Wednesday, April 29, 2009

When It's Julep Time in Gotham

I wrote up a short little piece for Time Out recently targeting good places to grab a tasty Mint Julep on Derby Day (this coming Saturday, FYI). I focused to two sorts of Derby destinations: the ones where you can find a benchmark rendition of the Derby’s official drink, where the shaved ice is plentiful, the mint is fresh and your drink will be served in the traditional silver cup; and places where you'll find lesser Juleps, but appropriate house-party atmosphere. For the former, I would add to the places listed below Brooklyn's Clover Club.

Bar Hop

Q Where can I get mint juleps on Derby Day?
—Tara Lewy, West Village

A According to lore, the mint julep—a mix of bourbon, sugar, mint and crushed ice—became the Kentucky Derby’s official drink in 1938, when Churchill Downs started selling it in souvenir glasses for 75¢. The price may have gone up since then, but the $10-and-up renditions at Greenwich Village’s Little Branch (20–22 Seventh Ave South at Leroy St, 212-929-4360) and Death & Company (433 E 6th St between First Ave and Ave A, 212-388-0882) in the East Village are textbook. For a different kind of authenticity, try Floyd, NY (131 Atlantic Ave between Clinton and Henry Sts, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn; 718-858-5810) or Union Hall (702 Union St at Fifth Ave, Park Slope, Brooklyn; 718-638-4400), both owned by Kentuckians. On race day, Saturday 2, visit Union Hall for live bluegrass and $3 Maker’s Mark mint juleps. At Floyd, you’ll find free snacks, like pimento-cheese sandwiches, in addition to juleps. And the race. Don’t forget that.—Robert Simonson

Monday, April 27, 2009

Mad Men and Drinking, Season Two, Part I

I've finally gotten around to taking in season two of "Mad Men," the AMC series which has fascinated me not only because it's set in a time period that captures my imagination—Postwar New York City from 1945 to the mid-1960s—but because it so meticulously tracks the drinking habits of the time. That era was the last hurrah for serious cocktail drinking in American until the art of the mixed drink, and the culture that surrounds it, was retrieved from the grave during the last decade. There are no silly drinks in "Mad Men." Martinis and Old Fashioneds and Gimlet still reign supreme. Rye is still available. Vodka has not yet taken over. And a certain dignified ritual still surrounds the world of the cocktail shaker and the ice bucket.

That said, drinking is a much darker force in the second season of this show. All told, it ends up leading to a car accident, the destruction of one man's career, another man's falling off the wagon and initiating a none-too-pretty power play, the alienation of a lonely housewife, and plenty of bad decisions.

The second season jumps in time from fall 1960 to Valentine's Day 1962. Roger Sterling, one of the principals at the Manhattan ad agency Sterling Cooper, hasn't learned much from the two coronaries he had in season one. He still drinks fairly much, bums cigarettes off friends, and carries on with ladies who are not his wife. Martinis are still his poison, though he goes for a Gibson just as often. In Episode 9, "Six Month Leave," he states philosophically, “See, I think if I still with the clear liquors, vodka, gin, I know where I stand.” His friend Don Draper—the secretive creative director at Cooper Sterling and the focus of the program—answers, with typical cryptic opacity, "I'm the opposite."

Don still drinks Old Fashioneds, with muddled fruit—the way the drink was typically served in his day. Canadian Club "rye" is his go-to liquor. He keeps a bottle on the side board in his office. In Episode 9, when Roger, Don, and associate Freddie Rumsen visit an underground gambling den, Roger places the order—for Don, himself and Freddie, respectively—"Canadian rye neat; Will Schmidt Gibson; Grand Dad rocks."

Very few liquors beyond rye, gin and vodka make appearances on "Mad Men," but there were some interesting cameos this second season. In Episode 6, "Maidenform," accounts executive Pete Campbell served J&B Scotch whiskey to his brother Bud. Bud makes a face and asks, "What is this?" "J&B," says Pete. "They sent me a case." "This is why I don't own a TV," replies Bud. J&B made inroads in America all through the 1950s.

