Sunday, March 29, 2009

Keep It Simple

As I was putting together my recent feature for Time Out New York on how to keep your liquor cabinet well stocked without emptying your wallet, I was asked to put together a group of drink recipes for the liquors I spotlighted. Since the whole point of the piece was to make things easy on your budget, I decided to compile the simplest of recipes. What would it matter if you save money on the base spirit if you end up spending a fortune on the other ingredients made to make the cocktail?

So here you see a lot of classics, a lot of three and four-ingredient drinks. Nothing wrong with that.

Mix it up

If you want to bring your liquor bill down, keep your cocktails simple. Make three ingredients your limit; four if you must. Happily, many tasty classics fall within this realm. Here are a few using the recommended budget liquors.

Many require dry or sweet vermouth, long one of the great bargains of the drink world. Opt for the dependable Noilly Prat, not the pricier new boutique vermouths. Simple syrup can be easily made at home, dissolving equals parts water and sugar over a low flame under the sugar is dissolved, then chill.—Robert Simonson

Rye Manhattan
2 oz. Rye
1 oz. sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir ingredients over ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with cherry.

Gin Martini
2 oz. Gin
1/2 oz dry vermouth
(vary gin-vermouth ratio to suit your tastes)

Stir ingredients over ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon twist or olive. For a Gibson, garnish with cocktail onion.

Old Fashioned
2 oz. Bourbon
3 dashes Angostura bitters
sugar cube
bar spoon of water

Muddle sugar cube, water and bitters in rocks glass. Add bourbon. Fill with ice. Stir. Garnish with large orange peel

Jack Rose
1 1/2 oz. Bonded Lairds Applejack
1 oz. simple syrup
3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
2 dashes grenadine

Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with cherry.

Pimm’s Cup
1 1/2 Pimm's #1
Ginger ale
Cucumber slice

Pour Pimm's in ice-filled highball. Top off with ginger ale. Garnish with cucumber slice. Many opt for 7-up or lemon soda instead of ginger ale. Follow you own tastes.

3/4 oz. Cynar
4 1/2 oz. sparkling lemon soda (Rieme Sparkling Limonade, if you can find it)
A dash of Fee Brothers Rhubarb Bitters

Mix ingredients with ice in a tall glass. Garnish with a fresh sprig of mint. Fee Brothers' new rhubarb bitters (only $6) can be found at Astor Wines & Spirits.

1 1/2 ounces light rum
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce simple syrup

Shake with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with lime wheel.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Recession-Proof Bar

I put together this article for Time Out on how to best keep your home bar well-stocked without stinting on quality.

In the bag

A shrinking liquor budget doesn’t mean you have to drink rotgut at home. Stock your bar without emptying your wallet.

By Robert Simonson

When it comes to brown booze, single-malt Scotch and bourbon top the list in prestige and popularity. But they are also tops in price. Solution? Try rye, the world’s neglected whiskey. Though rye has recently enjoyed a resurgence, time-honored, quality brands like Old Overholt and Rittenhouse can still be had for under $20 a bottle. Either one makes a classic Manhattan.

For Southern-fried Kentucky Derby lovers who must have their precious bourbon, there’s a world beyond Maker’s Mark. An undersung industry standard like Elijah Craig can be found for around $20 a bottle. The even less celebrated but equally fine W.L. Weller Special Reserve is yours for roughly $17.

It’s vodka’s world; we just live in it. But there’s both a monetary and gastronomic reward in eschewing high-price boutique vodkas for entry-level gins. The basic offerings from Beefeater, Tanqueray and Bombay (not Sapphire!) are benchmark examples of London dry gin, and run only $18 to $25 for the 750-milliliter bottle. So save money and have a real martini for once.

If it’s a daiquiri you want, opt for Flor de Caña Extra Dry, a four-year-aged Nicaraguan white rum that puts Bacardi to shame in the flavor department. The floral, fruity rum is a mixologist favorite (it’s the well rum at Death & Company), and it sets you back only $16.

For the budget-conscious, French brandy is basically out of the question. But New Jersey apple brandy is well within your means. (Don’t laugh.) The bonded version of Laird’s applejack is lauded by spirits geeks as liquid gold. (The regular Laird’s is dreck.) And it costs only about $21.

