When I travel, I have a list of bars and bartenders that I want to see in whichever city I’ll be visiting. My recent trip to Manhattan was no exception, and after the Repeal Day party I made a point of heading out into the snowy night in eager anticipation of having some world-class cocktails.
The first bar on my list was the Flatiron Lounge, near Gramercy Park. All of the reviews I’d read told me that this was the place to be treated to some serious bartending, and judging by the cocktail menu that was placed before me, I was going to be in for a treat.
My first drink from the menu was a Chinchona, created by Charlotte Voisey, Hendrick’s Gin Brand Champion. The drink, to the best of my recollection, contained añejo tequila, Lillet rouge and orange bitters. I watched as my bartender, Giuseppe Gonzalez, crafted my cocktail with the technical prowess and attention to detail of a true master.
Sitting at the bar at the Flatiron, admiring their extensive liquor collection, I noticed a bottle I’d never seen before. Upon inquiring further, Giuseppe brought the bottle down from the shelf and let me try a sip. Amaro Abano, by Luxardo. Rich and viscous, with a lot of cardamom, saffron and bitter orange. The saffron interested me, so I asked to try a Negroni with the amaro. Giuseppe grabbed two ounces of Old Raj gin, and one ounce each of the Abano and Campari. The Abano lent a heavier texture than Italian vermouth, something like a reduction of Punt e Mes. But considering the 2:1:1 ratio, the drink worked well, especially in Giuseppe’s skilled hands.
By this point my friends from Eugene had showed up and it was time to track down some more cocktails before heading back to the hotel to pack for my flight.
Our next stop was to be Please Don’t Tell, a new cocktail-centric bar in St. Mark’s Place that has been hugely successful since its opening this year. Unfortunately I never got to set foot inside, as the place was packed beyond capacity. Heavy sigh…
The good news was that famed bar Death and Company was right around the corner. The bad news was delivered to us by the staff as we walked in on them dismantling the bar for the night. I considered suggesting we implement the recently-announced bartender exchange program right then and there (I’d take over breaking down the bar and they could fly back to Eugene and work my shift – sounds fair, right?) but I kept my mouth shut and assured them that we’d be back.
I’ve admired Sascha Petraske’s bartending philosophy for quite some time now, and I wanted to try at least one of his world-famous bars before I left. So the last stop of the night was decided to be Little Branch, a semi-reclusive neighborhood joint in the basement of a corner building in the West Village.
We were shown to our table by the cocktail server, directly across the aisle from the bossa nova quartet that was filling the cavern with familiar, soothing melodies.
My friends and I browsed the simple and well-constructed cocktail menu and settled in on a Hot Toddy, a Bramble, and (my selection) a Bartender’s Choice with the caveat that I was in the mood for some nice rye. I was delivered a light, beautifully-balanced blend of Rittenhouse rye, Laird’s applejack and Regan’s orange bitters, bathing a single cube of freshly-cut ice.
While I missed out on half my list of bars to see during my 36 hours in Manhattan, I was humbled by the professional service, brilliant craftsmanship and profound knowledge I witnessed in the two bars I was able to visit.
I’ll be back, New York.