In Episode 13, "Meditations in an Emergency," accounts head Herman "Duck" Phillips drinks Glenlivet. As far as I can tell, this is the first appearance of single malt Scotch in "Mad Men." Duck used to work in London, and it's likely he picked up his Scotch habit there. In Episode 11, "The Jet Set," Duck is sent a case of Tanqueray by his London pals, the first time that famous brand appears in the series.

Also in Episode 11, Don is in California, where a character of exotic origins has a Campari and Soda—possibly to indicate the globe-trotting nature of the character. In Episode 12, "The Mountain King," the stock-holding sister of eccentric Sterling Cooper partner Bert Cooper indulges in Sweet Vermouth straight.

Finally, Heineken makes a showy appearance when the agency tries to collect some of the beer company's business. We learn that the Dutch beer is still not widely known or drunk in the early '60s. Draper thinks this could easily be changed. "To housewives, Holland is Paris," he argues. "They can proudly carry this sophisticated beer into the kitchen instead of hiding it in the garage." He instructs his staff to put Heineken at the end of the aisle at selected A&Ps, "away from the other beers, with some cheese and crakers and toothpicks with cellophane tips."

Responds Pete, "Housewives love green."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Memories of the Leilani

Growing up in Milwaukee, my sole exposure to the Tiki Drink universe was an exotic club along Blue Mound Road in the suburb of Brookfield, called The Leilani Motel. By the time I remember passing it by while in the back seat of my parents' station wagon, in the early 70s, the place was horribly old-fashioned. Even to my young sensibilities, I knew it belonged to the past.

When it opened, however, it was supremely hip and romantic. I was told that Frank Sinatra would entertain there.

Jeff "Beachbum" Berry forwarded me the following article, which appeared in the Waukesha Freeman (Waukesha is a small city to the west of Milwaukee) in 1961. I feel an extra twinge in my heart reading it, because the Freeman was my first professional gig as a journalist.

Tiki' Taking Shape in Front of Motels; They're Made of Lava

By Tom Barber
Freeman Staff

BROOKFIELD - A German sculptor carved South Sea island stone idols for a Polynesian restaurant in Brookfield today.

It all happened at The Leilani motel, 18615 W. Blue Mound Road, whose owners are in the midst of a $750,000 expansion program.

The motel is being doubled in size. But of more interest to most passers-by is a steep roofed supper club under construction just east of the motel.

Sculptor Gerhard E. Kroll, Milwaukee, is at work on the lawn in front of the restaurant fashioning large Hawaiian "tiki"– stone images of a religious significance in primitive South Pacific cultures.

The tiki will be used to decorate five dining rooms and two cocktail lounges in the restaurant. A large one will be placed outdoors.

Kroll has resided in Milwaukee for about two years. He studied art at the University of Wisconsin there.

The lightweight rock he is using actually is lava. Its porosity makes it easy to work. Saws, axes and knives replace the traditional hammer and chisel. Kroll expects to work a large pile of the stones into figures in about two weeks.

Along with Krolls sculpture the restaurant will be docorated with fireproof thatch ceilings, tabletops of monkey pod wood, monkey pod and coconut carvings, Hawaiian lighting fixtures and tropical plants.

Outside there will be live palm trees (to be stored indoors during the winter), fountains, and a sign illuminated with jets of fire.

Owner Paul Fecher said waitresses in the restaurant and the Malahini and Homaka cocktail lounges will wear sarongs. He hopes to hire a Hawaiian-born chef and a group of Tahitian dancers and singers to perform at the restaurant's opening about Sept. 1.

The menu will be "about 60 percent Polynesian food and 40 percent American," Fechner predicted. Dining rooms will seat 275. Banquet rooms below will be large enough for 500 to 600 persons. An automobile manufacturer will have a display downstairs.

