In these days of cocktail ascendency, when one guy's Silver Gin Fizz may be just as good as the next guy's, you need a gimmick to set your joint apart. Bar Henry has found a good one. Not content to just make Tom and Jerrys—an unusual and arcane drink as it is—it limits the number that may be purchased, and theatrically counts them down as they are snatched up. Here's the write-up I did for the NYT's Diner's Journal:
A Time to Whisk
In the month that Bar Henry has been open, the restaurant at 90 West Houston Street in the Village has won attention for it unusual wine policy, in which bottles opened by diners are made available to others by the glass while they last. Now the subterranean bistro is applying the same “get ’em while you can” approach to cocktails.
Actually, just one cocktail. On Dec. 10, the bar manager, Patrick Costigan, started offering 10 — count ’em, 10 — Tom and Jerrys a night, served on a first-come, first served basis. On certain busy nights, he’ll be more generous, portioning out 12 or 15. But it’s always a limited number. The numbers 1 to 10 are written in wax pencil on a large mirror opposite the bar, and each digit is crossed out (by the customer, if he or she so wishes) as the limited-edition libations are ordered. On the first night, Mr. Costigan said, the 10 Tom and Jerrys sold out in less than an hour.
So why not just make more Tom and Jerrys, if people want them so much? “It’s too much prep to be making them throughout the shift,” Mr. Costigan said.
Indeed, the drink is hardly a snap. To make the base batter, eggs must be separated, beaten and folded back together. The batter is spooned into a mug, which is fortified with brandy and whiskey (or sometimes rum), warmed up with hot milk, and adorned with grated nutmeg and cinnamon. Mr. Costigan prepares the eggs beforehand, but he does every every other step on the spot, presenting the $14 result in a heavy, ample mug. By the time he’s done spooning and mixing and frothing and grating, everyone at the bar has noticed. “There’s a ‘What’s that?’ factor to the drink,” he said.
Once a ubiquitous accompaniment to yuletide celebrations, the eggnog-like Tom and Jerry dates to 1820s England, where, legend has it, it was invented by the noted boxing journalist Pierce Egan. During the late 19th century, elaborate Tom and Jerry punch bowl sets were common. The drink persevered in certain pockets of the Midwest but otherwise died out as people shrunk from its calorie count and the excessive assembly required. With the ongoing cocktail renaissance, the drink has been somewhat reclaimed.
The most famous purveyor of Tom and Jerrys in New York in recent years has been Audrey Saunders — whose cocktail bar Pegu Club is right across the street from Bar Henry. “The Pegu Club is good for us,” Mr. Costigan said. “We’re good for them.”
A bartender at the Pegu Club said the bar would begin serving its version of the drink some time on or after Christmas. Shall we say whisks at 50 paces on Houston Street on Jan. 1?