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Fat Guy

The five best cocktail destinations in NYC

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I wonder if Clover Club should replace Flatiron on that list as much of the experience and talent have migrated to the former. I also think Julie's vision is being better realized at Clover.

I agree with this. And not just because I live in Brooklyn.

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If you're writing this for people who know nothing about cocktails, it's probably helpful to let them know that these places barely even have vodka, and if they're looking for vodka martinis, they're not going to be impressed.

While these places don't carry many different vodkas, don't tend to serve flavored vodkas, and don't feature vodka cocktails, all of them do, in fact, have vodka behind the bar. And, more to the point, all of them will be perfectly happy to prepare you a vodka cocktail or a vodka soda or a vodka on the rocks with not an iota of attitude. I remember talking with Audrey about this back when we were talking about how she was going to stock Pegu Club, and she said that she would only carry two or three brands of vodka and no flavored vodka. "Why not just carry no vodka at all," I asked. And she replied that, while they weren't "about" vodka drinks (although one of her signature cocktails, the Dreamy Dorini Smoking Martini, is a vodka cocktail), if someone asked for a vodka on the rocks, they would have a good vodka and would endeavor to make them the best vodka on the rocks they could offer. At the end of the day, its about service.

Interestingly, I have once upon a time in the wee hours of the morning, sat in a booth of Mlik & Honey with Audrey and Sasha, drinking Moscow Mules -- vodka drinks.

I wonder if Clover Club should replace Flatiron on that list as much of the experience and talent have migrated to the former. I also think Julie's vision is being better realized at Clover.

The last time I was at Flatiron Lounge, the talent behind the bar was as good as it gets.


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Here's a variant of the question, which is more relevant to what I'd actually write in a mainstream magazine or newspaper:

What's the short list of places (5 is a rough guide, but 6 or 7 could be acceptable -- bearing in mind that, in the world of print, the more places one writes about the fewer words can be devoted to each) that you'd send someone to assuming that person is totally unaware of the current cocktail renaissance and has never heard the words "cocktailian" or "mixologist"?

Really, if you're sending a person who is a cocktail neophyte and totally unaware of the current cocktail renaissance, the list dwindles to Pegu Club and Julie's places (with the slight edge going to Pegu, IMO).

I might take a cocktail newb to PDT, but I wouldn't send a pair of them to PDT by themselves.

And I'd be unlikely to take one to D&C or to M&H (the former because I think it's too advanced/challenging overall for a complete beginner, and the latter because it's too expensive for a beginner, there's no menu and bartender interaction is limited).


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If you're writing this for people who know nothing about cocktails, it's probably helpful to let them know that these places barely even have vodka, and if they're looking for vodka martinis, they're not going to be impressed.

While these places don't carry many different vodkas, don't tend to serve flavored vodkas, and don't feature vodka cocktails, all of them do, in fact, have vodka behind the bar. And, more to the point, all of them will be perfectly happy to prepare you a vodka cocktail or a vodka soda or a vodka on the rocks with not an iota of attitude. I remember talking with Audrey about this back when we were talking about how she was going to stock Pegu Club, and she said that she would only carry two or three brands of vodka and no flavored vodka. "Why not just carry no vodka at all," I asked. And she replied that, while they weren't "about" vodka drinks (although one of her signature cocktails, the Dreamy Dorini Smoking Martini, is a vodka cocktail), if someone asked for a vodka on the rocks, they would have a good vodka and would endeavor to make them the best vodka on the rocks they could offer. At the end of the day, its about service.

Interestingly, I have once upon a time in the wee hours of the morning, sat in a booth of Mlik & Honey with Audrey and Sasha, drinking Moscow Mules -- vodka drinks.

Death & Co has a single vodka behind the bar, and I believe PDT has one as well. While I agree wholeheartedly that if that's what people want, they should be served it without attitude, my point is simply that vodka sodas are not the reason to go to these places. If that's what you order, you can go anywhere, you don't need Pegu, and you are missing a potentially new and thrilling experience. Look, when I went to Pegu for the first time I told Phil I liked vodka gimlets - because I had no idea what the possibilities were. Someone had to show me. If this article is for newcomers, it's not going to be obvious and I would mention it. That's all I'm saying.