The sharply gabled roof over the new restaurant carries out the style of the nearby motel. Both were designed by Milwaukeean Alan Wiederman. The motel addition is a two story wing attached to the south of the existing building.

Fechner has elaborate plans for future additions at "Leilani Village." East of the restaurant, on land formerly occupied by a competing motel which the Leilani bought, a heliport will be built.

Nine acres of land south of the motel have been purchased for a nine hole pitch-and-put golf course. A pond on the tract will be enlarged. The purchase of 12 to 14 more acres, where an Olympic sized pool and cabana club will be constructed.

The golf course and pool are on the agenda for next year. Sometime later, Fechner said, he hopes to build several town houses along the south edge of the golf course. They would be rented for longer periods of time than the motel units.

The Leilani was torn down in 1996. The horror of its destruction is depicted below. Wonder what ever happened to those Tikis sculpted out of lava. Returned to the volcano?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Martinez Rediscovered,

I'm learning a lot about some cocktails I thought I knew via the collection of Dolin vermouths I recently acquired. Dolin is a traditional French vermouth company. It's about 200 years old, but newly available in certain U.S. markets via Eric Seed's import company in Minnesota. They make dry, rouge and blanc versions of vermouth, and they are overall a much more subtler, gentler product that the commonly available vermouth brands, such as Martini & Rossi and Noilly Prat. Dolin is among the few remaining independent producers of Vermouth and the last producing Vermouth de Chambéry.

Using them in some classics, I've come to reevaluate my opinion of certain drinks and how they should taste. I've been used to a certain edge in Martinis that I haven't always liked, but usually attributed to a natural rawness in the gin. Now, I've begun to wonder if that unwelcome bite was in the vermouth. When I mix up a Martini with Dolin dry, it's a much smoother drink, a calmer drink, a more elegant drink.

I had similar experiences with the Manhattan, Negroni and other classics.

Last night, I tried the vermouths in a Martinez. I have always had a problem with the Martinez. I know I'm supposed to respect this drink, because its ages old and may be the precursor of the Martini and all. But, to me, it's never been a favorite. I just don't think it tastes good, with its lopsided 2 to 1 ratio of sweet vermouth to gin. I also found the drink's color, an unputting ruddy, rust-like hue, disagreeable. I never find myself thinking, "Hm, I'm really in the mood for a Martinez."

I thought perhaps the Dolin could remedy this situation. So I built a Martinez (1 oz. gin, 2 oz. sweet vermouth, a dash orange bitters, 2 dashes Maraschino liqueur) used Dolin Rouge. Aha! A much better drink. Not so rough and sickly sweet, heavy and nastily herbal.

Then I had an idea. What if I made a Martinez with the Dolin Blanc, which has the clear color of the Dry, with some of the sweetness of the Rouge. What do you know? A superior drink, smooth as ice, with an understated sweetness. Refreshing and civilizing, a genuine treat. True, a bit dull to look at (utterly clear), but, then, so is a Martini, when you think of it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Beer At...The Blue Room

My fourth in a new series at Eater, The Blue Room was perhaps the most pleasant encounter to date, a laid-back place with just the right amount of character. I'll visit again when in the neighborhood. And that bartendress was something.

A Beer At...The Blue Room

If you never looked out the window at the Blue Room, you might swear that it was on some grey corner in an outlying Chicago neighborhood, so unpretentious and unstudied is the vibe in the Upper East Side tavern. Laughs come easy and loud. T-shirts and sweatshirts hold in beer bellies. Jagermeister shots are lined up on the bar. Cell phones are pocketed and forgotten. Nobody looks like they make more than $40,000 year—or knows anybody who does.

But New York is full of curious juxtapositions. Step outside the bar, which holds down the northeast of 60th and Second Avenue, and the backdrop is unmistakably New York. A few yards away lie the beginnings of the Queensboro Bridge; above float the trams en route to Roosevelt Island. The bar’s positioning is positively cinematic.