If you absolutely demand that your tipple be odorless and tasteless, how about giving the costly Ketel One and Grey Goose a pass in favor of the obscure Belgian brand White Nights? (Only $13 a bottle!) Sobieski, a Polish vodka made from rye, is an even better value: $11 a bottle. Believe me: You and your Cosmo will hardly know the difference.

Hard times call for experimentation. So turn your attention to intoxicants you used to ignore, such as Pimm’s No. 1, a tasty, spiced, gin-based British elixir that runs around $20; or palate-stretching Italian amari and digestifs like Cynar, Averna and Aperol (most are under $25). They may strike you as bitter at first, but you’ll soon adjust. Sort of like the current economy, huh?

An Encounter With Sirica

I recently took a wine tour of Irpinia, the Campania, Italy, region that is famous for its Taurasi, Fiano and Falanghina wines. It's nearly impossible to leave this land without a visit to the local wine-making (and marketing) colossus, Feudi di San Gregorio.

In the second-floor tasting room of the slick, modern winery—with a view over rows and rows of barrels—we tasted a couple of old Fianos, 1998 and 1994, which illustrating how the white grape can age similarly to Riesling; and a sparkling Falanghina; but the real excitement of the evening was an unlabeled bottle, an experimental fermentation of Sirica.

Sirica is an old Campanian red grape. Pliny referred to it in 75 a.d. How it got that name is a matter of debate. Pliny ascribed its name to a coloring agent of that time, the syricum. Another source says Sirica was imported from a region inhabited by the Seri, six centuries before the founding of Rome. Others say the name may derive from the ancient ionic town Siri, close to Metaponto. Some today say the wine is somehow related to Syrah.

Feudi di San Gregorio discovered a few old vines growing wild on its property and decided to make some wine. It was an interesting glass. It reminded me of some reds from the Friuli area, greenish, with dark rangy fruit, and high acidity.

I see that Feudi has brought out some Sirica in the past. I hope they do so again.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Some Fancy Dancy Tequilas

Tequilas are arriving with a little something extra these days. Perhaps it's the ongoing influence of vodka, but flavoring and infusions are the words of the day south of the border.

This is due mainly to a 2006 ruling from the Tequila Regulatory Council of Mexico that allowed flavored tequilas (except pure agave tequila). There appears to have been a delayed reaction, because only lately have the bottles of tequila that pass through my mail slot been sporting a flavor.

I am naturally skeptical of such contrived beverages. But one such, the Gran Centenario Tequila Rosangel, won me over. It is infused with Hibiscus flowers, that twee favorite flora of the cocktail world. After that, it is aged in port barrels for two months. The result has a lovely pale rose color. I took my sample bottle over to a tequila aficionado friend of mine, and we agreed: the stuff wasn't bad. Quite good, actually. It had a full, meaty nose, sporting agave, guava and yeast. The taste was light and floral, fragrant and feminine. An elegant drink.

My friend termed it a sipping tequila, unsuitable for mixing because of its marked flavor profile and delicate nature. I wasn't so sure. I took the rest home and made a Margarita. It was lovely.

Then, we have the Tanteo group. There are Tropical, Chocolate and Jalapeno flavored tequilas. Ai-yi-yi. Apart from the whole idea of this line-up being a bit louche, let's try to be objective and give these guys a fair shake.

The Tropical has a full, buttery candy quality on the nose. No real specific tropical fruits—more like a fruit basket. More identifiable fruit flavors come through as it passes very smoothly, very pleasantly, down the gullet. Banana, pear, guava, starfruit, (coconut?). Pretty OK. I would would call it a mixing tequila, with a future in certain summer cocktails created by judicious (read: not vulgarly inclined) mixologists.

Now, we have the Chocolate. Quite frankly, all chocolate flavor liquors make me shudder. The very idea is rather trashy, in my book. You can't school people to be responsible with their drinking if you make the booze taste like candy. Still: on the nose you get more of the bitter cocoa aspect of chocolate, rather than the milky sweetness. The latter comes through more in the palate, along with plenty of vanilla, and a hint of dusty bitterness at the start. I know many will love this, but it's not my cup of hot chocolate.

