Saturday, December 6, 2008

75 Years of Resumed Drinking in America

Dec. 5, 2008, was the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. And so parties were thrown. Dec. 5 is the liquor biz's Independence Day, its Bastille Day, its May Day. And the industry's pro go at it with the same combination of seriousness and frivolity with which they attack every occasion.

I attended a party sponsored by DISCUS at The Back Room, perhaps the most difficult to find of all the neo-speakeasies in New York. I recognized it as the former home of Lansky's Lounge, a joint run be scions of Ratner's kosher restaurant during the late '90s and early '00s as a last ditch effort to save the family business. You descend a flight of unpromising stairs on Norfolk Street near Delancey, walk through a dank subterranean alley, and go up another flight of metal stairs and open a door to the right.

As the Back Room, the decor is much plusher and upholstered. Decadent Victorianism, I'd call it. Large oil paintings, fireplace, fabric on the walls, etc. There were various drink stations at which men in vests and arm garters were serving up Probition-era cocktails in white porcelain tea cups. A smart jazz trio played on the upper floor of the split-level pad. And historian and journalist David Wondrich was on hand to make a batch of bathtub gin. Instead of raw alcohol as his base, DISCUS had provided him with vodka, to which he added essence of juniper or some such. What kind or vodka? "I don't know," he laughed. "With vodka, I'm not too particular about the brand." Too true. (However, it looked like Skyy as the brand being utilized.)

I tasted the result. Kind of reminded me of Bulldog Gin. I'm not kidding.

I sampled a variety of drinks, including a Girl Friday (unfamiliar to me, it contained gin, sloe gin, lime juice and couple other things) and a regular Manhattan (to which the bartender added his own homemade, marinated Maraschino cherries. He might have warned me that the cherries still had their pits.) In news that will break the hearts of the folks over at Riedel—who would have you believe that the glass makes a big difference in the enjoyment of the drink—none of these libations tasted the worse for wear for being serves in tea cups. They were delicious across the board.

The best drink of the night, however was the Mary Pickford, served by this gentleman below. It contained light rum, pineapple juice, grenadine and Maraschino liqueur, shaken over ice, strained and garnished with a bourbon-soaked cherry (no pit). This was a frothy treat, light, flavorful and potent. Nice to see America's Erstwhile Sweetheart getting some attention.

In attendance were Southern Spirits man Allen Katz, Pernod's Shawn Kelley, and journalists Julie Besonen, Liza Weisstuch, and Michael Anstendig, as well as many brand ambassadors of all stripes.

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