No one’s waxing that romantic about views inside, however. The here and now is good enough, because here and now you’ve got pool in the back; you’ve got Buffalo wings from the Atomic Wings that’s found a home inside the bar; you’ve got karaoke on Tuesdays; guest bartenders on Wednesdays and Saturdays. And you’ve got Linda behind the bar, who, on one recent night, may have been partially responsible for the quasi-Midwestern atmosphere. Linda’s a dancer, and a recent transplant from the Windy City. She wore an unaffected smile and a form-fitting, cut-off “I Love New York” t-shirt—both without irony. A bottle opener was held in place on her forearm with a rubber band.

One might think from the odd assemblage of framed posters on the wall—“Blue Velvet,” “The Blue Lagoon,” “Big Blue” and Madonna’s “True Blue” album—that the bar dates from the 1980s. But the place in only five years old, and those pictures are part of the joint’s somewhat simplistic theme—the color blue. The felt on the pool table is blue. The curtains, the ceiling over the bar, all blue. Even the owner, Bob, wore denim head to foot. Me, I ordered a Blue Point.
—Robert Simonson

Previous "A Beer At..." Columns

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Best Old Fashioned in Town

I like to sample different bars' takes on the Old Fashioned. These days, seeing an Old Fashioned on a cocktail menu is not an unusual occurance. In fact, it's becoming commonplace. To name a few: at the new East Village bar, Elsa, they make their Old Fashioned with Old Overholt rye, muddled brown sugar and no muddled fruit. At Jack the Horse in Brooklyn Heights they use Rittenhouse rye, vanilla pear syrup, a homemade aromatic tincture, and an orange twist. At White Slab Palace on the Lower East Side they employ, uh, Maker's Mark, blood orange and cherry liqueur. (Haven't tried that last one; I may not.)

But the best rendition of the classic I have encountered is at Prime Meats, a new bar in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. It is simplicity itself, with one significant, world-changing alteration. There's the Rittenhouse rye, there's the sugar. But no Angostura. Instead, bartender Damon Boelte has created his own bartlett pear bitters made from a pear tree in the backyard of the bar. In the backyard of the bar. Then, to better match the character of the bitters, the drink is garnished with a big lemon peel, as opposed the more common orange peel.

This is a fantastic Old Fashioned, and I'm rather obsessed with it. I don't know if I've ever enjoyed drinking an Old Fashioned as much as I like drinking this one (and I enjoy my Old Fashioneds). It's so bright in taste, it's sparkles in your nose and on your tongue. Instead of heavy and earthboard, its light and airy. It's the first Old Fashioned I've ever had that I'd thought could be an ideal summer drink. Plus, it is beautiful to look at. Golden.

Strictly speaking, this is not an Old Fashioned because of the change in bitters. But it falls closely enough within the drink model for me to think of it as the best Old Fashioned in New York. Hyperbole, I know.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Drinking Man's Guide to Passover

If you or your spouse (or both) are Jewish, and you observe the traditions of Passover (as we do in my home), you know that the preparation for the eight-day holiday involves ridding you home home of Chametz. Chametz means bread, grains, corn, all sorts of starch.

(The drinking reader here takes a moment to consider this before light finally breaks. "Wait a minute?" he cries. "That includes most of my booze!")

That's right, imbibers. Passover is basically the enemy of cocktails, and most straight liquors in general. Kiss your scotch, bourbon, rye, gin, tequila and vodka goodbye. Even if you're pretty sure that your vodka is solely distilled from potatoes (which are OK for Passover), if it doesn't have "Kosher for Passover" printed on the label, a lot of Jewish households are going to let it in the door. And it goes without saying that your old friend "liquid bread"—beer—is banished for the duration.