For last, I saved the Jalapeno, because I do love those little peppers, and because the marriage of Tequila and hot peppers makes sense, in culinary terms. (I also think there's a great future in spicy cocktails, based on a few I've tasted in the past year.) The smell of the Jalapenos is just there on the nose, not overwhelming, but enough to tingle your nostrils if you hold your beak in the glass too long. Going down, it's much more pronounced, the heat building gradually over the seconds. It's a judicious grading of pepper to liquor. It doesn't set your mouth on fire, but there's no mistaking the dominant flavor of this drink. Yet, the flavor is a bit one-dimensional. It could have a place in some yet-to-be-invented drinks, but it doesn't do much as just a sipper.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Your $10 Recession Wine of the Week: Banrock Station Riesling 2007

It's been a while since I've done one of these. Sorry! Sometime this Recession-era free-lancer is in such a state that even a $10 bottle of wine seems an extravagance.

But here's a value—and guess what! It's a riesling! What a surprise. The Banrock Station 2007 is from Southeast Australia. Don't expect a lot of depth here. It's lime and lemon and citrus, and lime and lemon and citrus—on the nose and on the palate. Maybe a light stoniness. But it's brisk and its light and has good acidity and it's worth of the $9 it will take to purchase it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

And So We Learn

We here at Off the Presses at times buy ridiculous and fascinating items of our shared drinking heritage on eBay. Do not judge us.

A recent acquisition is this, a 1952 cocktail menu from the Astor Bar in the Astor Hotel. Nobody talks of the Astor Bar anymore, but it was hugely important watering hole for the Times Square crowd (which means Everybody Who's Anybody) for much of the 20th century. Everyone went to the Astor Bar.

First of all, you have to love the cover design, with its view of the hotel and Times Square through the silhouette of a cocktail glass, against a black background. Perfection.

Inside, what do we learn? Well, that the Astor Bar liked its stereotypes. On the left we see a caricature of a Fine Ol Sothin Gennelman drinking a julep. On the right page, we have a bearded Scotsman enjoying his whiskey.

It's nice to see that cocktails are still at such an evolved state in the '50s that they are divided into categories such as Sours, Fizzes, Rickeys and Punches. Beer hasn't changed much. We still have Beck's, Heineken, Guinness and Pabst, just as they did.

It's interesting to see how the whiskeys are ordered. Canadian tops the column, after it American, then finally Scotch. Blended Scotch dominates that final list. No single malts. And beyond the Four Roses and Wild Turkey, few of the bourbons are familiar brands today.

At the far left column, we have the mixed drinks so familiar that they are listed under the simple heading of Cocktails. The Bronx is still well known. So is the Jack Rose and Rob Roy and Clover Club and French "75" (the most expensive drink on the menu). The Southern Comfort-based Scarlet O'Hara's presence we must chalk up to the fact that the immortal movie was only 13 years old at the time. At the bottom we find the "Zazarack." Interesting spelling.

Relegated to the shabby "Miscellaneous" section are the Ward 8, Horse's Neck, Angel's Kiss and—shudder—the Old Fashioned! What's that great cocktail doing in this sad location?

In a box are two sections labeled Summer Specials and Suggestions. Of the Summer Specials: it's nice to see the Singapore Sling on display; surprising to see the Sea Breeze was so popular way back then; saddening to see that the Daiquiris the Astor served were of the frozen sort. Most interesting is the Times Square Cooler, a drink I do not know. Was it perhaps a house drink? It contains gin, lime juice and raspberry syrup.

Under Suggestions are the Cuba Libre, Grasshopper, Planter's Punch, Rum Collins, Apple Jack Collins, Sloe Gin Fizz and something called the Cloak and Dagger, Frozen Drink. It has Dagger rum, golden rum, lime and sugar.

The cheapest drink on the menu? A Pabst (50 cents). Some things never change.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Roasted Tomato Gelée What Now?

Cocktail competitions can bring out the ridiculous in any bartender.

A March 13 article in the New York Times, taking a St. Paddy's Day slant, tells of Bushmills Irish whiskey and its recent effort to join the cocktail crusade by invited various top bartenders to create...well, let me just repeat the Times' words: "cocktails based upon the traditional Irish breakfast — eggs, bacon, black and white pudding, and toast."


So, a bunch of fellas took the bait. Why not? A bit of fun, after all. I think I could work up a curious thirst for Puck Fair's Anthony Malone's mix Bushmills with cherry liqueur and orange juice, along with a whole egg—a twist on the Blood and Sand.

