Friday, September 30, 2011

A Beer At...Rockaway Beach Inn

I went pretty far afield for this one, all the way to the end of the A line, and then a few stop on the S shuttle. All to get to a crummy dive that caught my eye one day when I passed it on a bus. But, then, there are two kinds of people in this world: those who think a trip miles out of their way just to go to a run of the mill bar is a kind of adventure; and those who think such a detour is a boring waste of time. You know which category I fall in.

It just occurred to me that the bar's initials spelled RBI. Which would be a great thing for a sports bar. But I don't think people come here to watch sports.
A Beer At...Rockaway Beach Inn
I had a grudge against the Rockaway Beach Inn going in. The seedy denizens of this sketchy dive chased my photographer away when she tried to get some shots off. And she doesn't scare easy. I was not as abused by the rummies. But then I'm six feet tall and male. And I entered through the side door, not the main entrance, which gives out onto one of the most forlorn intersections in outer-borough slumdom. 
The Rockaway Beach Inn—a rather grand title for this saloon—has a capacious interior. The black-and-white checked floor stretches on forever, past the long, hulking wooden bar, past a beaten-up dart board and a platform lined with a drink-resting ledge, and finally sloping down to a room pool table area. The giveaway that this address has long been a bar are the massive, twin, wooden doors to the ice box—one behind the bar, one around the corner near the bathroom.
The people who drink here tend to have matted hair, like they've just returned from the sea. Most don't look like they're in a hurry to go anywhere, but a few seem to have jobs. One had an impressive array of keys hanging from his belt. Another wore a sweatshirt from a local bait company. The most active barfly kept bouncing back from his stool to the jukebox, plugging in once, sunny hit from 1970 after another. Jackson Five, The Osmonds, The Partridge Family. The bartender knew all the words to "The Love You Save." "I Want You Back" got the bag lady in the pink sweatpants bouncing in her seat.
She was sitting in one of the ponderous round booths made of rough wooden slats that line the western wall. The middle one had a round table, on which was carved the life-size image of a baseball player I couldn't identify. Prying eyes from outside were held at bay by windows armed with both lace demi-curtains and rattan blinds.
The odd ducks at the bar were two young, short bicyclists, who were obviously on a tour of Brooklyn and had stopped in for a fortifying shot and a beer. (Later, I saw them at Rockaway Taco.) At one point, an old guy wandered in from the street with a shopping bag in one hand and a bicycle pump in the other. "Bicycle pump," he said. "Bicycle pump for sale! Anyone want a bicycle pump?" I looked up at the bikers. They paid no attention to the man. Not their pump, I guess.
—Robert Simonson

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Portland Cocktail Week to Have Food Cart/Liquor Cart

I will not be going to Portland Cocktail Week Oct. 20-23, and this picture almost makes me sorry about it. This is no no mere food cart. It is a food cart-liquor cart. You can order various munchies, sure, but also alcoholic concoctions to wash them down, like punch, boilermakers, gin and tonics and Jell-O shots. Makes our New York food carts seem positively unsophisticated. 

The Oregon Bartenders Guild first opened the "Craft Cocktail Cart" on September 23 in the Cartopia Pod on SE Hawthorne and SE 12th Street in Portland. The wheeled boozer purveyor has been fully approved by the local liquor authority for a total of 10 "activations," including each Friday and Saturday night through Portland Cocktail Week. Cart partner Pernod Ricard will be providing the liquor. 

All proceeds of the cart benefit the Oregon Bartenders Guild, a chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild which is a non-profit dedicated to education and the craft of cocktails.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Flying Lobster, Le Petite Crevette's Wine Bar, Soft Opens

The Flying Lobster, the new wine bar from Neil Ganic, the owner of the popular Carroll Gardens seafood eatery, Le Petite Crevette, quietly open on Sept. 24.

The bar, which sits in a corner storefront at Hicks and Union Streets, right next door to the restaurant, has been in the works for more than a year. The space was formerly the home of the Coffee Den.