So how do you get through such an ordeal? (Besides cheat, and get your drinks outside, which I'm not saying I've done, and not saying I haven't done.) Well, of course, there's wine. And, as I've stated before (though people still don't seem to get it), there are many, many good Kosher (and Kosher for Passover) wines out there. I had a few during the first and second seders, including the Capcanes Peraj Petita from Montsant, Spain, which was excellent. But there are plenty of disappointments along the way as well. I had a fairly old kosher Bordeaux which I thought would be a treat, but turned out to be tight and nondescript. I also sampled an honest-to-goodness Kosher for Passover Vintage Port, which I was very excited about. But it was disappointing, rather insipid in flavor and lacking in depth or real character.

There are increasingly some odd exceptions on the liquor market. Carmel make a KFP vodka. Many Slivovitz brands (plum brandy) pass muster, because, for some reason, religious Jews can't get enough of this paint thinner. KFP tequila would have been unheard-of a few years ago, but now there's Casa Vieja, both Anejo and Blanco, which goes for $49 and $39, respectively. That means—yes—you can have a Kosher for Passover Margarita. Now, there's a seder enlivener!

And there's also Flor de Cana Gran Reserve 7-year-old Rum, the only rum with a Kosher certification. I'm fudging a bit by including it here, since it's not Kosher for Passover, but, for less exacting households, it might be perfectly fine. Why Flor de Cana went to the bother to get this certification, I don't know. But it certainly sets them apart.

The 7-year-old is a sipping rum, with a caramel nose. The taste is smooth and silky, with a candied beginning, followed by caramel, vanilla and wood. My main complaint about it is the finish, which just drops off. But otherwise, it's quite pleasurable.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Journalist

It always pissed me off that The Journalist was such a lousy cocktail.

I remember first encountering it three years ago in the pocket recipe book of the Museum of the American cocktail. A cocktail named after my profession? A profession known for tippling? Cool. I gave their recipe a try:

1.5 oz. gin
.25 oz dry vermouth
.25 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes triple sec
2 dashes lemon juice
1 dash Angostura bitters

I shook it with ice, as instructed, strained it into a cocktail glass and drank. What a disappointment. I winced. I still wince when I make this recipe. It's too acidic, the sweet vermouth and triple sec working too hard to overcome a lot of bitterness. A perfect Martini, basically, gone very imperfect. Bleh.

Last week, I decided to rectify the drink, come up with a variation that tasted better. But first a checked a few other cocktail books to see if there weren't already some variances. I opened Harry McElhone "Barflies and Cocktails" from 1927 to see what he had to say on the subject.

Plenty, it turned out. His Journalist was working with the same six ingredients, but his proportions were quite different:

1/3 gin
1/6 French vermouth
1/6 Italian vermouth
2 dashes Curacao
2 dashes lemon juice
1 dash Angostura bitters

Instead of the ratio of the gin to the combined vermouths being 3 to 1, it was 1 to 1. Very different, particularly concerning the additional sweet vermouth. This was a much better drink, more enjoyable. Sweeter, yes, but infinitely more balanced.

I'm still not satisfied with the cocktail called The Journalist. I want to love this cocktail, not just like it. But McElhone's recipe is certainly an improvement over the Museum piece.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Your $10 Recession Wine of the Week: Chateau Fantin Grand Vin de Bordeaux 2006

What? A Bordeaux for $10? And one you'd recommend?

That's right. Hard to believe, isn't it? And it's not one of those green, reedy, hyper acidic, no-fruit Bordeaux you usually find at this price point. I found it at Smith & Vine in Brooklyn, and, unsurprisingly, it comes from the great importer Polaner Selections. (And actually, it's $11.)

According to the Polaner website, Château Fantin has been in the Houbaer family since 1890. Jean-Michel Chatelier, the current owner, is the great grandson on the maternal side of the family. The vineyard is "on the steep slopes overlooking the Dordogne river, the vineyard of Château Fantin faces outh-south-east, towards the medieval town of Saint-Emilion. The slopes and soil composition mean that drainage is good and the soil not compact. A good, sunny exposure and the beneficial influence of the Dordogne river ensure that the vines grow and grapes ripen evenly."