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If you're writing this for people who know nothing about cocktails, it's probably helpful to let them know that these places barely even have vodka, and if they're looking for vodka martinis, they're not going to be impressed.

While these places don't carry many different vodkas, don't tend to serve flavored vodkas, and don't feature vodka cocktails, all of them do, in fact, have vodka behind the bar. And, more to the point, all of them will be perfectly happy to prepare you a vodka cocktail or a vodka soda or a vodka on the rocks with not an iota of attitude. I remember talking with Audrey about this back when we were talking about how she was going to stock Pegu Club, and she said that she would only carry two or three brands of vodka and no flavored vodka. "Why not just carry no vodka at all," I asked. And she replied that, while they weren't "about" vodka drinks (although one of her signature cocktails, the Dreamy Dorini Smoking Martini, is a vodka cocktail), if someone asked for a vodka on the rocks, they would have a good vodka and would endeavor to make them the best vodka on the rocks they could offer. At the end of the day, its about service.

Interestingly, I have once upon a time in the wee hours of the morning, sat in a booth of Mlik & Honey with Audrey and Sasha, drinking Moscow Mules -- vodka drinks.

That said, there are vodka drinks and there are vodka drinks.

Whereas it's true that the staff at D&C will serve you a vodka tonic without attitude, it breaks my heart whenever I see it done. I think about all the multitude of times I've gotten turned away, and reflect on the space wasted by people who have zero appreciation whatsoever of what the place is doing.

I think people like that should be discouraged from going, just because of undercapacity.

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hate to say it, but M&H has long had a reputation as a great "closer bar"....a reputation almost as high as its reputation for cocktails (the secret number thing only adds to this reputation). (and there's plenty of heavy making out in those booths...)

I think all of these places are fine for neophytes if they're willing to show curiosity. although I'd been to Bemelman's Bar under Audrey, it was M&H which first really introduced me to cocktails. I said I wanted a gin drink and out came my first Aviation. it's been downhill from there.


Edited by Nathan (log)

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Death & Co has a single vodka behind the bar, and I believe PDT has one as well.  While I agree wholeheartedly that if that's what people want, they should be served it without attitude, my point is simply that vodka sodas are not the reason to go to these places.  If that's what you order, you can go anywhere, you don't need Pegu, and you are missing a potentially new and thrilling experience.  Look, when I went to Pegu for the first time I told Phil I liked vodka gimlets - because I had no idea what the possibilities were.  Someone had to show me.  If this article is for newcomers, it's not going to be obvious and I would mention it.  That's all I'm saying.
That said, there are vodka drinks and there are vodka drinks.

Whereas it's true that the staff at D&C will serve you a vodka tonic without attitude, it breaks my heart whenever I see it done.  I think about all the multitude of times I've gotten turned away, and reflect on the space wasted by people who have zero appreciation whatsoever of what the place is doing.

I think people like that should be discouraged from going, just because of undercapacity.

The point is, I think, that for the purposes of such an article, it should be understood that the bar staff won't look down on you or treat you like a rube if you want a Ketel One Dirty Martini. You'll probably get one of the best Dirty Vodka Martinis you've ever had. I think that we cocktailians talk a lot of smack about vodka and vodka cocktails, and a newcomer who likes vodka might reasonably think after hearing us carry on that he'd be treated like a jerk at one of these places. But the reality is that he wouldn't.

hate to say it, but M&H has long had a reputation as a great "closer bar"....a reputation almost as high as its reputation for cocktails (the secret number thing only adds to this reputation).  (and there's plenty of heavy making out in those booths...)

It's one thing to bring your date to M&H and do a little nuzzling before paying the check and heading out the door to someone's place. It's yet another to get blitzed and explore the inner world of one another's tonsils (perfectly acceptable behavior in plenty of bars) in front of everyone, and yet another to go to the bar thinking you'll pick someone up.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

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I recently took a non-cocktailian bud to D&C.

