Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Visit to the Breslin Bar

Sizzling hot new scenes usually make me ill. The inevitable hoard of trendy, 20-something nocturnal bar rats; the deafening soup of chatter and too-loud music; and the inattentive, sloppy service born of of-the-moment hubris. Still, I try to enter every new bar with an open mind. And so I did with the Breslin Bar, the au courant drinking den inside Murray Hill's Ace Hotel, which will soon be joined by a sure-to-be-beloved April Bloomfield (The Spotted Pig) restaurant.

It's big, to begin with. High ceilings, bisected by pillars. There's the by-now requisite taxidermy. (Thank you, Freeman's and PDT.) There was a DJ spinning tunes off his laptop. (Is it me, or can anybody be this kind of DJ?) Lots of couches, a big long farmer's table in the center. Wood paneling, bookcases, a huge American flag on the back wall. And a small corner bar in the back corner servicing the enormous space; it easily needs to be twice as big to do the job.

I took up a stool at the bar and perused the drink menu. I had plenty of time to do this. It was easily 10 minutes before anyone at the bar made eye contact with me, let alone take my order, even though I was barely two feet away from the bartenders. They weren't unoccupied. They were constantly distracted by questions from kitchen staff and waitstaff. Table orders were clearly taking precedent over bar orders. Still, a man next to me, who waited as long as I did to order, told me he came up to the bar because his party had been sitting for 20 minutes on the floor without seeing a waiter.

It was decent drink list. Good selections in every liquor category, aperitif and digestif sections, limited but decent wines, including a Friuli rose from Bastianich. The cocktails were five in number and not particularly inspiring. Hound on Fire is just vodka with some grapefruit juice and chili salt. The Starling, with St. Germain, Lillet White and orange peel, seemed a little light weight and two-dimensional.

Since they were bold enough to name their Old Fashioned after the Ace hotel, I asked for one, thinking they were proud of it. The drink substitutes reposado tequila for the whiskey and agave nectar for the sugar, plus orange bitters and brandied cherries (one muddled and one as garnish). It was a good, satisfying drink, smooth and potent. And I would have been fairly impressed with it if it weren't a nearly complete rip-off of Phil Ward's Oaxaca Old Fashioned, long available at Death & Co.

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