Friday, April 30, 2010

Second Stop in NYC - Death + Company

After my tasty Chimay and less than tasty chicken sandwich at House of Brews, I went back to my hotel to make sure I had all my addresses and contact info squared away. I get around pretty well in the New York subway, but I realized that a little research before I delved head first into the rush hour clogged tunnels would probably serve me well, especially for the part of the evening where I am heading back to the hotel after a handful of drinks. Got my bearings, made a list of the trains I needed to hit, and off I went. Next stop - Death + Company.

When you get into a conversation with someone about cocktails in NYC (which I sometimes do), Death + Co. always comes up - innovative, cutting edge cocktails that harken back to a time when bartending was a great American art. The name is tough to get a handle on - their web site mentions that, in the hysteria leading up to the adoption of the Vollstead Act and what would be the Prohibition Era (widely seen as the death of the art of bartending), those that drank alcohol were said to lead a life overshadowed by death at all times. So Death and it's company - the drinker. Sylvia Plath also has a short poem entitled Death and Co. - but since I gave up being an English measure in large part because I sucked at literary analysis (and was far too good at consuming large amounts of Milwaukee's Best), I won't even start in on what connection there may be to that.

The bar itself presents a somewhat imposing facade - dark wood and steel fronting, no windows, "Death & Co." written in script in stone in front of the heavy wooden door with a sculptural wrought iron handle. Manned by an appropriately hipster-ish doorman, the bar doesn't take reservations, and is first come first served with no standing. If the place is full, they will take your phone number and call you when a bar seat or table becomes available, but I have heard the waits can be quite long (if you consider never getting a call back "long".)

To make sure I didn't have any such issues, I showed up early in the evening on a Wednesday. My friend Ron accompanied me - a former NYC resident and long time drinking buddy from our UMD days (see above about Milwukee's Best consumption), I always try to hook up with him when I am in town to catch up. It also helps to cut down on that "creepy guy drinking alone" vibe which tends to turn people off for some reason. After being escorted inside by the hipster doorman, we entered the dimly lit bar. Lots of candlelight, dark wood slat ceilings, shimmery yet subdued wallpaper and sconces. Very much the speakeasy / drinking "establishment" look and feel. Even early, the bar was pretty full, so we chose to sit at a table - probably our first mistake of the evening.

The bar lines one side of the space, and the other is lined by small tables in the front and then booths as you move further back, with a "back bar" all the way in the back. Sitting at a table removes you from one of the big draws of the place - watching the bartenders make drinks. They do it with style and professionalism here, and having your well crafted cocktail delivered to you by a (albeit lovely and very engaging) waitress kinda deadens the experience. And the place does get loud, and these tables are close to one another, so I am sure the couple sitting next to us on a date loved hearing our conversation about...whatever the hell it was we were blathering on about. I know we dropped a few f-bombs in there, which I am sure they found romantic.

That being said, the drinks were very, very good. I had heard about the Oaxaca Old-Fashioneds they featured, so I ordered one even though it wasn't on the menu. The waitress gushed that is was a great choice and that they were awesome, and she was right. Made with reposado tequila, mescal, and agave nectar, then finished off with a flamed orange, it was boozy but light, had a great tequila flavor yet was very balanced. Ron ordered a Jack Rose, that classic cocktail made with Laird's Applejack, grenadine, and lemon juice. Next I had a Grand Street, which I only remember as being Cynar-based and quite good (I love that stuff), and Ron had a Southern Exposure, which was easily my favorite drink of the evening. Made with jalapeno infused tequila, mescal, agave nectar, and roasted red pepper puree, it was delightful - the jalapeno gave it some fruity spice, and the red pepper puree (which must have been strained since it was not at all pulpy) gave it a nice smokiness which played off the smokiness of the mescal. While drinking, we snacked on some homemade potato chips, which were great - their bar menu looked really interesting, but as we were planning to go to dinner next, we held off on the more substantial fare.