Someone had ordered mojitos, and the bartender sent out a pair of mojitos that were like works of art. You've never seen more beautiful cocktails. I'll bet they were two of the best mojitos ever served in the City of New York.

My friend said to the bartender, "I'll have one of those." I quickly suggested that he try something more special, as he didn't have to go to D&C (which we'd tried to get into together several times in the past, but never with success) for a mojito.

The bartender looked relieved.


Edited by Sneakeater (log)

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And to think that only 5 years ago the Mojito was a pretty hip drink.


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Don't get me wrong: I LOVE Mojitos. I did five years ago, and I do today. They just aren't what a place like D&C is about.


Edited by Sneakeater (log)

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Oh, I don't know about that... What is a Mojito, after all, but a white rum Julep with some lime juice and a little soda? Or, depending on how you make it, a kind of Swizzle?


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In anticipation of your asking me why not:

To me, the great glory of D&C is the house cocktail list, which features drinks that fascinatingly combine and, more impressive, layer flavors to an extent I haven't ever experienced anywhere else. That's why I think D&C is the best cocktail bar in New York at present.

It's so hard to get in there that I think it would be a waste to order an "ordinary" drink that you could get a well-made version of most places. If you're lucky enough to get into D&C, I think you should take advantage of the house drinks.

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I think I had my first mojito at the Sushi Samba in Fort Lauderdale about ten years ago. the whole stalk of sugar cane you used as a sort of swizzle stick was a nice touch.

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I'm going to recount something that happened last night at Clover Club, just in case anyone reading this thread doesn't know how Serious Cocktail Bars work.

I was there with H. du Bois.  We each had ordered our first two drinks from the menu.  As we were drinking each drink, the bartender -- I can't remember his name; he's excellent but not, I think, a city-wide "name" (yet) -- lightly asked us how and why we liked it.

For my third drink, I asked the bartender to make whatever he thought I'd like using a base liquor I noticed they had that I was eager to try (Hayman's Old Tom Gin).  Meanwhile, H. had gone to the lady's room.  (I'm not sure she's going to appreciate my going into this much detail.)  When she returned, she asked the bartender for some drink she'd seen on the menu.  He said that he'd already made her something else he was certain she'd like more.  And at least according to H., it was perfect.

That's the value of a Serious Cocktail Bar.  And that's why there's all this mania about going off-menu.  It's like an omakase at a first-class sushi bar, where the chef makes the meal up as he goes along, based on your reactions to each dish.

Just to clarify, I don't think that third drink the bartender made me was off-menu per se (it did have a name, I just don't remember what it was). It was delicious, though. Interesting to see what he came up with, particularly as my first choice was sentimental and my second was idiosyncratic.

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With the possible exceptions of Clover Club and Flat Iron,* yes.**

__________________________________________

* I hate to say anything bad about Julie, whom I adore, but I don't find she's as much of a maniac about staffing as the others.

** I haven't had the bad times at Pegu that others claim to have had.

I hate to jump in here, but I feel that I must. Actually, I am very serious about staffing at both of my establishments. It is quite a tough job to staff large cocktail bars like Flatiron, Pegu and Clover Club. PDT, Death & Co, and Milk & Honey are very small spaces which require a smaller bar staff. They also have the luxury of not having to deal with large crowds which can a deterrent for serious cocktail bartenders. Lately, with the influx of new cocktail bars run by people who do not have the knowledge to train new bartenders, we are facing more poaching than ever. If we want the community to grow, we all need to train new bartenders; which means that yes, you may come into one of the above mentioned bars and have a newer bartender who in 6 months will be right up there with the greats. Remember, Phil Ward was once a barback..... look at him now.

Also, Giu is the only bartender from Flatiron who is currently at Clover Club.

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I wonder if Clover Club should replace Flatiron on that list as much of the experience and talent have migrated to the former. I also think Julie's vision is being better realized at Clover.

Losing a barkeeper such as Giuseppe (who is, I believe, effing fantastic) would be a huge loss for any place. But filling that slot partially with a dude from D+C can't be all bad.

Then again, I may be a bit biased.


It's just cold booze in a glass. Drink it, dammit.

