages of the cocktail, the archaic, the baroque and the classic, a helpful chronology proposed by Mr. Wondrich.

In 1830, the probable year of his birth, the main American mixed drinks were punches, toddies and slings — nothing more than brandy, gin or whiskey sweetened with a little sugar. Thomas found his professional footing in an age of flamboyant creativity, when bartenders experimented with a bewildering array of ingredients and styles, and by the time of his death in 1885 he had seen the birth of the more streamlined modern cocktail typified by the manhattan and the martini.

It is the baroque cocktail that occupied most of Mr. Wondrich’s attention. Thomas, however, could be maddeningly vague in his recipes. Mr. Wondrich was able to determine that a wineglass, as a unit of measure, equaled two ounces. He also discovered that most of the gin recipes envisioned the strongly flavored, malty Dutch gin, not the style known as London dry, which did not take off until the 1890s. Sugar, in Thomas’s age, came in a dense loaf and was less refined than modern white sugar but not as raw as raw sugar (Mr. Wondrich compromises by using Demerara or turbinado sugar, pulverized in a food processor.)

Ice was an art. Bartenders, working deftly with a pick or shaver, went to work on a solid frozen block and, depending on the drink, extracted fine shards or large lumps or any size of piece in between.

Bartenders did not use cocktail shakers. Instead, they tossed their ingredients back and forth between two mixing glasses. They also used gum Arabic, an emulsifier, in their simple syrup, which added a velvety mouth-feel to certain cocktails. “It really smooths off the edges in all-liquor drinks,” Mr. Wondrich said. “They just slide right down.”

The universe of drinks, in the middle of the 19th century, did conform to certain patterns, reflected in the organization of Thomas’s bar book. The old-fashioned punches, often hot and mixed in large quantities for communal consumption, gave way to a variety of individual drinks, all of them iced, and all involving fruit: the Collins, the fizz, the daisy, the sour, the cooler and the cobbler. The punch, too, began appearing as an individual drink. The daisy, a sour sweetened with orange cordial or grenadine, merits special attention because in Mexico it encountered tequila. The Spanish for daisy? Margarita.

The sling developed complications, incorporating ice and bitters, and became the cocktail, which Thomas made in three styles, plain, fancy and improved.

To make an improved brandy cocktail, for example, you strained the plain version (brandy, bitters and gum syrup, plus one or two dashes of Curaçao) into a fancy wine glass, moistened the rim of the glass with lemon and added a twist of lemon to the drink. (Thomas’s book was the first to mention the twist, which replaced grated nutmeg as the final flourish to a drink.) In the improved cocktail, maraschino liqueur was substituted for Curaçao. Add fruit juice and the cocktail became a crusta.

From the basic cocktail repertory of Thomas’s youth developed the myriad mixtures that Mr. Wondrich calls evolved cocktails. Their name is legion, and most of them, in the inspired early decades of the baroque age, came from the West Coast, source of the zany drinks that astounded so many foreign visitors — cocktails like the fiscal agent and the vox populi. Thomas, a young man on the scene, picked up the new recipes and carried them back East.

Toward the end of Thomas’s glorious reign as king of the bar, a new kind of cocktail was emerging — lighter, less alcoholic and usually involving vermouth, a key ingredient in the manhattan and the martini.

The final, expanded edition of “The Bon-Vivant’s Companion,” published two years after Thomas’s death, trembles at the dawn of the cocktail’s modern age. The manhattan makes its appearance, as well as a cocktail called the Martinez, which has caused no end of confusion, since it looks like “martini” but calls for maraschino, sweet vermouth and the sweetened gin known as Old Tom. On the other hand, the original martini, often made with gin and vermouth in a 50-50 ratio, and almost always with orange bitters, does not look very much like the mercilessly dry vodka martini of the present day. But here we step into a world that Thomas never lived to see, even if he built its foundations. As Mr. Wondrich justly observes, Thomas, by departing from the code of the bartending fraternity and sharing his secrets, earned his place as “the father of mixology, of the rational study of the mixed drink.”

