Saturday, November 26, 2005

Found this link at Gawker - a site devoted to finding free booze in Manhattan. You might think I'd be more excited that somebody has decided to spend their days in pursuit of open bars but, in general, I'm against free booze. Well, it's okay sometimes if it comes your way by accident - for example, if in a bar the house suddenly buys you a round, it's a great moment when you know you've made the cut. That's okay, but going out and looking for drinks is well, unseemly.

At my local, where I worked for some time, we always shake our heads at the behaviour exhibited at Christmas and regulars' appreciation parties. That guy who drank coffee refills all year has suddenly acquired a taste for single malts; the woman who has a glass of red wine once a week is ordering rounds of B52s - which I'm sure she doesn't even like. I never want to be associated with that sort and tend to avoid venues where I might get confused with them. Perhaps my reaction is extreme - I was traumatized by an evening out with a group who ordered a round of the cheapo shooters which were advertised as undrinkable. They drank the stuff and then proceeded to complain (in all earnestness) that they were atrocious and should be taken off the bill. Management agreed they were awful shooters and offered to buy the table another round of the exact same shooters by way of an apology. My friends accepted. The shame stayed with me for years like a foul odor.

At any rate, the whole Manhattan bar thing reminded me that I have never written of the cocktail trail in New York in late September and that I certainly have fallen behind. In my defense, I did have a book to launch.

The first stop was the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis. Gateway to America for the Bloody Mary (then known as the Red Snapper) I had to order one. It was excellent and I certainly had to have the Snapper for obvious reasons, but while sipping my drink I would occasionally stop examining the beautiful mural in order to watch the spectacular bartender - whose movements would have been envied by Balanchine - make a martini. He even had me second guessing my longstanding ideas about shaken, not stirred. In the words of Jack Nicholson, he made me want to be a better bartender. Or, was he the guy who said take the celery stick and hold it between your knees?

My reverie was interrupted by the sudden realization that I was late to meet my friend at the Monkey Bar. Now she knew better but I had made such a big deal about drinking in Tennessee Williams' old haunt that she condescended to go with me. It's not a bad bar, exactly, it's just that the bartenders, unlike the poetry in motion I had witnessed at the St. Regis, were just your average sort making up primate-themed drinks, heavy on the banana liqueur, and couldn't even answer the burning question: "Do you think Talullah really stripped here?" The crowd, who were practically spilling out onto the street, were surely the sort of people our forefathers had in mind when they coined the term hoi polloi. It was so crowded I couldn't properly enjoy the spectacular jungle murals.

So, we headed for dinner at Cowgirl where they made a decent enough Margarita and wound up at a nondescript bar near the hotel.

The next day, after lunch at Steak Frites and fighting elbow to elbow with millionaires for clothing bargains, I was rejuvenated by one of the best blood orange margaritas I have had in my life at a place called Sensa. Strength restored, we made our way to the Delta Grill in Hell's Kitchen (now Clinton?) for an adequate bourbon sour and a first-rate filet mignon.

Siberia was the next stop. Known for being a place you'll enjoy in part for its lack of velvet ropes, we were dismayed to see velvet ropes almost immediately. This would be a turn off anywhere but is most disconcerting when the club is across from the Port Authority. Fortunately, the bouncer saw our dissapointment and sent us around the corner to Bellevue Bar. What luck - cause this place goes down as one of my all-time favourite bar experiences. Motorhead and Peggy Lee on the jukebox, a stand up Galaga machine, cheap drinks, what more could you want? I strongly urge anybody in the area to go check out the bar known as the "last dive bar left in Manhattan." Tremendous.

Our final night started right after brunch. We were enjoying a Bloody Mary at the Blind Tiger on Hudson (which I'm sorry to say is closing or at least relocating) when we decided it was time to redouble our efforts. Passerby was on my list but not open for afternoon drinking so we waited out the rain at a Belgian-style brasserie in the meat-packing district. Then we high-tailed it to the Flatiron Lounge, which I'm pleased to say had about the best cocktails I've ever had in a bar. The Juniperitivo was only perfect, as was the entire flight Julie, our superb bartender, prepared for us.

A quick drink at the laid back beat landmark Kettle of Fish, followed by a truly excellent pork dish at a Cuban place on Christopher (I look forward to returning and trying a mojito when they get a full license) and it was on to Employees Only, where Henry entertained us for a couple of rounds. We ended the evening at Pegu, where Toby lived up to his reputation as the best bartender in New York. We never quite made it to Milk and Honey that night. It seems the days of coming home just in time to shower and get a cab to the airport are over for us. A blessing in disguise, perhaps; now we have something to look forward to when we return. And, always good to know that other Canadian cocktail aficionados agree about where to drink in NY.