Blah, blah, blah. So, it's good. An even mouthful with medium tannins, and light tobacco, red and black cherries, licorice and currents on the palate. Very drinkable. Easy and good. And 13% alcohol.

Polaner—always a good bet. Crazy about their wines. Not so much about their manners. Or organization skills. For the second year in a row they forgot to invite me to their spring tasting, which is one of my favorite tastings of the year. This has set my teeth a-grinding. "Open your mind and taste," says their website. Open up your mailing list and update it, says I.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Lip-Smaragd-ing Good!

The April gathering of the Wine Media Guild was built around a tasting of Austrian Rieslings—a favorite category around this blog. There were to be 21 interpretations of the wine type, mostly from the Wachau region, but four of five went astray. Furthermore, the distributors seemed to have been a bit niggardly with the donations. Whereas as most tastings there are two bottles of each type of wine, here there was sometimes only one. I imagine this has something to do with the average price of Austrian Riesling, which is on the high side for a white. The average prices is around $30 a bottle, and there was one selection that went for $110.

That $110 bottle was a Hirtzberg Smaragd Singerriedel 2007, which I liked, though it wasn't among my three faves. Those were the Rudi Pichler Smaragd Kirchweg 2006; the Prager Smaragd Wachstum Boderstein 2007 (the category "Smaragd" roughly corresponds to Spatlese in Germany); and the Neumeyer Riesling Rothenbart 2005. Pichler, Prager, Neumeyer—hard to go wrong with those names.

Peter Hellman alerted me to the curious stuff that was going on with the palate of the Pichler. A fruity start yielded to a veritable field of herbs. Most beguiling. The Prager—the grapes for which were grown at 1,500 feet—was full, broad, and textured, with passion fruit, grapefruit and gooseberry on the tongue. The rich Neumeyer, meanwhile, had a great diesel nose, and apricot, peach, asparagus and artichoke on the palate. Just great. One of the dishes we ate for lunch was an asparagus quinoa, and my neighbor commented, "Here's the answer to what wine goes with asparagus."

Jodi Stern of Austrian wine importer Vin Divino, and Aldo Sohm, the Austian-born sommelier at Le Bernadin, were on hand to speak. I learned the rather shocking fact that, for all its press and high profile, Riesling accounts for only 3-5% of the wine production in Austria. Gruner Veltliner is tops, of course, but there are a lot of grapes behind that before you get to Riesling.

Oh, guess what! I was enjoying the wines so much I forgot to take pictures. Enjoy the white space!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Some Recommendations for Passover

I contributed this item about good candidates for the seder table to Time Out New York's The Feed blog. Do yourself a favor: find a bottle of the Bazelet Hagolan. You'll never regret buying kosher again.

It seems only right that the best kosher wines should come out of Israel. Yet it’s only in the past ten years that the country has caught up with the rest of the wine world in terms of quality. And lately—at least in the increasingly competitive kosher field—it seems to have surpassed it.

During the past year, nearly every great kosher wine I’ve tasted has come from Israel. And most of those have been either part or all cabernet sauvignon. The Promised Land seems to have a way with this noble grape. It is the most widely planted red varietal there and the one that culls the most prizes for the country’s winemakers. No wonder. Its best cabs rival anything California has to offer in fruit and drinkability, and tend to trump that state in terms of structure and a sense of terroir. Here are few bottles certain to honor your Passover table. (Note: All are kosher for Passover, but none are mevushal—the stricter form of kosher certification that requires the wine be briefly boiled.)

