Thursday, December 3, 2009

Top of the Morning to You!

Sometimes my job treats me very well.

For a recent article in the New York Times, I was forced to explore at various bars in Brooklyn and Manhattan the world of morning and afternoon cocktails. I drank Clover Clubs and Ramos Gin Fizzes and Bourbon Milk Punches and Corpse Revivers and many another drink you've never heard of, all while munching of various comestibles, which only rarely didn't feature bacon. Decadence was never so civilized.

It's been a pleasure in recent months seeing some of the best cocktails bars in New York City throw open their doors before the sun goes down. And it's been a convenient pleasure, since more of the trailblazers in this movement—Clover Club, Ft. Defiance, Prime Meats—are an easy walk from my home.

Here's the article:

The Final Frontier? It’s an Eye-Opener

By Robert Simonson

ON a recent Sunday, at Clover Club, six young women giddily compared impressions of their mixed drinks. Nothing unusual in that. People come to this tavern in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, expressly to indulge in finely honed cocktails. But the sun, slanting brightly through the front windows, glinted off the iced glasses. And at the next table a young couple coddled their newborn. It was noon.

Drinking at brunch is nothing new, of course. But brunching at places where people go mainly to drink is.

Clover Club is one of several bars known for alcoholic alchemy that are exploring daylight drinks that go beyond the bloody mary and the mimosa.

At Fort Defiance in Red Hook, Brooklyn, you can begin your weekend with a New Orleans-style bourbon milk punch. A meal baptized with a Breakfast Cocktail, made of Old Tom gin, dry vermouth and orange marmalade, is available at noon Saturday and Sunday at Henry Public in Cobble Hill. And Mayahuel of the East Village has decided that many of its tequila and mezcal-based concoctions are well suited for brunch.

Among the bars letting the sunshine in out West are the Alembic in San Francisco and the Hungry Cat in Los Angeles. At both you are on sound footing ordering the ornate Ramos Gin Fizz, arguably the most storied of the forgotten morning drinks and certainly the most complicated (it has eight ingredients, including orange flower water).

“I found that cocktail-wise, there was a lack of variety” during the day, said the Clover Club’s owner, Julie Reiner, whose trailblazing brunch is a favorite of brownstone dwellers as well as bartenders. “People focused on having a great bloody mary, but other than that, there wasn’t much.”

The shift in hours has been driven by both passion and necessity. “Everybody always talked about brunch as a reason to go drink early on Sunday,” said Phil Ward, owner of Mayahuel. “But most places I’ve ever been, they’ve never had anything I wanted to drink.” Mr. Ward conceded, however, that he had another motivation. “The more you’re open, the more profit you make.”

Establishing a brunch trade often requires a few new hires because most bartenders, like vampires, are not morning people. “My night staff, heaven forbid they should ever have to work brunch,” Ms. Reiner said, laughing.

The notion of sunrise tipples is an old one. In the 19th century, it was not unusual for a gentleman to begin his day with a bracer at a tavern. “You always read about these ‘eye-openers,’ ‘fog-cutters,’ ‘phlegm-cutters,’ ‘morning glories,’ ” said St. John Frizell, who owns Fort Defiance. “They were arguably more popular than cocktails at night.”

But as the 20th century rolled along, a stigma was attached to daytime drinking. Perhaps because of this, “eye-openers” are among the last classic drinks to be resurrected by the current cocktail renaissance. “It’s kind of the last frontier for cocktails,” Mr. Frizell said.

What makes a morning drink? The category can be divided into two families: the nutritional and the effervescent — these drinks either feed you or wake you up. The nutritional contain ingredients associated with breakfast, like eggs (the Ramos Gin Fizz), milk (Bourbon Milk Punch), coffee (Irish Coffee) or juice (the bloody mary). The wake-ups take on a dose of Champagne (the mimosa or French 75) or cava (used in Phil Ward’s Agridulce Royale), or just plain seltzer (as in the Italian Fizz — a Fernet-Branca and sweet vermouth mixture — at Prime Meats in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn). Otherwise, said Ms. Reiner, daytime drinks veer toward “lighter liquors,” like gin, or “lighter flavors,” like lemon juice.

As bar owners loosen their twilight image, so are their customers loosening their inhibitions. “They don’t feel that there is any taboo anymore,” said Tim Staehling, the general manager of The Hungry Cat, which also has a bar in Santa Barbara, Calif. “It’s ‘Bring it on.’ ”

While the revolution has begun, the old guard hangs in. Most bar owners admit that half their daytime drinks are bloody marys, although they offer three or four versions. The mimosa, though, has been blackballed. “The thing with a Champagne drink in the morning is the effervescence of the wine helps to clean out your mouth of that layer of gunk from the night before.” Mr. Frizell said. “When you add orange juice, you’re just adding a new layer of gunk.”

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