Saturday, May 2, 2009

May Day Bar-nanza

May 1

I promised Adam Ramsey that I'd try to stop by Phil Ward's new tequila and mezcal themed spot Mayahuel this week. And I also needed to stop by Dutch Kills since I received a text message from Richard Boccato that folks should show up at 9:30pm to enjoy the official opening of Dutch Kills. It was time for a twofer evening.

I almost walked past Mayahuel on 6th street, until I noticed that I was walking past a structure I hadn't seen on that street before. It looked like the outside of a wooden shack, if a wooden shack were to be well-made and finished with a dark stain that is. I paused and stared at it from across the street before informing an NRN co-worker accompanying me, "I think that's the place."

Sure enough, a small unassuming framed sign hung on the doorpost simply said, "Mayahuel".

It cozy interior was decorated a plenty with mosaic, glass tiles and the Virgin of Guadalupe candles.

Our bartenders for the evening were Adam and Rob. Besides tequila and mezcal, Mayahuel's cocktail menu also features a beer cocktail section so I started off with an El Jimador's Shifty (pineapple infused mezcal with lime, sugarcane and Negra Model with spiced salt rim). What I liked about this was the beer's flavor wasn't lost in the mix and instead worked with the very slight underlying fruitiness and sweetness of the pineapple infused mezcal and sugarcane. You could taste all the ingredients in the drink without too much fuss. I asked Adam what the spiced salt was made of and he informed me it was a mixture of salt sugar and cayenne. Even though it was light and refreshing, at the same time the spiciness from the cayenne with a little smoky mezcal gave it an oomph in the "is this substantial?" column.

The next drink I ordered was from the section of the menu featuring drinks incorporating tea. My Git Ur Lapsong Souchong (Smokey Tea infused Blanco tequila, lime, agave nectar and tamarind soda) got a "mmm" of approval from my companion.

I stole a sip off of my fellow tippler's Division Bell (Joven mezcal, Aperol, Maraska and lime). The bitterness from the Aperol bounced off of the mezcal in an interesting way.

As soon as the Division Bell was done with Rob had a Raspberry Charade, a drink made with raspberry tea infused tequila, ready because he had overheard my companion say that she would order that next. We both gave our thumbs up to this amazing display of attentiveness and timing.

Adam treated us to an R'Cobbler (Blanco tequila, Campari, Carpano Antica, Punt e Mas with xocotatl mole bitters), which he said was a favorite of his from the menu. The closest flavor comparison I can make is that it reminded me of a bar of dark chocolate with orange zest/candied rinds in it.

I had asked Adam earlier if Phil was going to be in and Adam said that he was floating around, sure enough Phil came in and was busy bustling to and fro, greeting people at the door, getting people settled with an air similar to that of an anxious, yet proud dad pacing in front of the delivery room and handing out cigars.

I congratulated Phil on the new place and asked him when it had officially opened. From what I'd heard, technically May 1 was the official open date, with a sort of soft opening type set up fro the past week or so.

"That's what we've been telling people," Phil answered. "But I consider we've been open since we started accepting money."

Speaking of money, for those of you thinking of stopping by, keep in mind that Mayahuel is cash-only at the moment.

The rain that drizzled, then came pouring, once again turned to drizzle and finally stopped and I decided to take advantage of the break in the weather to make my way towards Queens to visit Dutch Kills.

I went from damp and drizzling to melting away in the humid heat inside of Dutch Kills. I overheard someone say that the air conditioning would be in place in three days. Despite the wilting humidity, the place was full of people, and at the same time the almost oppressive damp heat lent an odd bit of atmosphere to the place with its tile floors and wooden fixtures. You almost felt like you really were sitting in an actual speakeasy or juke joint. The the scent of fresh varnish lingered in the air as a testament to the newness of the place.

People were crowded around the bar in the back. I hung around the edge of the crowd and witnessed a lone Richard Boccato manning the bar, working like a drink-making automaton. I was hoping to lean over the bar to give my congratulations, but I felt like an interruption and loss in concentration at that moment would just be a danger to him and the people around him. He was in a groove.

There was one other service bar, and I could see several servers, including familiar faces like Vito and Sasha Petraske moving back and forth hurriedly with their trays to serve the crowd.

Alex Day managed to find me amidst the people gawking about the bar. I hadn't seen him in forever and I crashed his table of friends and family. I ordered a Queens Park Swizzle (rum, mint, sugar and angostura bitters) and was very happy with my choice when it arrived. It was in a tall sweating glass filled to the brim with crushed ice with three distinctive layers. The bottom, a green undergrowth of muddled mint, the middle a pale golden glow of light rum and lime, and the top a soft mahogany sfumato of angostura brown. I know I sound like I'm describing Shangri-La, but I think in that heat you can't help but get hyperbolic over something looking that cool and inviting.

Everyone at the table fell in love with the menu's design. The wooden cover was inlaid with patterned and finished paper while the actual, replaceable paper menu looked like a page out of a store's log from the early 20th century with the company's logo and product art. At the same time it was editable by hand since the menu had spots where drinks and their description could be handwritten.