Dale DeGroff, who has done more than anyone to bring baroque standards back to the bar, encountered Thomas for the first time in the early 1980s, when Joe Baum, who wanted a different kind of bar for his new restaurant Aurora, directed him to “The Bon-Vivant’s Companion.”

It was a revelation. At a time when bartenders relied on powdered mixes, canned fruit juices and a narrow repertory of perhaps a dozen drinks, Thomas imparted a lofty sense of the bartender’s vocation. The recipes, embracing categories of mixed drinks and exotic ingredients not seen since Prohibition, opened up a dizzying range of possibilities that Mr. DeGroff explored at Aurora and, most influentially, at the Rainbow Room.

Mr. DeGroff, now a consultant, no longer tends bar, but the little revolution sparked by Thomas’s book continues to shake things up, carried forward by a new generation of bartenders inspired by his example and by a book written when Abraham Lincoln was president. Out of the remote past, Thomas’s finger still points the way to the future.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

What Cocktailians Like

By now, I have been to nearly every one of the important, high-end, ballyhooed cocktail haunts in New York City—Pegu Club, Little Branch, Milk & Honey, Brandy Library, PDT, Death & Co. And though I was drinking each time I visited these establishments (duh), I was cogent enough to collect some observation about the Ways and Habits of the Modern Cocktailian.

These places are very like one another. I don't mean that as a slight. I'm just saying the owners seem to think alike; their minds are on the same track. If they all played musical chairs and suddenly traded places with each other tomorrow, I think they'd be quite happy wherever they landed.

After some thought, I've compiled a list of things that 21st century cocktail lounge owners cotton to. That is, things apart from finely honed libations, fresh ingredients, masterly bartenders, a deep knowledge of cocktail history and a fully stocked bar. Those go with the territory. Other aspects of the Vida Cocktailia are less readily apparent, but are seemingly, secretly agreed upon by all and sundry in the industry. They are:

*A love of speakeasy-like secrecy. Many new cocktail lounges are hard to find, lack signs, and have secret phone numbers.
*Low lighting.
*A abhorrence of standing patrons. Reservations are usually required, and often every patron must have a seat or be gone.
*A code of etiquette, sometimes found as a framed document hung in the bathroom.
*A distinct dislike of dancing.
*Booths and stools. Free-standing tables are only rarely seen.
*Addresses below 14th Street.
*Color schemes ranging from dark brown to deep umber.
*Old-fashioned, vaguely egg-cup-shaped cocktail glasses.
*Stylish lavatories.
*A prohibition on cell phones.

Again, I only observe. I do not poke fun. In fact, I approve of most of the above.

The Assumption

A couple weeks back, on my trip to Sonoma County, I stopped by the Hop Kiln Winery. I was standing at a table, being poured a taste of HK Generations Pinot Noir when the man behind the bottle purred, "This just got 90-something points from Parker."

Robert Parker, that is. This refrain haunted me throughout Napa and Sonoma. Pourers rather impudently assumed Parker's opinions would mean something to me. I imagine that, most of the time, they got some mileage out of that pabulum. But they don't seem to take into account that Parker is a divisive figure and has plenty of detractors. Maybe not in California. But elsewhere. The chances are that pretty fair that by quoting Parker's ratings they will piss off a potential patron.

This prattling mantra is depressing for many reasons. One, the winemakers seem to think one critic's opinions are the be all and end all for wine lovers. Two, if the winemakers do not buy into the Parker dogma, they nonetheless cynically preach his numbers, thinking it will result in sales and approval. Three, , by delivering a pre-conceived evaluation of the wine, they encourage drinkers to stop thinking for themselves. Four, that they cause wine lovers like myself, who do not necessarily love Parker's taste, to adopt a subconscious bias toward their wines—a reaction to their patronizing attitude toward our assumed inability to make up our own minds.

The Pinot Noir, by the way, was big enough to knock out Sonny Liston in the second round. It cost $50. I was assured that Parker's rating would result in its being sold out within weeks. I didn't buy it.