(videos near the end of this post)
"...90 percent of the reason I'm here is because I want to see fire," I said to Alex Day as I nursed a Whiskey Smash.
The setting? Pegu Club. Six contenders were set to duel in their mastery of the most basic of elements required for human life. Fire and alcohol.
To kick off Slow Food NYC's first annual "Slow Drink Week," Audrey Saunders was hosting the launch reception at Pegu. Slow Foods NYC announced last week that several restaurants and bars in the city would be participating this week with their own menu of "slow" cocktails.
Pegu was serving its own list of slow cocktails that evening with a list of hors d’oeuvres.
(Part of the proceeds from Slow Drink Week, as well as the ticket sale for the opening reception, will go to benefit Slow Food NYC's Harvest Time Program, including Good Food Education, a Youth Farmstand, and Edible Schoolyards at schools in East Harlem and Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
For a list of participating locations and dates provided by Slow Food NYC, click here.)
Earlier in the evening I greeted Eben Freeman, Alex Day and Joaquin Simo at the door of Pegu as we got ready to enter. I was asked how my cocktail education with Eben was going. I answered that it wasn't going too bad, but practicing with the shaker wasn't going too well because, "it sounds like nothing."
"It's all right as long as it sounds like a good nothing," Eben said with a smile.
Wait, was he just messing with me or did he just drop some kind of Yoda-like aphorism that I needed to get to be the best cocktail shaker EVER? I decided to go with the former to make it easier for everyone involved.
Upstairs the crowd was pretty big, but it wasn't too packed, which was nice. Pinballing around I found myself bumping into folks like John Deragon, Phil Ward, Jim Kearns, Don Lee and Naren Young. I spotted Dale DeGroff in his snazzy red jacket and Dave Wondrich's top hat teetered around in the crowd.
Now that I was feeling better, I figured I could slowly wade back into drinking, but was still mildly worried about my body taking terrible offense to that. I sipped at a French Pearl that went unclaimed. Just then Gary Regan walked by me and cryptically warned, "You behave yourself now."
Though I knew he said that independently of what I was debating in my head, I couldn't help but reluctantly put down the half-empty glass.
After a few words from Audrey Saunders and the drawing of straws, the Blue Blazer Mix-Off started with Dave Wondrich and Jim Meehan. They went for a historical and patriotic theme with their presentation of Jerry Thomas' Spread Eagle Punch. The liquid was Blue Blazerfied then poured into glasses with a gelatin (I didn't catch what was in it, if anybody could let me know what was in the gelatin, that'd be awesome).
The second group to go was Gary Regan and Phil Ward. The two warned that they had not practiced their Blue Blazer beforehand, but had a "special ingredient" on hand that they said was a tip of the hat to Eben Freeman. After a couple of false starts, Phil fortified the mixture a bit more and Eben jumped in to offer the service of a blow torch.
The third team was Dale DeGroff and Kenta Goto. With a recipe concocted by Kenta with the help of Audrey, Dale showed off his liquid fire taming skills as Kenta added some (literal) flare to the presentation by tossing cinnamon powder into the line of fire to create sparks. Instantly, the place was filled with the scent of what seemed like apple pie. The drink was then poured into cored apple halves.
Though these were the three teams announced to compete, Audrey announced yet another surprise team that would be participating.
Johnny Iuzzini and Dave Arnold tried their hand at competing with a more of a "scientific" approach. Dave utilized a kinda sorta technically illegal ingredient of a 120 proof tea-infused vodka of sorts for a Blue Blazer twist on a tea and lemonade drink. Then using a hypodermic needle, the liquid was shot from across the bar into a caraffe/pitcher held by Johnny Iuzzini. His forearm caught on fire. And while it was insanely cool to watch, it did smell like burnt hair at the bar.
But before I go on, I'd like to apologize for my unsteady camera hand and lack of lighting. I'm still not used to capturing video and it was dark in that bar to better capture the flames. Kind of lame excuses, but what can you do. Hey, I'm the one providing a service here with a video for those who couldn't attend. Also, this is a hardy drinking group. There might be some blue language. Maybe not R, but perhaps a PG level. If salty language is not your thing...I really don't know what to tell you.
I didn't stick around to see who ultimately won, because in my mind everyone's a winner...or something like that. Instead I headed over to Death and Company to bug Alex Day (he had to leave in the middle of the Blue Blazer Mix-Off to start his shift) and Thomas Waugh for a bit. I tried to get a head start on trying some new drinks for when the menu update rolls around. Out of the couple I tried, Thomas' Strange Brew won me over. With gin, pineapple juice, lemon juice and falernum it didn't seem like the usual drink I'd go for unless I was in the mood for something light. However, Thomas topped it with a bit of Hop Devil IPA that gave it a hoppy kick. I have to say, the guys at Death and Co. have been doing a pretty decent job of helping me get over my fear of sweet drinks.