Thursday, 16 August 2012

Whimsy and the City!

Dearest Readers, 
I have just returned from a city break in NYC! Whilst you are all aware my poison is (generally speaking) cake, I felt that I simply must take a break whilst on holiday and enter the alcoholic equivalent of baking: cocktails. As I explained to one exceptionally polite bartender, making a cocktail is rather like baking a cake:- if the ingredients are not in full proportion then the cake/drink won't taste quite right. Seeing as NYC is the ultimate cocktail-capital I felt it my duty to bring you tales of three secret cocktail bars where the drinks are up there with the finest of cakes...

1. PDT
Part of the thrill of the NYC cocktail scene is that each bar seems to come with either a secret entrance, a hidden door, or it's own speciality that enables it to stand out from the crowd. These are not your average British drinking spots, nor are they treated as such by the patrons. PDT (full name 'Please Don't Tell')  is situated on the effortlessly hip St Mark's Place in Manhattan's Lower East Side. (I intend to LIVE in the Lower East Side one day.) To enter PDT you must first pick up the courage to go into a slightly sunken 'gourmet' hot dog shop called 'Crif Dogs':

Once inside 'Crif Dogs', the fun begins! On your left as you enter the restaurant you will see a wooden phone booth...step inside and all is revealed. A hand-written note invites you to dial PDT on the phone and then you await your reception from an immaculately groomed gentleman in a perfect three piece suit with slicked down, side-parted hair. I couldn't possibly tell you any more than that or it would ruin the surprise on entry, but  - traveller's tip ahoy - it really is advisable to book a table (by phoning from 3pm on the day you wish to go) otherwise you have to join the 'walk in' queue from 6pm and most people leave disappointed...
I really do believe all bars should i) be hidden ii) have smashed-mirror toilets and iii) come with a strict etiquette. I might like them all more were this the case. Now to discuss the drinks! I had a Tompkins Square  named after the local park and SIBF had a Paddington Bear named after, ummm, Paddington Bear. The Tompkins Square was PDT's take on a Cherry Manhattan and utterly delicious - dry and crisp with the most succulent maraschino cherries ever to be tasted. I was instantly transported to a finer and more glamorous time. SIBF's Paddington was made with real marmalade in the drink and absinthe and citrus juices mixed with rum. He drank it under PDT's very own Paddington and enjoyed it immensely! We did stay for another drink and the bartender was more than happy to experiment on the theme, so I had my own bespoke version of the Tompkins Square which was extra dry with added absinthe (!). Suffice to say the East Village looked even more like the streets were paved with gold when we emerged from our speakeasy...

If PDT is a super-cool underground speakeasy with slightly tongue-in-cheek humour, then Death & Co is the darker older brother who listens to Joy Division in his never-lightened room and has slightly sinister friends. Whilst Death & Co (situated on East 6th Street) does not have a secret entrance, it does not exactly advertise itself either. There are no signs, just a hipster doorman glued to his iphone and a dark oak panelled doorway. Inside it is like the darkened glistening gleaming den of your deepestly dark dreams. The bar is seemingly lit by candlelight and it takes a good twenty minutes for your eyes to adjust fully to the Hadean land in which you find yourself. Once they do, you can savour the sleek bar and gaze in awe as the mixologists craft their drinks. 
SIBF and I had been reliably informed that Death & Co's "thing" was "ice". We weren't sure exactly what this meant until our cocktails arrived. I ordered the Jekyll & Hyde - a short whiskey drink featuring CINNAMON BARK SYRUP, yes, cinnamon bark syrup!! - and it tasted of Victorian libraries. Smokey, sweet and slightly dangerous. But in terms of ice, to preserve the intensity of the drink it came served in an old-fashioned glass with one huge ice cube in it - I mean the ice cube was the size of the glass - meaning the ice dissolved less quickly and so the drink stayed the same until the last drop was drunk. Sublime.

3. La Esquina
Finally, dear Readers, should you find yourselves in NYC on a Saturday night in need of a more 'weekendish' secret bar, then please allow me to alert you to La Esquina between Kenmare and Lafayette in Soho.
This may look like a Taco take out (and if the reviews are to be believed, the tacos are pretty good!) but deep under the streets in the subterranean bowels of New York City is a hidden TEQUILA BAR!! To enter this fun-tastic bar-disco (which was playing, bizarrely, mostly British indie tunes when we were there) you must go into the Taco stall and be sussed out by the man guarding an intriguing looking door in the wall. If you pass the test (I'm not sure exactly what the test is, but we were there with a real New Yorker, director extraordinaire, and he sorted it out for us) you are ushered through the doorway, down a long staircase, across several winding corridors and through a KITCHEN where they make the Tacos for upstairs until finally you come out in a lively Tequila bar with booths, bar stools and an area for dancing. Having never tasted tequila before, being at La Esquina was a 'learning experience', as one likes to say, but I was told on good authority that they have the best selection of Tequila going so if you like Tequila get yourself down to La Esquina!!
This is me post-tequila leaving La Esquina. I'll spare you the image of me and the Taco chef. 
And so, dear readers, there you have my three step guide to NYC bar life. I would do PDT on Monday, Death & Co on Thursday and La Esquina on Saturday for the ultimate in prohibition era speakeasy drinking week!
But remember, shhhhh, tell no-one!
Cocktails and canapes,
Whimsy x