Saturday, December 6, 2008

What I did for Repeal Day

Honestly? Not that wild. In fact, I was trying to see how much I could get done before midnight so I could be home at a reasonable hour. I wasn't planning on upping the punx or anything like that. I was tired, man. By the time Friday rolled around I was just not in the mood for putting up with ridiculousness, so when you add Friday night crowds with Repeal Day, that's too many possibilities for ridiculousness. I wish I had some crazy party stories about me drinking out of a comically huge martini glass and doing body shots of George T. Stagg or something, but I was in grumpy old mode.

Regardless of my grumpiness, I wanted to go and check out the DISCUS party at the Back Room since Jonathan Pogash was nice enough to invite me and I wanted to see what kind of shindig DISCUS would throw. When I got there, a band was playing away and I spotted Jonathan busily making Mary Pickfords. He said he marinated his own cherries using pitted dark cherries you can buy in a jar and letting it sit with some Jerry Thomas Decanter bitters and Woodford Reserve for 24 hours.

I asked Jonathan if he had an insane night planned, hoping to live vicariously through him, but he said he was probably going to finish up the DISCUS event then go home to celebrate it with his family his own way. Considering up until a day or two ago, my plans for celebrating Repeal Day was to go home and sample all the random bottles of booze I had (it's called spirit EDUCATION), I nodded in agreement. But Jonathan said I should try and stick around since Dave Wondrich was going to give a brief talk about his bathtub gin.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Toby Cecchini was there as well and making Manhattans. He also brought along his own homebrew cherries. His recipe called for half of maraschino liqueur and half rhum agricole with some vanilla bean pods added for extra flavor. He asked me if I wanted a Manhattan. Who was I to argue with Toby Cecchini? I knocked back the rest of the Mary Pickford in my teacup.

After the Manhattan, I strolled up to the bar and asked for a Girl Friday. The fruity sloe gin and crisp cucumber flavors perked me up a bit.

Terence Miller was there, and I hadn't seen him since the Marie Brizard event. It took me a second or two to recognize him and I stared at him for a bit thinking over and over in my head, "That dude is way tall and totally looks familiar."

"Is it just more does it seem like more people are celebrating Repeal Day?" he asked me.

I KNOW, I thought then explained to him how I made a similar observation in a blog post previous to this one.

Dave Wondrich got up to give a little talk about the significance of Repeal Day. How immigrants helped to perfect the art of creating single-serving drinks. How the use of ice was also a very American thing. The art of the cocktail mirrored the melting pot aspect of America.

Thanks to Prohibition, the bartender, considered to this point a gentleman with a trade that the learned, became a criminal.

This meant many went on to foreign ports like Europe or Asia, but some stayed. Maybe working for private country clubs.

Nonetheless, they had to get the wares for their trade from other criminals, and this usually meant booze with quality that couldn't be accounted for, sometimes adulterated. After Prohibition was repealed, some of the old-timers returned, but pretty much bartenders "had to build up from the ground."

"We're living in the second Golden Age of the cocktail," Dave told the crowd that gathered. "If you like to can get a cocktail as good as it comes."

However, to "commemorate the Dark Ages," Dave gave a demonstration of bathtub gin creation.

The base of bathtub gin was grain alcohol. Dave explained that sources varied. Either they were industrially made with unwanted chemicals included in the mix, or maybe something made from table scraps in a basement in Brooklyn.

For his demonstration, Dave Wondrich used some good quality vodka, joking that this was probably the best quality bathtub gin you could get.

The next important ingredient for bathtub gin was creating the gin flavor, which is juniper. The juniper extract/flavoring could be created by boiling juniper berries and straining them out.

"Now this is the really important part," Dave added. "The's aging even as we speak."

Everyone laughed and he went on to "bottle" his gin and even added a label.

The bar was serving Dave's bathtub gin martini, but I skipped out to go to Devin Tavern an Old Forester event I'd RSVP'ed to. It was A Repeal Day event as well as a media preview for the limited release for the Old Forester Repeal Bourbon. The bar was serving classic cocktails using Old Forester and had some Prohibition-era extras. Such as Fritos and chicken salad sandwichs made with WonderBread and Tootsie Roll Pops with a little bit of history on the items.