Jim Meehan of PDT also participated and came up with something a little more complex, employing bacon-infused Bushmills, maple syrup, orange and lemon juice and a whole egg. I would give it a try out of respect for Jim's skill and judgment.

But then there's the entry from Eben Freeman, at Tailor. I've never met Eben, but I know of his esteemed reputation and I like his bar. But bacon-infused Bushmills, roasted tomato gelée squares, a slow-poached quail egg yolk, an Irish breakfast-tea foam and crispy black-pudding bits?

Is that a drink or a dare?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Rob Roi

I never much cared for Rob Roys. It's a decent enough drink, but if I have my druthers, I'm always going to go for the rye-based (or bourbon, if you must) Manhattan than the Scotch-based Rob Roy. It's the same basic recipe and, to my tastes, the rye just marries better with the sweet vermouth than does the Scotch.

I began to change my mind a bit, however, last fall during a trip to London. Restaurateur and mixologist Nick Strangeway introduced me to a Rob Roy made not with sweet vermouth, but with Noilly Prat "Ambre" vermouth. The Ambre, which take a bit of dry and a bit of sweet to create a flavor profile all its own, made a perfect partner to the Scotch. Its recipe includes more spices than that of the dry or sweet vermouths. Among them are orange, cinnamon and vanilla, which really come out when you sip it alone on the rocks.

After I mentioned this on Off the Presses last fall, British cocktail blogger Jay Hepburn offered to bring me some Noilly Prat Ambre upon his next trip to New York. He was as good as his word, delivering the bottle last week. Without much delay, I whipped up a Rob Roy using the stuff and Cragganmore single malt. It was as good as I remember, and I dare say, I will with henceforth find it difficult to interest myself in a Roy Roy made with sweet vermouth. First of all, there's the color. The golden color of the scotch teamed with the equally golden color of the vermouth make for a glass of almost unparalleled beauty. As for the taste, there is a similar purity there. There is a brightness and wonderful simplicity to the cocktail.

Of course, strictly speaking, this is not a Rob Roy. It's a different recipe, using a different vermouth. So it deserves a different name. Nick did not mention giving the drink a name, so I am taking it upon myself to do so. And I have hit upon one that is perfect, if I do say so myself. Roy Roi. As in king. Picture the monarch with a golden crown, sitting on a golden throne. Say it with a French accent.

Roy Roi

2 1/2 oz. scotch
3/4 oz. Noilly Prat Ambre vermouth
A dash Angostura bitters

Stir over ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

Of course, I know most of you out there don't have the Ambre. Sorry. Start petitioning the French.

Friday, March 13, 2009

I Did What Gary Farrell Told Me

A few years ago, I visited the winery of vaunted Sonoma Country winemaker Gary Farrell, he of the prized and pricey pinot noirs.

Poor as usual, I could only afford to take away one bottle. I liked the taste of the Russian River label, but before deciding I asked the advice of the pour girl behind the counter of the amazingly roomy (and empty) tasting room. "Well, what do you plan to do with the wine?" she asked. "Are you planning to wait a couple years before you drink it?" She held the bottle I was interested in in her hands. Her eyes looked slightly alarmed. I had the idea that she wouldn't let me have the wine unless I agree to cellar it for at least 24 months. I said, "Yes. Of course," and I bought the bottle.

I was as good as my word. I drank the wine on Feb. 19, 2009, nearly two and a half years after I purchased it. My patience was admirable. And it was rewarded.

I'm not a big fan of the fat, heavy pinots coming out of Sonoma. And Farrell's clocks in at 14.2% alcohol. But I have to hand it to Gary; it was great drinking. It had a lovely medium rudy/brick color, and a super-fragrant nose of spice, pepper, plum and brandied cherries, with faint hints of raisin. The body was medium. There were pronounced by not harsh tannins along the edges, and a metallic mid-palate. The wine was strong but subdued, with notes of plum, cherry and cherry blossoms (if you can believe it). An elegant and complex wine.

Thanks, pour girl.

A Beer At…Paddy Reilly’s

My second installment in my new Eater series "A Bar at..." runs today. In my new pursuit of peeking my head into various of the many uncelebrated bars in New York City, I this time visited the Irish pub Paddy Reilly's in Murray Hill and was treated to some sometimes funny and sometimes unsettling foul-mouthed music. I have a feeling there are a lot of Irish bars in my future.

