The Art of the Home Bar (or, Low Grade Hoarding of the Spirited Kind)

01/07/2015 § Leave a comment

Quite Continental: The Art of the Home Bar

While I have yet to use the oven in the apartment I’ve lived in for over two years, one area of my kitchen that gets a fair amount of attention is my home bar.  What started out as a few bottles of my favorite spirits — no obscure liqueurs, no tools, no doo-dads — has gradually evolved into one of my favorite places in my apartment.  Its remarkable growth can be explained partially by the fact that I currently work in the spirits industry, but it’s also true that few things bring me more pleasure than collecting.

For spirits, my first look is Astor Wines.  They’re humongous.  But it’s definitely worth exploring your neighborhood to find a local shop you like.  They’ll be able to order you pretty much anything — as long as you ask them nicely.

For tools and glassware, check out Cocktail Kingdom.

For how to bring it all together, refer to the Death & Company Book.  Written by the folks behind one of New York’s preeminent cocktail bars, this tome is no joke.  Be prepared for indulgent discussions about the bar itself and the folks who work and drink there, and on how to make over 500 cocktails.  Mind you, “indulgent” in the best possible sort of way.

And if history is more your thing, David Wondrich just re-released his classic IMBIBE!, which traces the beginnings of the great American invention: the cocktail as we know it today.

Where to keep it all?  If you’re like me and have no space (hello teensy Soho apartment life), make due with the best surface available.  In my case, as shown above on Instagram, the bar is perched atop my midcentury modern dresser…which is technically in the kitchen.  I told you my apartment was small!  If you’ve got a little room to work with, I love bar carts like this one, this one and ESPECIALLY this one.

Lastly, I’m personally a big fan of straws and vintage swizzle sticks.  Add something personal or original to the mix to truly make it your bar.

Did I miss anything??

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Rabbit Hole || Dinner de Luxe at The World Famous Cotton Club, 1938

04/04/2015 § 5 Comments

Cotton Club 1 - 1938 Cotton Club 2 Cotton Club 3 Cotton Club 4 Cotton Club 5

I’ve recently been spending quite a bit of time in the NewYork Public Library’s digital collection of menus.  An incredible collection of documents from around the world, dating from the 1850s through the 2000s, it is fascinating to observe trends in cuisine and cocktails – and prices!

I am always the most excited to find menus from storied New York establishments, those still standing like the New York Athletic Club and Tavern on the Green, and others that have since shuttered, like this one, from The Cotton Club in 1938, when it occupied its theatre district location at 48th Street and Broadway.  The Cotton Club was a nightclub that featured and launched the careers of some of the most notable black musicians and entertainers of the era, but served an all-white clientele.  At the time of the menu, Cab Calloway and his band headlined a twice nightly musical review that frequently included overtly racist themes similar to the images on the menu cover — as you can readily observe from the show program. **Be sure to click to enlarge the images.

Also interesting is the expansive cocktail menu.  Most other menus in the archive from this era mention only a few classic drinks and possibly a wine list, but because its primary function was as a nightclub and not merely a restaurant, The Cotton Club’s menu features all sorts of cocktails — separated from “Fancy Mixed Drinks,” mind you.  Nestled among the classics I already recognize, I was happy to find more obscure cocktails like the “Horse’s Neck,” the “Bronx,” the “Pink Lady,” and the “Jack Rose.”  All of which prompted a quick search and mental note to try out in the near future.  You’ll also notice a drink called the “Tall, Tan, & Terrific.”  A signature cocktail if ever there was one, the phrase is a nod to the Club’s chorus girls, all of whom were required to be taller than 5’6,” light-skinned and under twenty-one years of age.

To get a sense of the sort of performance patrons viewed on the nights this menu was in use, I’ve found a great short film made by Paramount in 1934 of Cab Calloway, featuring some of his most famous hits.  Nicknamed the “Hi-De-Ho Man” after his success with his song “Minnie the Moocher,” you get to view a bit of Calloway’s distinctive singing style, his call and response technique with the orchestra, his inspired dance moves.  Love it.  I mean, his hair alone!