I didn't rest my feet too long in Tribeca and inched my way up towards the East Village. I don't know if it was because it was Repeal Day or drinks I had, but the grape-flavored Tootsie Pop I snagged from a bowl at the Old Forester event put me in a Kojak mood. I stuck the lollipop in my mouth and said "Who loves ya, baby?" to myself as I stuck my hands deep into my coat pockets and stalked the night streets.

I had a feeling Death and Co. would be filled to the gills, because again, come on, Friday+Repeal Day, but it was on my way so I turned my feet in that direction.

Just as I suspected there was pretty much no way in. I tried to walk past as several other parties tried their best to see if they could at least get a foot past the threshold, but something was slowing my gait. Maybe I was going crazy, but thanks to Alex Day telling me about the Rittenhouse 23 special, I felt like I could feel it beckoning me from inside. I could hear its heartbeat; practically taste it. The expectation of silky amber fire asking me to at least take a chance. "Couldn't hurt to leave your number right?" the velvety imagined voice purred in my head.

"Aw, crap, I have a problem," I thought. I left my name and number at the door, even though from the look of the list my chances of getting in at a resonable time were nil.* I sighed, then girded myself to head towards Yerba Buena.

Before leaving the country, Don Lee had dropped me an email telling me I should check out Artemio Vasquez's drink program. Artemio's an alum of both PDT and Pegu Club. Every now and then you might've seen him at Pegu when Audrey needs to call in folks for back up. He was there during the Blue Blazer event as well, working the behind the bar.

Yerba Buena was also like a can of sardines, but I wasn't going to be rebuffed so I found a corner of the bar I could squeeze myself into. Since the Prohibition special menu list was basically classic cocktails, I skipped that to take a look at their regular stuff.

The regular menu also featured some classics like the Aviation and the Dark and Stormy. There were also a few featured friends drinks such as Dale De Groff's Whiskey Smash, Milk and Honey's Dominicana and Audrey Sander's Pisco Punch.

I decided to try out the Pisco Guava first. Made with pisco, guava puree and fresh lemon juice, it was tart and not too sweet. The very slight muscat-y grapiness in the pisco paired really well with the guava.

I saw that the Desert Rose was clearly the star of the menu. I'd tried it back when Artemio's drink was featured in one of PDT's old menus under their friends and family section. It was sellng like hot cakes that evening and as I stood at the bar waiting for my drink I counted, two, five...six of them go out before I got mine. They continued to fly out from behind the bar long after too.

I introduced myself to Artemio and chatted a bit. He mentioned he made a new drink called the Peruvian Kiss, which was basically a Pisco Sour, but using blue corn "liqueur." He asked if I wanted to try it and intrigued, I said I'd like to. He got one of the servers to bring over a plastic tub of inky liquid. It was the corn, the he'd cooked down for four-five hours, releasing the flavors and color into the water. I asked for a little bit of the corn on it's own. I popped an indigo kernel of corn into my mouth and chewed on it. Yep, it was corn all right. With no special seasoning or anything. Just corn. But then Artemio gave me a glass of royal blue cocktail. I took a sip. The drink was a pisco sour all right, but there was definitely adding a certain I don't know what to it.

"Did you put any bitters into this?" I asked trying to figure it out. Artemio smiled and said no, that it was just the corn's liqueur. I took several more sips. It didn't taste like corn, but there was a different sort of vegetal something or other going on. Artemio said he called it the Peruvian Kiss because the blue corn colors your tongue a little bit.

The crowd loosened up but I was starting to feel the drain, so I packed up shop and promised to stop by again to try some of the other drinks some other time.

And that was how I spent my Repeal Day.

*I'd like to nip another rumor in the bud. I've had friends and other people ask me if I'm like the unofficial mayor of Boozetown and I just kick in doors all over New York and I drink all my drinks for free. People, this could not be further from the truth, and I've seen folks get this really disappointed look in their eyes when I tell them that. Honestly, I wish this were true because it'd make my job so much easier, but I'm just like you. I put on my pants one leg at a time and I sometimes have to deal with lines and wait lists. Every now and then I might get lucky and I admit I might have a disproportionate amount of dumb luck. However, in the spirit of keeping it real, not only am I quite rubbish at throwing my name around, but also, what name? I'm kind of not a big deal. In fact, it makes me all kinds of uncomfortable when such a thing gets suggested, because I really wish I was as cool as some people think I am.

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