Ganic opened with a modest selection of three white wines, three reds and one sparkler. Prices ranges from $7-$10 a glass, $30-$36 a bottle. The list will grow as the weeks go by, focusing mainly on small European producers. The initial array of wines were promising, including a 2009 Carpineti Capolemole, an excellent white from Lazio; and a 2009 Decencio Rioja Joven, a restrained, light-alcohol, yet full-flavored wine which harkens back to the old-style Riojas.

There's a small beer selection, and some aperitif-style, wine-based cocktails are in the works. Ganic also plans to serve cheeses and cured meats. Music will sometimes be feature on weekends.

The wine bar's curious name is a joking reference to an incident involving Ganic which received a great deal of publicity in 2009. As the story goes, a couple at Le Petite Crevette sent back their lobster, complaining about how it had been cooked. Ganic reportedly responded to this affront to his cooking by bringing a fresh lobster to the diners' table, asking them, "You think my fish is not fresh? Look how fresh this is!" Some accounts had him throwing the crustacean on the table. Thus: The Flying Lobster. So, I guess the man has a sense of humor about himself.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Another Silly Prohibition Law Bites the Dust

The upcoming Ken Burns documentary "Prohibition," set to premiere on Oct. 2, couldn't ask for better publicity than this.

California Gov. Jerry Brown just signed into law a bill that permits Cali mixologists to use infusions in their cocktails. Of course, bartenders have been doing this for a decade, and drinkers have been thankful. But in 2010, state liquor authorities dug up an 80-year-old law that stated it was illegal to "alter" alcohol in any way. Harassed bars began to howl about the nonsense, and State Senator Mark Leno got to work. Here's the story:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Suze to Finally Reach U.S. Shores

Peruse the back bar of the better cocktail haunts in New York, San Francisco and elsewhere and you'll predictably spot a few bottles that aren't sold in this country, liquors determined mixologists have smuggled in from Duty Free shops around the world. Havana Club, the Cuban rum, is one. Amer Picon, the French aperitif that is a critical ingredient in a Brooklyn Cocktail, is another. A third is Suze.

Suze, a bitter, wine-based French liquor flavored by yellow gentian, has been produced since 1889. It was invented by Fernand Moureaux, and Picasso immortalized it in 1912 in his Cubist work "Verre et bouteille de Suze." It is still fairly popular in France and Switzerland. And in the U.S. you'll sometimes see a bartender slip it in as an ingredient in a new cocktail. But mere mortals can not purchase it at the local liquor store.

Finally, however, the Suze drought it over. Domain Select has decided to import and distribute the Pernod-owned product. (Pernod bought it in 1965.) It will start showing up on shelves in January 2012. 

According to Domaine Select, the Suze recipe isn't exactly what it was in 1889. Like so many other French and Italian liqueurs and aperitifs, it "evolved" into a more "consumer friendly taste." Which is another way of saying: sweeter, lighter, less bitter. But, for the U.S. launch, Suze is getting back to its roots. Domain Select will be importing Suze d'Autrefois, which is described as "a return to the original intensity and flavor profile." It will be modeled after the original 1885 recipe. 

$30 will be the price.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Tangled Vines They Weave

The Tangled Vine wine bar is one of only reasons I'd consider living on the culturally denuded Upper West Side. Seriously, if this wonderful bar was in my neighborhood, I'd go once or twice a week, the wine list is so good, and so ever-changing (while remaining good, no matter how much it changes).