As an added bonus, a very famous clip from Stormy Weather (1943), featuring Cab Calloway and his orchestra as well as an amazing routine by the Nicholas Brothers, another act that called the Cotton Club home.

Images via NYPL.

Tending Bar: The Seven Year Itch

28/05/2012 § 2 Comments

While I may not be much of a cook, I do quite enjoy tending bar.  With an exceptionally warm Memorial Day Weekend (what thunderstorms?!?) and friends visiting from out of town, I took the opportunity to make my first pitcher cocktail of the season.  A bit bubbly, a bit tart, and completely refreshing, I’m calling this gin-based concoction of mine The Seven Year Itch.  To make it, you’ll need:

  • 1 1/2 cup of gin. I used Brooklyn Gin.
  • 1/2 cup elderflower liqueur.  I used St. Germain.
  • 1 cup club soda
  • 1 large handful of fresh raspberries
  • 1 handful of fresh mint, additional sprigs for garnish
  • 1 lime
  • 1 lemon
  • ice
  • large pitcher, wooden spoon or muddler, cocktail glasses

First, take all of the fresh ingredients and add them to your pitcher.
Take care to wash everything and slice up the lime and lemon.

Muddle, muddle, muddle.

Next, add a good amount of ice to the pitcher, and then pour the liquors and the club soda over the ice.  Serve immediately to avoid the club soda going flat and the ice melting.

Voila! Garnish with a raspberry and a mint sprig.

So, what’s with the name?

One of the most iconic Marilyn Monroe movies — yep, the white dress/subway grate one — The Seven Year Itch was directed and co-written by Billy Wilder and was released in 1955.  Featuring an exceptionally hot summer in New York (ahem), the story details the overactive imagination of publishing executive Richard Sherman (a role that Tom Ewell originated on Broadway), who has been left to his own devices in the city while his wife (yep, of seven years) heads off to Maine for the summer with their son.  Settling in for a long, hot few months, Mr. Sherman is surprised to find his upstairs neighbors have sublet their apartment for the summer to a model (Monroe).  Proper Wilder-esque hijinks then ensue. It’s a lovely little film and one of my very favorites.  And when I thought about what I wanted to call my cocktail, I immediately thought of Marilyn’s dress, crisp and fresh in the hot city night.  Perfectly fitting, no?

Cheers!

The Aviation Cocktail

19/08/2011 § 4 Comments

One of my favorite drinks is the Aviation, a classic, pre-prohibition era, gin-based cocktail.  I’d say it is a perfect summer cocktail, owing to its sky blue color and crisp tartness…but I enjoy the hell out of it the other three seasons of the year as well.  To make the Aviation, you’ll need:

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 ounce of crème de violette
  • 2 dashes of maraschino liqueur

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice, shake well and then strain into a cocktail glass.  Some bartenders will garnish the drink with a twist or a cherry, but I prefer mine without.

The crème de violette, a violet flower based-liqueur, will be the ingredient hardest to find.  It’s not exactly rare, but it did take me a few tries to find a shop in Manhattan that had it.  Also, make sure you’re purchasing actual crème de violette.  Rothman’s is the standard.  There are other “violet” liqueurs, like Parfait d’Amour, but they have an entirely different taste.  (Sidenote: There is some debate about the inclusion of Crème de Violette, as the recipe that appeared in the first edition of the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) mistakenly omitted it, and decades of bartenders have poured the drink without it.  I prefer mine pre-prohibition style.)

I use Brooklyn Gin for my Aviations, due to its smoothness and how its citrus notes compliment the liqueurs, but also because the gents behind the tiny distillery are personal friends.  The handsome bottle also pretties up a bar quite nicely, no?  Look for Brooklyn Gin at select bars and liquor stores around New York.

Brooklyn Gin: Website // Facebook // Twitter

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