Overall, I would say the experience was....very good. The service was very attentive, the drinks were great, the space very nice. It just didn't live up to the hype I had built up in my own mind about what the place would be like. I actually think that The Gibson in DC does this formula slightly better - they do take reservations, but limit the time for people at the tables to a max of 2 hours, assuring a good amount of access to the place, and they do the whole no standing / call back thing as well. And it's a better overall space - not as loud, better layout, more conducive to good conversation and good drinks. Next time, I'll sit at the bar and risk looking like the creepy guy to see if the experience is different.

Next stop: Caracas.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Good Home Bar Is Like a Good Woman..., OK, I don't know how to end that without setting myself up for a world of hurt. But a good home bar is a thing of beauty, something which I am much more likely to be envious of than, say, someone's car or income level. Having a "great home bar" can be defined as having a great physical space for your bar (think mancave-like Irish pub in your basement), or having an extensive list of raw materials from which to make drinks. I definitely fall into the latter category - not having been born into the landed gentry, or come up with the concept for a cash cow like edible underwear, I don't have a house in which I can dedicate several hundred square feet to just a place to drink and socialize. That's what I use my living room for (and sometimes the storage closet in my basement when I am in one of my "darker" moods). But, by picking up bottles here and there over a period of a couple of years, I think I have amassed a collection of materials from which can be made almost any drink one would want to try.

Below is a list of what's in my bar (aka the buffet in my dining room) as of April 2010. It ain't an exact architectural replica of the The Ritz Bar in Paris, but I can whip you up a mean French 75 at a moment's notice.


Tito's Handmade Vodka

Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka

Elemental Organic Vodka

Elemental Organic Vanilla Espresso Vodka

Grey Goose Le Citron Vodka

Van Gogh Vanilla Vodka

Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka


Bombay Sapphire London Dry Gin

Hayman's Old Tom Gin

Hendrick's Gin

Plymouth Gin

Plymouth Sloe Gin (I know, not really a gin)

Junipero Gin

Bols Genever


Bacardi Light Rum

Bacardi 151 Rum

Cruzan Black Strap Rum

Captain Morgan Spiced Rum

Appleton Estate V/X Rum

Rhum Clement VSOP Rum

Gosling's Black Seal Rum

Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum

The Kraken Black Spiced Rum


Del Maguey Minero Mezcal

Patron Resposado Tequila

El Jimador Blanco Tequila (jalapeƱo infused)