Here's the profile of the place I wrote for Edible Manhattan:

Bottle Shop: Tangled Vine Wine Bar
UPPER WEST SIDE—Victoria Levin has a ready defense for every one of your wine attacks.
Come to the Tangled Vine, the Upper West Side wine bar where she is beverage director, and ask for a pinot grigio, America’s insipid white of choice, and she’ll charm you into trying a sterling example of Gavi, the Piedmontese white. Request something in the line of a malbec, the South American reds now in favor, and you may end up sipping a Cahors, a French wine region where malbec was born.
Don’t misunderstand. These Gavi and Cahors buyers do not feel they’ve been played in some vino version of three-card monte. They’ve merely benefited from Levin’s talent for countering an everyday order with an uncommon bottle.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The South Africa Wine Conundrum

It took a trip to South Africa to get me to fully wrap my mind around the hard-to-categorize South African wine scene. But I came back with an appreciation for the area's diversity and promise, the incredible beauty of the Cape winelands, the seriousness of the winemakers and the undervalued quality of many of its wines. I went down with an established affection for Iona's excellent Sauvignon Blancs and Mulderbosch's reliable rose. I came back devoted to so many more: Sadie Family, Raats, Boekenhoutskloof, Peter Finlayson, Vergelegen and Klein Constantia, not to mention the country's version of Champagned, Cap Classique, which is super-cheap and absolutely wonderful. (Also, Andrew Gunn of Iona has a great red blend and a pinot noir in the pipeline.)

Unfortunately, a lot of the best wines I tasted aren't easy to find here. The place where you'll find the greatest quantity of them is Union Square Wines. Go and take a look. For combining price and value, South Africa has few equals in the wine world. Here's the Edible Manhattan article: 
Message in a Bottle
By Robert Simonson
Nothing about the South African wine industry is simple.
Start with their grapes. The country’s most widely planted white varietal is chenin blanc but, as in France, that grape wears many masks, from desert-dry to dessert-sweet, clean and crisp to dense and oxidized. Sparklers, too. The country’s best-known (but not most widely planted) red grape is pinotage, a cross between pinot noir and cinsault that’s grown almost nowhere else and despised as much as it is loved. The Cape Winelands are very old, and yet, the country’s categorized as a new-world wine region, its liquid bounty largely unknown to oenophiles until Apartheid fell. It’s a region that experiments with as many different grapes as any country in the world, despite being a beer- and brandy-drinking nation that largely ignores its own (ridiculously affordable) wines, exporting 50 percent of them elsewhere. This is a wine capitol that cannot even decide whether to say “syrah” or “shiraz.”
Stateside, this makes South African wine the face at the cocktail party that nobody can quite place. Even the savviest New York wine drinker’s mind can cloud over a bit when confronted with the South African section of the wine list (if, indeed, such a section exists). France is Bordeaux and Burgundy. Germany is riesling. California is cab and chard. And South African is…what, now?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Dale DeGroff Sings

Dale DeGroff is so old school. He actually wanted to be an actor!

Long before this age of self-serious mixologists, most bartenders you met in New York were frustrated would-be actors. No they're frustrated would-be brand ambassadors. Dale's from another time. He began his bartending career in L.A., waiting to break into film. (Not the movie star good looks.) That didn't happen, so instead he turned the bartending world on its head.

DeGroff will be premiering a cabaret show at Cornelia Street Cafe in October. I've heard him sign. He's good, and has stage presence. Here's an item I wrote for the Times. It combines my two bailiwicks: liquor and theatre. I suspect this won't be the last time that sort of reporting mash-up happens.

Dale DeGroff, From the Bar to the Stage
Dale DeGroff, the man called by many the father of the craft cocktail movement, began his career as many a bartender has — slinging drinks while waiting for his acting career to take off.
Mr. DeGroff will return to his roots on Oct. 5, when he’ll sing and tell tales in a show called “On the Town With Dale DeGroff: A Salute to Saloons, Neighborhood Bars and Legendary Cocktail Palaces,” at the Cornelia Street Cafein Greenwich Village.
The show “is an opportunity to reveal bar life in the way it naturally unfolds at the bar — telling stories,” said Mr. DeGroff, who has been known to croon a tune or two at liquor industry events and the occasional wedding. “As for the songs, ‘saloon singing’ has a long history and I, for one, want to hear more of it.”
The barman will lend his voice to Hank Williams’s “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “This Is So Nice (It Must Be Illegal),” by Fats Wallers and George Marion Jr., “Lulu’s Back in Town,” by Al Dubin and Harry Warren, and “Scotch and Soda,” a hit for the Kingston Trio. While he is singing, audience members will sample three cocktails— an absinthe frappe, the Major Bailey and the yuzu gimlet — and hear the stories behind them.
“On the Town…” will play a longer run at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, N.J., next May.
“This show gives me a chance to bring performing together with bartending,” Mr. DeGroff said. “They aren’t that far apart to begin with.”
“On the Town With Dale DeGroff: A Salute to Saloons, Neighborhood Bars, and Legendary Cocktail Palaces,” the Cornelia Street Cafe, 29 Cornelia Street (Bleecker Street), Greenwich Village, (212) 989-9319. Tickets are $20, including three drinks.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Beer At...Whiskey Wind Tavern