A Beer At...Paddy Reilly's

Murray Hill’s Paddy Reilly’s, on 2nd and 29th, knows what it likes, and that’s Guinness. “The World’s First and the Only All Draft Guinness Bar,” is how, with tortured syntax, the pub proudly bills itself. Inside, all seven of the tap pulls are given over the inky brew. If you want Harp or Smithwick or Bud, you’ll have to settle for a bottle, friend.

Everyone here seems to walk around with a Guinness in one hand and a guitar in the other. Because aside from stout, Paddy Reilly’s is known for music; it was apparently once owned by Irish folk singer Patrick “Paddy” Reilly. Wednesday night is open-mike night, when every barfly listening to the troubadour on the small stage in the back is probably also a musician. A bespectacled woman singing a squishy song “about letting someone into your life” elicited little reaction from the crowd—aside from Jimmy, who, that night, functioned as Paddy Reilly’s redneck, backward-baseball-cap version of “Cheers”’ Norm, offering an off-color hoot and holler on almost any subject. “Hot knishes, cold soda!” he bellowed, apropos of nothing.

Wayne, a hirsute young showboater with a Mike Nesmith wool cap, had better luck, bringing down the house with a hilariously profane ditty about Jesus’ womanizing, ne’er-do-well bother, Craig Christ. “B---f--- me Jesus!” screamed Jimmy with joy. Ian, a regular, was next, strumming sincerely about bouts of existential and romantic distress. Wayne and his pals visited the bathrooms, labeled “Hen House” and “Tool Shed,” and left.

And then Jimmy himself took the stage and brought the whole room down. He sang, with irreverent gusto and unvarnished candor, a song so offensive that I can’t reprint a single line here. The unsmiling female bartender—in whose mouth butter would not melt and in whose bouncer skills I have no doubt—was having none of it. She shot Jimmy a look that would sober up a frat boy at Mardi Gras. Open mike night was over. Time for another Guinness.
—Robert Simonson

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Some Bars

The fine people at Time Out asked me to contribute to their latest bar issue, coming up with six examples of four categories of New York tavern: The After Work Bar; The Men's Bar; The Women's Bar; and The 80s Bar. I agreed readily enough. Going to a lot of bars is hardly a hardship.

After many nights wandering Manhattan and Brooklyn's streets looking for watering holes that fit the bill, and drinking a number of drinks (I kept that to a minimum—I was working after all), I wrote up the below account.

I also learned a few things. One, there are a lot of crappy bars in New York that I never want to see again. That's to be expected; there are too many bars in the city for them all to be good. Two, Men's Bars tend to be old bars, like Farrell's out in Windsor Terrace, and Holland Cocktail Lounge, the midtown dive. I was happy to visit those places; for me, the older the bar, the better. Three, Women's Bars don't seem to really exist as an important genre, unless you're talking about lesbian bars; where women are drinking, so are men, and vice versa. (UPDATE: Knowledgeable women have since contacted me to correct me on this account, insisting there are women bars.) Four, the 80s trend is not as healthy as it once was in NYC.

Still, I found plenty of great places, and those are the places I wrote up:

Spring bar guide

It’s 5pm: Booze away your boss-induced rage

Annie Moore's
Picture this: a cheery Irish pub about 100 paces from Grand Central Terminal. A surprising abundance of elbow room. A chatty crowd. It’s no surprise that this is the choice of hundreds of workers looking to down a couple before catching the 6:02. 50 E 43rd St at Vanderbilt Ave (212-986-7826, Average drink: $6.

P.J. Clarke’s
Working stiffs from all corners of the city make a 5pm beeline to one of the city’s most honored (and oldest—it goes back 127 years) brass rails. The bar is typically three deep and the talk loud and ebullient. 915 Third Ave between 55th St and 56th Sts (212-317-1616). Average drink: $6.

Bar Centrale
Theater folk work too—their day just ends later. After the curtain falls on Broadway, actors, producers, critics and press agents head to this sleek quasi-speakeasy. The talk is bitchy, the cocktails standard but elegant, and the star-gawking abundant. 324 W 46th St between Eighth and Ninth Aves (212-581-3130). Average drink: $14.

