Friday, September 19, 2008

What's in a Name?

No one can accuse today's cocktail lounge owners of waxing dull when they christen their bars. Jake Walk in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, was named after a Depression-era disease born of greed, bad liquor and dipsomania. And it's doubtful you'd ever catch a restaurant putting out a shingle as macabre as Death & Co.

Some joints call themselves after once-classic, now nearly forgotten cocktail (The Pegu Club, The Clover Club), while others choose the name first and think up a cocktail to go with it later (Jake Walk, Weatherup). Do these namesake libations actually make for good drinking, or just good copy? To find out, I put in some very casual research, spread out over a number of night.

Starting from the top, a Pegu Club at the Pegu Club makes for great drinking! This mix of gin, orange curacao, lime juice and bitters—invented at a British Colonial Officer's Club in Ragoon—is stunningly presented here under a blanket of fine ice and an ornately engraved lime wedge. (I've tried to created this icy effect at home and failed miserably.) It is brisk, bright and refreshing—and very popular, if my bartender was to be believed.

The eponymous drink of Julie Reiner's newly opened Clover Club in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, is a frothy, egg-based potion that was once the title tipple of a group of some riotous Philadelphia swells. Reiner makes the frothy concoction with the original raspberry syrup—not its dreaded latter-day substitute: Grenadine—and to the mix she adds vermouth, an ingredient found an early printing of the cocktail, but missing in action. The barkeep's vigorous shaking integrated Mr. Gin and friends beautifully. It may look like breakfast, but it makes a good dinner.

Prospect Heights' Weatherup is named after its owner, Kathryn Weatherup, and so, thus, is the drink Weatherup. The most expensive cocktail on the menu ($15), it is composed of a kingly amount of Cognac, balanced with Amaretto Lazzaroni and lemon juice and decorated with a huge spiral of orange peel. The menu's jest that no more than two are allowed per customer is no joke: this drink will knock you down. Tasty, but approach with caution.

The Jake Walk's signature drink was compiled by cocktail historian David Wondrich, no less. It is made of equal parts reposado tequila, white rum, St. Germain elderflower liqueur and fresh lime juice, with 2 dashes Peychaud's bitters. The resultant refreshing concoction tastes, somewhat paradoxically, almost exactly like a pink grapefruit—which is perhaps both its appeal and its limitation. But hey: it tastes good, and the gals I was drinking with uttered no complaints whatsoever.

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