For this Eater column, I went out of town—a first for "A Beer At." Actually, I didn't go out of town expressly to write about this bar; I was already out of town, and found a bar to write about. But I knew about the Whisky Wind anyway. I've love it at first sight by name alone.
A Beer At...Whiskey Wind Tavern
On this, the last big weekend of summer, "A Beer At" follows the vacationers to the east end of Long Island, to the North Fork, where the wonderfully namedWhiskey Wind Tavern has been comforting old Greenport salts for three quarters of a century.
Most of Greenport's Front Street shuts down when the air turns cold, but the Whiskey Wind keeps its beacon on, offering the locals pool, foosball, a jukebox and a line of draft that includes regional pride Blue Point beer. Decor-wise, the only thing inside as interesting as the unique neon sign that heralds the bar's presence to the passerby is the old wooden bar, the round-framed mirror in the middle of which evokes a ship's wheel.
Old photos indicate this is the same bar installed by Bill Worth in 1940, when he founded the joint as Bill Worth's Rendezvous. Worth was a bootlegger who ran a Prohibition-era roadhouse by the name of the Worthwhile Inn. The bar was was then Meyer's Bar & Grill for a while before James Kuhlman bought it in 1993.
There's a sign behind the bar that reads "It's tourist season—why can't we shoot 'em?" But on a recent night, the Whiskey Wind wasn't dealing with too many tourists. And this being the north, not the south, fork, there was little danger of any slumming celebs. The stools were filled by locals and regulars, all men, all chatty, all about twice the age of the sweet, short, blonde and very young barmaid. The tavern is open until 2 AM, which is plenty late for this hamlet. You can be sure that the Whiskey Wind's lights are the last to go out to go out in sleepy Greenport.
The odd name, by the way, supposedly harkens back to the days when fisherman would wait out hurricanes or nor'easters—called "whiskey winds"—in their local saloon. So, was Irene a whiskey wind, then?
—Robert Simonson

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Of Pitcher Cocktails and Cecchinis

Pitcher cocktails will play a central role in the cocktail program at Greenwich Village's Frankies 570 Sputino, the latest in the growing Frankies empire, set to open Sept. 6. Staking out a middle ground between cocktails and punches, pitcher cocktails (and we're not talking Sangria here) have been picking up steam for a couple months now, popping up at Mayahuel, 1534, Prime Meats and Vandaag (whose erstwhile beverage director will now be working some shifts at 570).

One other intriguing aspect to the Frankies 570 cocktail menu, which didn't make its way into the Times article below, is the fact that new restaurant will have a seasonal cocktail called a Cecchini. "We don't have cranberry juice behind the bar, so we're not going to make Cosmopolitans," said Cabell Tomlinson. "Instead, we're going to do a season 'pink drink' and call it a Cecchini, after Toby Cecchini. It will be a variation on the Cosmopolitan." Cecchini is the well-known New York bartender who helped to popularize the Cosmopolitan in the late 1980s, and has never quite escaped from the shadow of that modern "Sex and the City" classic. Tomlinson checked with Cecchini before using his name. "He said, 'I'm never going to get that albatross off of my neck, so go ahead.'"