Monday, July 16, 2007

Branching Out

Having experienced Milk & Honey, I decided to pay a call on its more public West Village cousin, Little Branch. Also owned by Sasha Petraske (who was on hand the night I visited, as he was at M&H), it has the same rigorous cocktail aesthetic, and supposedly the same strict rules about decorum—although the crowd I joined on Saturday night at 11 PM was pretty boisterous and loud. But, then, what are you going to do with a bunch of twentysomethings once you pump a couple of strong drinks in them?

The space is at the corner of Seventh and Leroy. There is a courteous bouncer at the door who asked the number of your party before you're allowed to trot the flight downstairs. The ceiling is low, the bar to the right and a row of booths line the alley-like east wall. Jazz plays. (Sasha likes his bebop.) The booths were all full, but since I was alone, I didn't want to sit in one anyway. I joined a pretty sizable line for the bar, and, since the bartender took care with each drink, it was a good 15 minutes before I got to order. I didn't mind, since I knew a good cocktail would be my reward.

The man behind the bar was either Irish or Scotch, judging by the accent, and working like a Trojan to complete a series of complex drink orders. His job was made measurably more difficult by an annoying and drunk couple who wouldn't relinquish their space at the bar. Obviously fancying themselves aficionados of the drink, they kept ordering new cocktails and invited the poor barkeep to "surprise" them. The slobs thought they were charming him with comments like "She wants something with gin. I leave it up to you," and "What's that drink do when you drink it?"

Feeling for him, I kept it simple when I made it to the lip of the bar and ordered my usual bartender-tester, a Sazerac. He responded that, of course, he could make one. I was very impressed by what followed. He used Sazerac House rye. He muddled a sugar cube rather than using simple syrup (as the bartender at the Brandy Library had). And he let the rye spend a good long time resting in ice, so I got a elegantly cooled Sazerac. Later on he told me that he likes to take a little extra time with such drinks.

I drank my cocktail slowly while I surveyed the scene. It was a young scene, with many a hapless man trying to impress many an uncomfortable woman. I feel a bit sorry for young ladies these days, the way they're made to dress, in high heels, baby doll dresses and various slip-like garments. They resemble promiscuous 13-year-olds.

When I was done, I wandered back to the bar. I believe I had earned the bartender's respect with my order, so I decided to up the ante, ordered the more obscure New Orleans classic De La Louisiane. He admitted he had never heard of it. I was a bit disappointed, but I perked up immediately after when he suggested another rye-based NoLa treat in its stead: a Vieux Carre. I nodded my ascent. He turned it out beautifully. I particularly liked the huge piece of ice he used to chill it; less diluting of the beverage that way.

Little Branch gets an A in my book.

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