This dimly lit treasure trove of international beers and single-malt Scotches brims with humanity every single night, and—though is situated in slacker central—some of the patrons must be just coming off work. If noise and crowds and zero elbow room spell life at its best to you, this is the joint. 41 First Ave between 2nd and 3rd Sts (212-475-5097, Average drink: $7.

Picturesque, Belgian-bricked Stone Street leads weary Wall Streeters to this stylish dark-wood pub, where numerous nooks and glass dividers allow sippers to be part of the crowd, but also keep to themselves. 58 Stone St at William St (212-482-0400). Average drink: $7.

It may be a man’s world…

Holland Cocktail Lounge

This hallowed dive was nearly eighty-sixed last year, but the owner has brought it back. Though the place has been sheared of much of the detritus that once hugged the walls, the population of overwhelmingly male barflies has since restuck itself to its favorite glue strip. 532 Ninth Ave at 39th St (212-502-4609). Average drink: $4.

Farrell’s Bar and Grill
Men never stopped being men at this Windsor Terrace landmark. The collars are blue (like the language) and the drinks simple (Buds served in a 32-ounce Styrofoam cup). Shirley MacLaine was the first woman to ever be served solo here—and while that was back in the 1970s, few have followed her example. 215 Prospect Park West at 16th St, Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn (718-788-8779). Average drink: $4.

Blind Pig
With nine huge television screens tracking the night’s sporting action, more than a dozen beers on tap and an unmistakably Y-chromosome-inspired soundtrack, there’s little for NYU’s male population not to like here. The name is a 1920s term for a speakeasy, but it also might refer to what some drunks become after 2am. 233 E 14th St between Second and Third Aves (212-209-1573, Average drink: $6.

This curious dive may have become an unlikely magnet for drunken, karaoke-loving hipsters, but it also remains the domain of sports-watching, dice-playing, beer-drinking Asian men. 104 Bayard St at Baxter St (212-732-2384). Average drink: $6.

Putting aside widescreen TVs and foosball tables, the pyrotechnic antics that go on behind the ornate bar of this neospeakeasy are catnip to the would-be-mixologist clientele. These guys like sports, sure, but may enjoy cool drinks you set on fire (like the patented homemade absinthe) even better. 9 Doyers St at Bowery (212-406-0400, Average drink: $15.

Middle-aged businessmen doff their blazers at this classic high-end watering hole, where tables ring an undulating mahogany bar, and the testosterone’s so abundant you can almost smell it. The Waldorf-Astoria, 301 Park Ave between 49th and 50th Sts (212-872-4900, Average drink: $8.

…but women really rule

Beauty Bar
We’re all for male pampering, but a free drink with every $10 manicure is a concept made for the ladies. If you’re a dude, expect to feel like a husband dragged through the lingerie department at this converted beauty parlor. With a drink in hand, that really isn’t so bad. 231 E 14th St between Second and Third Aves (212-539-1389). Average drink: $7.

Pink and pricey, with pillow-strewn, curtain-concealed seating nooks, a fireplace and dozens of bubblies by the glass to tickle the nose, Flute is as feminine as a bar can get. It’s the perfect backdrop for female friends to dress up, catch up and drop $100. 40 E 20th St at Park Ave South (212-529-7870, Average drink: $14. Additional location: 205 W 54th St between Seventh Ave and Broadway.

Flatiron Lounge

Julie Reiner’s swank cocktail den attracts both genders, but the fairer sex—attracted by the sophisticated atmosphere, deferential service and expertly prepared drinks (try the deliciously sweet-tart New York Sour)—tends to dominate. 37 W 19th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves (212-727-7741). Average drink: $13.

This tiny, lesbian-favored West Village bar gets praise for welcoming folks of all persuasions. Everyone can find a place under the crowded ceiling, which fairly drips with a sea of playful toys and bric-a-brac. Cheap drinks ($2 margaritas on Tuesdays!) don’t hurt either. 281 W 12th St at 4th St (212-243-9041, Average drink: $6.

Argue all you like but no genre of drinking establishment quite attracts women like the wine bar. The folks behind Hearth opened a romantic, stylish one with a prime location and an inventive, expansive drinks list (including free sherry before 6pm). 413 E 12th St between First and Second Aves (646-602-1300). Average drink: $11.

