Friday, July 23, 2010

New York Gets a Genever Bar

I've loved the idea of a genever bar ever since my first trip to Amsterdam in 1999, when I visited the ancient, hidden Dam Square bar Wijnand Fockink, and learned the ritual bending over your filled-to-the-rim, tulip-shaped glass of Dutch gin to take the first sip.

Last year, when Bols repackaged its genever and began marketing it to the, with success, to the U.S. cocktail bartender crowd, I wondered how long it would be before somebody opened the inevitable genever bar in New York. (I thought of doing it myself for a moment.) Well, it took about a year. The place is called Vandaag, and it's in the East Village, of course. (Every new important bar seems to open in either the East Village or Williamsburg these days.) I wrote an item about the place, which will open next week, for the Times' Diner's Journal.

Incidentally, as genever has become more popular, I've grown more inpatient with the way the word is being pronounced here. I have yet to meet a person in the cocktail world who doesn't say, with the flattest American accent possible, "je-NEE-ver." And yet, on my trips to Holland, I have never heard anyone say the word that way. Genever begins with a Dutch "G," which is more guttural and breathy than an English "G." Furthermore, the second syllable is pronounced "Nay," not "Nee." The "v" is done differently, too. So the whole thing is said "huh-NAY-fer," with a bit of a guttural growl at the beginning. When I was in Amsterdam, Dutchmen drilled me on how to say it correctly. So when I head "je-NEE-ver" here, it's like fingernails on the chalkboard to me.

I know the Bols people are pushing the Americanized pronunciation in their marketing, to make the new liquor seem less foreign to Yanks. But it's really not that hard to say it right.

Genever and Dutch Food in the East Village
By Robert Simonson
With interest in the ancient Dutch style of gin known as genever growing in cocktail circles, it was only a matter of time before a genever bar opened in New York. Vandaag, near the northeast corner of Second Avenue and Sixth Street in the East Village, will be the first when it has its soft opening on Tuesday.

The cocktail and spirits program was put together by Katie Stipe, a former bartender at Clover Club in Brooklyn and now a partner with Mayahuel’s Phil Ward in the consulting firm Last Call Consulting. It will feature various genevers, aquavits, as well as beer and wine cocktails.
The chef is Phillip Kirschen-Clark, who has previously worked at Jimmy’s No. 43, Pegu Club and, more recently, Corton.
Genevers (also spelled jenever) — from which the English word “gin” derives — are often aged. They are typically headier, more malty and sweeter than London dry style gins. Mixologists have recently embraced genever as a style of gin closer to the ones used by their storied 19th-century predecessors like Jerry Thomas. At Vandaag, the genevers will be served chilled and in the traditional tulip-shaped glasses found in Amsterdam’s genever bars. Filled to the lip, one traditionally bends over the glass for the first sip before taking the drink in hand.
Vandaag will serve lunch and dinner. Among the menu items are a bitterballen, a slow-braised oxtail croquet; hete bliksem (literally “hot lightning”), a Dutch stew of potatoes, apples and bacon; guinea hen for two; and a variety of the open-faced sandwiches known as smørrebrød. Mr. Kirschen-Clark will also pair flights of house-infused aquavits with food.
There will also be a wine list dominated by Austrian and German labels, and a variety of beers, largely Dutch.
Brendan Spiro came up with the concept for Vandaag and will run it through his company, Quality Restaurant Corporation.
“The chef and I went to Holland prior to opening,” Mr. Spiro said. “We made friends with tons of local cheese producers, and some of the beers we’ll have here will not be brought in for any other accounts. They’re specifically allocated for our restaurant.” He added, “I have some Belgian beers thrown in for good measure.” Also on offer is the classic Dutch shot-and-a-beer combo known as the kopstootje (or “little headbutt”).

Vandaag, 103 Second Avenue (Sixth Street), East Village, (212) 253-0470.

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