Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Visit to Minetta Tavern

Keith McNally's redo of the classic Minetta Tavern has been getting a lot of attention lately, most of it good (the reviews), some of it bad (the flap about the difficulty of scoring prime-time reservations) So, I decided, somewhat counter-intuitively, it was high time I stopped by to check out the drink program.

A large, bald men was guarded the door. (They're all large and bald, aren't they?) A bouncer/doorman is a relatively rarity in the New York fine dining world. But I guess if you're hot....

I asked if I could get in and have a drink at the bar. "It's pretty packed in there. Try in 20 minutes." The guy was pretty pleasant and sincere about it, so I went across the street to the Rabbit Club and had a beer. No bouncer there. 20 minutes later I tried again. The doorman remembered me and squeaked me in. (I have found if you treat bouncers decently, and talk to them in an even, reasonable, friendly voice, you will go a long way.) The man was right; the place was densely packed. Every stool was taken, and what slim excess bar space there was was packed with well-toned, well-dressed flesh.

The bartenders were three in number, and mature of age. No whippersnappers. They knew what they were doing and worked cheerfully and efficiently. Cocktail-wise, there were six classics (Blood & Sand, Champagne Cocktail, Tom Collins, Martinez, Hemingway Daquiri, etc.) and 10 "house cocktails." A Maple Leaf Sazerac stood out (maple cordial instead of sugar) and a Rhubarb Sophie (vodka, cucumber, agave nectar, rhubarb bitters, lime juice). But I went for the Dodd Cocktail, mainly because it involved bourbon and egg white. It also has absinthe, lemon and peach bitters. The bartender shook the concoction dry and then with ice, and served it up in a martini glass.

It was good, as you might expect. But with each sip, it seemed more and more one-note. It's depth didn't grow, but shrank. Not bad, but I'll have to try a few more to see where this cocktail program is. All drinks are $14, making Minetta more expensive, per drink, that the city's best cocktail dens.

I like the general vibe of the place though. It still feels like the classic tavern it always was, what with the caricatures, murals, tin ceiling and tile floors. But now it's spruce and vibrant, not drab and sad. And it pulsates with a kind of urban evening entertainment you can only find in New York. It's a Gotham hot spot in the best, most romantic sense of the term.

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