Everybody loves the ’80s

Ace Bar
There’s enough retro culture here to make any ’80s-minded soul sentimental, including Hüsker Dü and the Pogues on the juke, and a vintage lunchbox collection, with tin renditions of The Fall Guy and The Empire Strikes Back. Drown your nostalgia in one, or 12, of the draft beers. 531 E 5th St between First Ave and Ave A (212-979-8476). Average drink: $5.

Suspenders Bar & Restaurant
Leather banquettes, stained glass, brass rails and mirrored walls make Suspenders a Cheers facsimile. It’s just as comforting and yes, maybe a tad depressing, with regular-folk patrons and staff to match. 111 Broadway at Thames Sts (212-732-5005, Average drink: $7.

Classic stand-up arcade games root this hipster den securely in the Reagan era with as many machines as there are microbrews (Donkey Kong, Frogger, Punch-Out!!). It’s as if home computers never happened. 388 Union Ave at Ainslie St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (718-302-6464). Average drink: $5.

There are no traces left of the literary brat pack that made this brasserie its home in the 1980s, but after your third martini at the still-stylish bar, you might start to imagine Jay McInerney and Bret Easton Ellis waiting in the bathroom with Bolivian marching powder. 145 West Broadway at Thomas St (212-233-0507, Average drink: $11.

Alphabet Lounge
On Fridays and Saturdays, this small, dimly lit and often crowded club immerses itself in new wave and Madonna. For better or worse, the crowd is usually a few decades younger than the artists they’re dancing to. 104 Ave C between 6th and 7th Sts (212-780-0202, Average drink: $8.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

More on Circular Ice

Because you asked for it? No. Because I wanted to write more about it! Here's a piece just published in Time Out New York that elaborates on my initial posting for the TONY drink blog about the round ice being made at PDT.

Sphere of Influence

The cocktail world has always been a stylish one. From the glasses to the garnishes, a drink’s look is almost as vital as its taste. The latest in cool cocktail accessories can be found floating in the Lower East Side Globe Trotter ($13) at PDT (113 St. Marks Pl between First Ave and Ave A, 212-614-0386). This elegant, citrusy blend of rye, cognac, Creole Shrubb and Bénédictine—the creation of Jean Georges pastry chef and part-time barkeep Johnny Iuzzini—is a vehicle for PDT’s latest foray into specialty ice. Each Globe Trotter is cooled not by a cube—that’s totally squaresville, man!—but a huge sphere made with a coveted Taisin Japanese ice press. The Taisin uses only the natural forces of gravity and temperature to turn frozen chunks into perfect spheres. The globe is a good match for the Trotter—this sipping drink benefits from its steady chill. Since each ball takes a couple of minutes to form, the prep happens pre-service. Sorry, gadget geeks: no demonstrations of the press. You’ll have to order a drink to orbit this globe.—Robert Simonson

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

"How Do You Take Your Chewing Gun?"

My son had, of late, developed a taste for Orbit gum. He's buy a pack here, a pack there, and I became intrigued as to how many flavors there were of this sugar-free Wrigley's brand. Most gums traffic in one, two or three flavors, tops. Orbit, as far as I can tell, has 200.

Seriously, it's more like two dozen. But that's a lot! Peppermint, Spearmint, Wintermint, Bubblemint, Cinnamint, Sweet Mint, Citrus Mint, Crystal Mint, Raspberry Mine, Maui Melon Mint—and that's just some of the mint flavors.

But what really makes my mind whir are the liquor flavors. Yes, liquor flavors. Sangria Fresca; Mint Mojito; Fabulous Frutini. There's no liquor in them, of course, but the taste is designed to resemble these refreshing drinks. (The Frutini is a little vague, I admit.)

What is the intention here? Gum, to my mind, is a product primarily devoured by children. Though the Wrigley company may have been aiming at the adult market by coming up with these flavors, the colorful packages are no less attractive to my son. He love Sangria and Mojito flavors. But he doesn't recognize the names as being flavors in the Kiddie canon. This poses some tricky situations for me when he asked me what a Mojito is. Why should a kid be chewing a mock Mojito?

It's interesting that the three flavors I mentioned are only available in the U.S. India gets Clove. Israel is given Lemonade. Bulgaria has something called Fruit for Kids. But America gets booze! We want candy and liquor together. That says a lot about our country. And a lot about the cynical motivations of the Wrigley corporation.