Other drinks on the menu (written in and dated May 1 by Sasha it looked like):

Astoria Cocktail - orange bitters, gin, dry vermouth

Flushing Cocktail - vermouth, brandy, Angostura bitters

Holland Razor Blade - Holland gin, lemon, cayenne pepper

Steinway Punch - whiskey, curacao, lemon, sugar

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Blue Owl's springtime cocktails

A little while back I missed out on an opportunity to attend a party hosted at the Blue Owl Cocktail Room hosted to introduce their spring cocktail menu. So instead, I sat down with Charles Hardwick a little while back to talk about the spring menu, try out a few drinks, and make up for the horrible truth that I never visited the place though I feel like I see Charles all over the place.

Charles said that he tries to keep Blue Owl's menu seasonal, but added, "If a drink is popular and well-suited, it'll carry over."

The menu has a broad range, however "at the same time it slightly subverts what normal patterns of drinking are."

So for people who would not regularly drink gin, Charles said something like the Barrelhouse Fizz would be appealing. Especially with its color and raspberries, from across the room it's visually appealing enough to make a guest ask for it.

Charles usually limits his cocktail menu to 12 drinks, but he still tries to mix it up.

"I try to have several long drinks and not make it all martinis," Charles said. He also tries to showcase a wide variety of spirits such a gin, rye whiskey and cachaca.

Located on 2nd Ave., between 12th and 13th street, the lounge's location seemed like the type of place where where the crowd would vary. It also has a mix of atmosphere going on, because it serves cocktails the quality of those you could find at some of the more buttoned-down, Prohibition-reminiscent places in the city. At the same time if you check out the lounge's calendar online, you see that Blue Owl also hosts regular events with live music and DJs, making it a sort of occupy a plane of existence in between cocktail lounge and chill club. It probably works in the Blue Owl's favor considering the mix of people that populate the surrounding area. It's residential in the sense that people live there, but it's not far off from offices where people work and is in the vicinity of NYU. On top of that, it's got public transportation on lockdown since it's within walking distance to Union Square and then there's the L along 14th that let's people off just two blocks up.

"It's fairly diverse and depends on the day and time of day," Charles said about the clientele, whether it's working professionals or people from the neighborhood.

According to Charles, the bar gets a lot of professional women patrons who find the lounge to be a spot where they don't feel the pressure of unwanted attention and can relax and enjoy their drinks. Charles said that there's also a younger segment of those coming in from Williamsburg who are very much into cocktails and have done their own research or reading into the topic.

What I wasn't expecting to hear was that the spot attracts a lot of people who are on Internet or blind dates. In Charles' opinion, this was because Blue Owl is a place where people can feel comfortable and works as either a starting off or ending point to an evening.

Charles was generous and I got to try out a good chunk of the spring cocktail list. The following are a couple of the drinks I tried:

The first drink I got to try was the Rube, (Plymouth Sloe Gin, Lillet Rouge & fresh Orange Juice, garnished with an orange slice), a drink named after Rube Foster, the famous Negro League player, Manager, and founder of the Negro National League in 1920.

The Kipspringer (Bols Genever, Dolin Bianco Vermouth, Orange flower water, Orange bitters, garnished with an orange twist) packs an orange-scented punch, but has a bit of that little something with the flavors of genever and vermouth, that to me seemed to recreate the flavor of orange in a kind of abstract way. Charles said that when he sets out a cocktail glass and sprays it with a bit of the orange flower water, the scent creates a sort of anticipation and attraction.

Charles called The Ellison (Hendrick’s Cucumber and Rose Petal-infused Gin, muddled mint and cucumber, fresh lime-juice, with a dash of bitters. Shaken and served up, garnished with a slice of cucumber) "the most popular cocktail" on the menu. It's one of the holdovers from the previous season that's also been around the block. The recipe was given to Jim Ryan to be part of a list of recipes for Hendrick's Gin, then Charles was hoping to have it added in the new Mr. Boston's book that Jim Meehan was putting together. It then just sort of spread out from there and roams the wild now like a feral child, with reported sightings every now and then. Charles said he frequently meets customers who tell him, "Hey, do you know they also make this at...?". In an effort to reclaim the drink, Charles tweaked it by adding a spritz of rosewater.

The Madero, made with Milagro Tequila, Green Chartreuse, Cointreau, agave syrup, cilantro & fresh lime juice, caught my attention with cilantro, because seriously, I know some people can really, really, REALLY dislike cilantro. The whole thing comes together in my humble opinion because the cilantro kind of teams with the herbal complexities of the Green Chartreuse. Then the agave syrup and tequila sort of their own flavor going on so really you're not necessarily being hit over the head with the cilantro. It's still there, but it plays well with the other ingredients.

Charles said that his thinking behind The Marisco Sour (Bar Sol Pisco, Marie Brizard Crème de Banane & coconut water) was in trying to create a tropical drink with the flavors, minus the syrupy sweetness. Photographed in the middle.

Dutch Kills to finally open?

Well, at least according to Giuseppe Gonzalez's Facebook status update from this morning, the long elusive opening date of the Long Island City bar is within reach:

"Giuseppe Gonzalez is telling the world that "Dutch Kills" is officially opening Friday, May 1st... Come and have a drink... or several."

You can be sure I'll be there to confirm this with my own two eyes. Hey, it's on my way home. Or at least in the same borough as home.