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I hate to jump in here, but I feel that I must.  Actually, I am very serious about staffing at both of my establishments.  It is quite a tough job to staff large cocktail bars like Flatiron, Pegu and Clover Club.  PDT, Death & Co, and Milk & Honey are very small spaces which require a smaller bar staff.  They also have the luxury of not having to deal with large crowds which can a deterrent for serious cocktail bartenders.  Lately, with the influx of new cocktail bars run by people who do not have the knowledge to train new bartenders, we are facing more poaching than ever.  If we want the community to grow, we all need to train new bartenders; which means that yes, you may come into one of the above mentioned bars and have a newer bartender who in 6 months will be right up there with the greats.  Remember, Phil Ward was once a barback..... look at him now.

This is a really, really good point. Not for nothing did I post upthread that all the top-level cocktail spots (and even most of the second tier spots) come from the Julie/Audrey/Sasha tree. It's because these are the places that have really done the lion's share of the work in developing, mentoring and training cocktailian bartender talent in the City. Julie's and Audrey's places, in particular, have their additional challenges due to their significantly larger size. But it's hard to think of any bars that have turned out more "rock star" bartenders than these.


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the Julie/Audrey/Sasha tree

Was there some proto bar where all three of them worked, or are those three separate roots?


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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the Julie/Audrey/Sasha tree

Was there some proto bar where all three of them worked, or are those three separate roots?

No. But the three of them are fairly close, have a good professional relationship, work together on projects, tend to draw from a similar pool of talent (it's not unusual for a bartender to work/have worked at multiple bars in this group -- e.g., both Pegu and M&H), etc. All three have collaborated and/or partnered on projects, etc.

More to the point, and this is something that Julie touches on above, these three owner/manager/bartender/mixologists are the ones who really have a strong and well-developed training and mentoring system in place. This is especially true of Julie's and Audrey's bars, simply because they are so large. As Julie aludes to in her post, these places are known for taking people in as barbacks and, if they have the talent and drive, training and mentoring them into the City's cocktail superstars of tomorrow. Just like musicians or writers or athletes, cocktailian bartenders don't spring from Jerry Thomas's forehead fully-formed and armed with a shaker and spoon -- they have to be born and made. These three have done most of the making, and they're seem to be the only places that are training people from the bottom up.


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Just like musicians or writers or athletes, cocktailian bartenders don't spring from Jerry Thomas's forehead fully-formed and armed with a shaker and spoon -- they have to be born and made.  These three have done most of the making, and they're seem to be the only places that are training people from the bottom up.

Of course, our own Donbert and johnder learned their trade by spending, ahem, a fair amount of time on the "civilian" side of the bar...so there are exceptions to the rule...come to think of it, Jerry Thomas's forehead and a shaker and spoon do remind me a bit of them.


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That's where the bartender/mixologist comparison comes into play. It is perfectly possible for someone to have relatively advanced knowledge about cocktail history and formulae, to be able to create good cocktail recipes, and to be able to mix great cocktails in one's home. Doing this in a busy bar is another matter entirely. PDT has been a somewhat unique opportuinity for some advanced home mixologists (and, again, one that Julie touches upon upthread) in allowing them to grow bartending skills out of their mixological skills when the opposite is normally the case. This is made possible, of course, by the relatively low volume and relatively high bartender-to-customer ratio at PDT. Needless to say, their bartending skills have grown tremendously due to their experience at PDT (as have their mixological skills, due to increased flexing of those muscles over their time there). That said, whether or not this particular kind of experience would prepare a PDT bartender for something like Friday night at Flatiron Lounge with four times the volume and still only two or three bartenders is another story.


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there last nite - they had a guest bartender from boston who took us through a few nice drinks

kudos on a great tequila sour with chocolate mole essence - reminded me of a beautiful margarita but with all the class of a well mixed sour.

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there last nite - they had a guest bartender from boston who took us through a few nice drinks

kudos on a great tequila sour with chocolate mole essence - reminded me of a beautiful margarita but with all the class of a well mixed sour.

here's a little more about the guest bartender if you are curious...

http://drinkboston.com/2008/09/12/please-dont-tell/

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