Monday, 3 August 2015

Whimsy and the City #2

Dear Readers,

Three years ago, I returned from NYC bringing you tales of three secret cocktail bars. Three years later, I return with news of three more (not-so) secret cocktail bars from the city that never sleeps. I think the quintessential difference between cocktails in NYC and cocktails in London is that in NYC everyone drinks cocktails. There is no pretension and there is a cocktail joint for every eventuality (and you're never far away from one which is never a bad thing) so in this post I am going to tell you about three very different bars for different occasions.

1: By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Drank a Cocktail (with apologies to Elizabeth Smart)

Welcome to Grand Central Station's very own secret bar - The Campbell Apartment. If you are just desperate after your day-trip to Sleepy Hollow (yes, you actually can go and visit the place, and we did, but that's another story) for a restorative beverage of the alcoholic variety then what better stop-off than the former office of American financier John W Campbell who rented the room in the 30s and used it as an office by day and a party venue by night.

Today, visitors are welcome to enter the Apartment that has been re-furbished as a secret cocktail bar at the back of Grand Central Station. Despite the dress code of no shorts and no denim (I was in shorts; SIBF in jeans) we were granted entry and partook of (admittedly slightly disappointing) cocktails in a super-fun old-school Manhattan style bar. Recommended for the atmosphere, the history and the fun of having a cocktail in a train station rather than the quality of the drinks themselves.

2: Attaboy, Attaboy! 

The ambience of Attaboy could not be more different from that of the aforementioned bar. This is the ultimate in mixological prowess in the former location of legendary 00s bar Milk and Honey. An un-noteworthy silver door bearing the letters AB and the message 'please knock gently' on a bin-bag clad street in the outskirts of Chinatown does not look like the most auspicious location for a speakeasy, but believe me, it is the best bar I have ever been to. (Probably.) You knock gently. You wait for the door to be opened and, space permitting, you're welcomed beyond the silver door, past a velvet curtain and into a very small, intimate bar where there is room for bar seating and maybe two tables at the back. On entering Attaboy your senses take a hit - eyes adjust to the low-lighting, ears take in the up-beat 80s pop and sound of ice being struck at by a bar tender's ice pick, but above all your sense of smell is awakened by the dizzying amalgamation of fresh fruits, amazing syrups and high-end liquor.

Once you have taken your seat at the bar, you'll be asked about your favourite spirits / the kinds of flavours you like / your mood, because there is no menu at Attaboy - rather the mixologists create something for you based on what you say you like. As a result, you find yourself experimenting with flavours and combinations that you might otherwise shirk which is amazing because it makes the experience memorable and...erm...educational (??) because you learn new things about drinks. (Well, remember, I've always said cocktails are the alcoholic equivalent of baking so there's got to be an educational purpose, right?) My favourite was The Nineteenth Century (how could it not be?) featuring Bourbon, Creme de Cacao and Lillet Rouge and it was like a revelation of drinking. Like a dessert in a glass (which was what I asked for thus proving how briliant the mixologists are) on a starless night in a former age. Decadent, delicious, dreamy.

3: Take me to the CAKE SHOP! 

If neither the hipster speakseasy cool or vintage Upper East Side excess take your fancy, you may wish to go for a Lower East Side dive bar with a gig venue beneath! Cake Shop is a, yes you guessed it, Cake Shop by day and bar/venue by night! The perfect combination of activities all available under just one roof! We did not sample the cakes (I was on holiday after all) but we did pass an amazing evening hanging with the super-cool bartender and then taking in the twee musical delights of Brooklyn's Oh Golly downstairs after a drink. I plumped for the Earl-Grey infused Old Fashioned. I did question the logic of flavouring bourbon with Earl Grey (my least favourite kind of tea at the best of times so clearly not a good idea), but thought I'd give it a go anyway. It was...interesting (I didn't have a second), but for a whiskey and ginger you could not beat the place. The playlist in the bar upstairs was amazing and the bands playing downstairs were totally awesome so Cake Shop wins the prize for best all round bar for a whole night's indie entertainment in Manhattan.

So there you have it: for uptown glamour of the past head to The Campbell Apartment, for the best drinks and the hippest atmosphere head over to Attaboy and for an all-round indie night out get down toute-suite to Cake Shop. 

Coming next: exceptionally good cake from an unexpected location. 

'Til then, Cupcakes and Cocktails, 
Silver Whimsy x 

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