Bazelet Hagolan Cabernet Sauvignon: Established in 1998 in the Golan Heights, Bazelet Hagolan has quietly been making some of the best cabernet sauvignons in Israel. The area’s high altitude and volcanic soil have doubtless contributed to wines of surprising depth and age-worthiness. In past years, I’ve thought the baseline cab a better buy than the unfiltered reserve, but with the 2004, the $40 reserve is worth every penny. Blackberry, dark fruit, tar, tobacco and green notes linger on in a profoundly long finish in this beautifully balanced and complex wine.

Flegmann Cabernet Sauvignon 2006: The Flegmann family has a long winemaking history, producing in Hungary as far back as the 18th century. The tradition was recently picked up again by a new generation and relocated to Israel’s Judean Hills. This is the first vintage of the new regime and it’s an impressive debut. Purple-black in color, with blueberry and clove on the nose leading to a medium-full, fruit-forward palate of ripe bing cherry, a bit of tar and more blueberry. Smooth, easy and accessible. $32

Shiloh Cabernet Sauvignon 2005: Shiloh is another newcomer to the Israeli wine world—the 2005 is its second vintage—and it’s already doing fine work. The lovely medium-light ruby-colored lines give off scents of currants, vines and green peppercorn. That green theme continues on the tongue as flavors of currant and the blueberry that seems to be a keynote of many Israeli cabs are countered by both red and green plum and vegetal notes. Smooth, but not slick, with tempered tannins and a complex aftertaste. $27

Segal’s Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve 2004: Segal’s has been making wine for decades now and recently has scored some high marks with critics. This Galilee Cab is a silky number, with raspberry, ripe currant and mellow cloves on the palate. The flavors are a bit too extracted and overproduced, but it’s an enjoyable wine nonetheless, and good for the price. $17—Robert Simonson

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Beer At…Smith’s Tavern

I targeted 78-year-old Smith's Tavern in Park Slope, Brooklyn, for my third "A Beer At..." column for Eater. You'd think that in 78 years a place would gather some ink-stained moss, but Smith's had kept it pretty quiet all that time. That's what it's like inside, too. Sick of humanity. You'll find some peace and solitude inside.

Here's the piece:

Hate crowds? Tired of chatty bartenders? Then get yourself to Smith’s Tavern, where you will not be bothered with anything that could be called a scene.

I went to this Park Slope bar on a recent Wednesday night and found four televisions, three customers and one beefy barkeep who said not a word to me all evening. This situation did not change, except that the drinkers left one by one. Off night, I thought. So I returned at the primo hour of 10 PM Saturday night. Again: Four televisions, three customers, and one bartender, who was comparatively verbose: he said three words.

This is Smith’s: unfussy, unpopulated, no ceremony. Come in, talk if you like, don’t if you don’t, choose your beer and watch the game. It’s a good place for lone drinkers, who enter, and leave, at regular intervals, usually to partake of Smith’s signature $1.75 Buds in frosted mugs. (These are refreshing, I must admit.) A plaque behind the bar indicates that Smith’s has been declared a “Bud Man’s Bar” by the proper authorities. The jukebox expresses a certain catholic taste in music, as well as a no-nonsense attitude. One CD was titled “Beatle’s Song’s We Find Acceptable” (with that punctuation).

Smith’s Tavern has been in business on Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue and Ninth Street since 1931 and has done a damn fine job of keeping itself out of the news during those 78 years. Go ahead: try to find a write-up of the place. Telling signs of its age include the typical long wooden bar; an actual phone booth complete with sliding door and tin walls; some stained glass at the front; and a singular design scheme that could only be called a cross between wine cellar and ship’s hold.

A series of faux-stone arches border the room. Just below the ceiling at regular intervals are small carved characters—like the figureheads that used to adorn the front of old sailing vessels—of drunken men hugging mugs and casks. Most remarkable is the huge colored frieze behind the bar of an 18th-century gentleman of sorts, in pantaloons and stockings, sitting in his cellar enjoying a flagon of liquor and a long pipe. What it all means, who can tell. Nobody gave it a glance besides me.
—Robert Simonson