Isle of Jura Superstition Blended Scotch

Caol Ila 12 Year Single Malt Whisky

Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban Scotch

The Glenlivet Nadurra 16 yr old Scotch

Compass Box Spice Tree Scotch Whisky

Johnny Walker Black Blended Scotch

Wasmund's Red Single Malt Whisky

Wasmund's Silver Single Malt Whisky

Copper Fox Rye Whisky

Jameson Irish Whiskey

Bushmills Irish Whiskey

Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey

Sazerac Rye Whiskey

Rittenhouse 100 Rye Whisky

Hudson Manhattan Rye Whisky

Pappy Van Winkle's 20 yr old bourbon

Bulleit Bourbon

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Derby 136 Bourbon

The Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky 12

Canadian Club Whisky 6 Years Old


Drysack Sherry

Fladgate First Estate Reserve Porto

Osborne Fine Ruby Porto


Kelt Tour du Mond VSOP Cognac

Hennessy VS Cognac


Lillet Blanc

Lillet Rouge

Martini & Rossi Vermouth Rosso

Martini & Rossi Dry Vermouth

Dolin Dry Vermouth


Aalborg Akvavit

Southern Comfort

Laird's Applejack

Berentzen Apfelkorn Apple Liquer

Batavia-Arrack van Oosten

Barsol Pisco

Green Chartreuse

Yellow Chartreuse


Disaronno Liqueur

Aperol Liqueur

Campari Liqueur

Cynar Artichoke Liqueur

Frenet-Branca Liqueur


St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur

Heering Cherry Liqueur

Stock Maraschino Liqueur

Kirschwasser Cherry Liqueur

Galliano Liqueur

Drambuie Liqueur

Benedictine Liqueur

Frangelico Liqueur

Cointreau Orange Liqueur

Kahlua Liqueur

Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur

Stone’s Ginger Liqueur

Pama Pommegranate Liqueur

LeTourment Vert Absinthe

Lucid Absinthe

Agua Luca Cachaca

DeKuyper Triple Sec

DeKuyper Creme de Cassis

DeKuyper Blue Curacao

DeKuyper Creme de Cocoa

DeKuyper Creme de Menthe

Bols Blackberry Flavored Brandy

DeKuyper Apricot Flavored Brandy

Rumple Minze Peppermint Schnapps

Bailey's Irish Cream

Creme de Violette

Creme Yvette

Orchard Pear Liqeuer

St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram

Limoncello (homemade)


Korean Soju

Korean Blueberry Soju

Plum Gekkeikan Plum Wine

Hakushika Sake


Angostura Bitters

Angostura Orange Bitters

Fee Brother's Old Fashioned Bitters

Regan's Orange Bitters

Peychaud's Bitters

Bitter Truth Celery Bitters

Bitter Truth Grapefruit Bitters

Bitter Truth Xocolatl Mole Bitters


Rose's Grenadine

Rose's Lime Juice

Alwadi Orange Blossom Water

Alwadi Rose Water

Tres Agaves Agave Nectar

TJ's Organic Blue Agave Sweetner

Gum Arabic

Sunday, April 18, 2010

First Stop in NYC - The House of Brews

This is the second time I have written this post - The Megabus' spotty wifi on the return trip to DC ate my first version. Too bad, too - it was a blogging masterpiece unsurpassed in the history of the intermanets. This one just qualifies as mildly awesome.

After a relaxing Megabus ride from downtown DC to NYC (wifi (flawless on the ride up), bathroom, comfy seats), I stepped off in midtown on a gorgeous sunny day. Strolled about 15 blocks to my hotel - I never complain about having to walk in New York, the experience is one of my favorite things about the city. Checked into my palatial (by NY standards) room, and then headed out for lunch and a beer.

Randomly stopped into The House of Brews on West 46th Street. This area is evidently known a Restaurant Row, but given the so-so establishments in the area, I found it hard to believe that this street was the only one with that designation in the city. Maybe it's just based on quantity. Since it was 3PM on a Wednesday, the place was pretty dead - one guy nursing a water, watching the Yankees lose on one of the three flatscreens. The beer selection was pretty good - more than a few Belgian bottles, including a 12 ounce bottle of Bitter XX (a large version of which I have chilling in my beer fridge), and if you wanted to shell out $450 for a 2005 Sam Adams Utopia, you could do that.

Had a draft Chimay Trippel (tasty), and a chicken sandwich and fries (not so much). But the point wasn't to have a memorable culinary experience, or to have this be the place to sample multiple beers in a sitting - it was to lay an adequate gastric foundation for the planned activities of the evening - cocktails at Death and Co. and Bar Centrale, and dinner at Caracas.

Next up: Death and Co.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Gonna Learn Me Some Booze Writin' Skillz

A couple of months ago I decided to take a cocktail blog writing class I saw mentioned on Twitter. $75, but it was in New York, and I figured I could learn something, have some quality cocktails, and then employ my newly acquired writing skills to document the whole thing.

Of course, things sometimes don't go according to plan. Two weeks before the course, I got a notice it was cancelled due to lack of interest (people probably were too hungover to remember to register). But I already had my Megabus ticket ($12 roundtrip!), and my hotel ($65 a night!), so decided to learn through experience and go anyway. Besides, that would give me more time to, do blog research.

After soliciting friends and Twitter for suggestions, set a tentative itinerary to include a couple highly regarded cocktail bars, a famous beer bar, some good eats, and some shopping. It's an ambitious agenda, but one I think I can stick to by employing some self discipline (translation: chances are extremely high the whole thing will go to hell 5 minutes after I step off the bus).

Regardless, I'll post and tweet about the whole experience as it happens. If needed, I'll let you know where to send the bail money.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone