After years of yearning to find my true calling and create meaning out of difficult truths, I may have discovered the answer to my quest on a recent trip to New York City with my daughter and a friend. It seems that the answer to life’s questions, big and small (and therefore possibly even the pursuit of happiness) lies at the bottom of a cocktail glass.
Or two, or three.
These preferably have to be consumed in New York, because they make them so perfectly and drink them in a way that still manages to show them who’s boss. I’m not really sure that we could create the same glamorous cocktail culture in the UK. There are clubs in the UK that still offer little umbrellas and as a nation, I don’t think we have the gene that allows us to know when we’ve had enough. Could we turn cocktails into an actual “thing” in the same way they are in New York? Just so civilised, so perfectly complete in their own right. Each one, a little bit of heaven in a beautiful glass, there to be appreciated in it’s individuality, to be discussed, savoured and slowly enjoyed in beautiful surroundings, preferably up high on a rooftop bar somewhere.
Reinvention is never easy, but it’s what New Yorkers do best and so, despite the new world order according to Trump, where everything is negotiable, I would imagine that cocktails are surely one of the best businesses to be in during an economy like this. Every New Yorker we talked to discussed the New York City values and their united pride at being a global hub that welcomes people from all walks of life and from every country on earth. Everyone is welcome and this message came across time and time again.
So right now there appears to be two great things about New York City that are being focused on at the moment.
Tolerance and diversity…..and to this, I think we should add cocktails.
Lets use The Year of The Cock (description below) to create something a little different. It makes perfect sense and helps to lighten the load – all we do is add a little old tail to the cock and voila we have The Year Of The Cocktail and we are all happy.
There are lots of bars in New York City now that serve pre-prohibition-era cocktails, together with just the right amount of delicious small plates and in the few days we had in New York, the three of us made it our mission to try and get under the skin of whether this was the reason for the invigorating current of optimism they all seemed to have. It became the thread running through the narrative arc of our visit because enjoying cocktails in some of the most glorious venues in town somehow took us deep into the elegance of the city and allowed us to give a little nod and a toast to New York’s gilded age. Who wouldn’t want to test out the rumour that the birthplace of the martini, where Scott Fitzgerald used to drink in 1912, is at the Knickerbocker hotel? A glorious legendary haven of refined elegance hidden above Times Square, created by John Jacob Astor IV in 1906 and now newly redeveloped into a sophisticated urban sanctuary. The roof top bar called Knicks is stunning, even in January. They have heaters. They also have an exquisite cocktail menu:-
I think we were drinking “The Knicker Sour”, delicious:-
My daughter enjoying their rooftop bar and the wonderful gilded buildings all around us:-
New York has a knack of inspiring life long love and part of the reason is the feeling that you’ve somehow known it all your life and it’s already settled in your heart, the familiarity, the excitement, the energy. It put a whole different sheen on our hazy midtown snapshot, which felt both deliciously real and yet blurred in fiction. From the fabulous boutique Roger Smith Hotel where we stayed, to the glorious Empire State Building, the 1930’s art deco Chrysler building, Grand Central station and the view from the top of the Gansevoort Hotel, we consistently had the feeling that we already knew and loved the city. There is a sort of primeval cinematic memory that stems from an early introduction, for me it was at first Sesame Street, then Batman, Spiderman and King Kong to name but a few of the key iconic ones. For my daughter additionally, it is Gossip Girls. Sitting in the rooftop bar at the Gansevoort Hotel, called The Plunge, looking out and down upon the swirling steam billowing up from beneath the pavements crust, the flash of yellow taxis bursting onto the scene, the sirens, the lights, the gorgeous art deco buildings looming around us created such a huge sense of excitement and we got more and more poetic after each and every cocktail. We were in Gotham City:-
Everywhere we went, the highly skilled cocktail makers were more than happy to discuss what we wanted in our glasses as well as what they thought of life in general outside on the streets. It is great to watch their skills and passions in the art of mixology and I am now hoping to get some training myself. They knew how to make their guests, sitting at the bar feel comfortable and welcome and this is a skill everyone should learn. I think I might have found the man to teach us. He’s called Dale DeGrof , an American living in London and working currently at Milk and Honey in Soho I believe (where I had some delicious cocktails recently). He has been credited with reviving the profession of bartending and rose to prominence in the Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room, where he pioneered a gourmet approach to recreating the classic cocktails. We need him to help us revive the market further in London and the UK. The Rainbow Room is a quintessentially New York institution, opulent and glamorous in one of the most iconic locations ever. We had a lovely evening there in Bar Sixtyfive and he has certainly left his mark. We had a long conversation with the mixologist about what we wanted to drink and they were so happy to oblige and recommend that they said if we didn’t like anything we didn’t have to pay for it. We could just leave it and start again. The bar is the highest outdoor terrace bar in New York City, 65 stories above the iconic Rockefeller Center. Delicious small platters and and a bespoke cocktail menu curated by top mixologists. The views of the city are to die for. I would also recommend that you start at The Top Of The Rock at the top of the Rockefeller Centre where you get the incredible 360 degree views of the city. The observation deck, which opened along with the rest of the building in 1933, was closed in 1986 to keep height-seeking tourists from tramping through the Rainbow Room. Two decades and $75 million later, the building’s owner, Tishman Speyer, reopened the Top of the Rock on November 1st, 2005, as a three-floor panoramic experience:-
Some of my photos do not quite do it justice, but you’ll get the general idea:-
Here we have the 1915 Gin & Tonic, a Spatini and a Manhattan:-
We went on to enjoy Cocktails in Union Square where he made us bespoke gin-based cocktails, with Creme de Violet amongst other things. Next time I will write all the ingredients down:-
At the Polo Bar we had an array of delicious cocktails, including a Crimson Royale and a Moscow Mule:-
The Year of The Cock
So it is the year of the Rooster – also known as a Cockerel, or Cock. Basically a male chicken. The term Rooster originates from the USA. “We say Cock, you say Rooster”. The term “cock” is also used generally to refer to a male of other species of bird, for example the “Cock sparrow,” or to the human male genitalia.
Briefly a review of what it means to be surrounded by Cocks in the Chinese Astrology notes I have:-
They strut, they preen, the crow, they like women to notice them and they want to control women. Very egocentric and pre-occupied with their own needs. Completely indifferent to the state of mind of others.
Remind you of anyone?
Principal Qualities: Honest, frank, obliging and courageous
Principal Defects: Vain, thoughtless, preoccupied with his appearance
Best Role: Military hero or comic figure
Money: Very extravagant, he cannot resist temptation
Cannot live without: Seducing. Admiring looks from others are a drug to him, even though he might not admit it
Hates: Any attempt to probe his private being or expose his motives. In short, any attempt to lift his feathers to look underneath.
The Year of the Cocktail
The logic behind my suggestion will become apparent once you understand how the word came to fruition:-
There is a lack of clarity on the origins of cocktails but The Oxford English Dictionary cites the word as originating in the U.S in 1803 and originally came from “Cock + Tail”. During Prohibition in the United States (1919–1933), when alcoholic beverages were illegal, cocktails were still consumed illegally in establishments known as speakeasies. There was a shift from whiskey to gin, which does not require ageing and is therefore easier to produce illicitly. Honey, fruit juices and other flavourings served to mask the foul taste of the inferior liquors. Sweet cocktails were easier to drink quickly, an important consideration when the establishment might be raided at any moment.
So “cocktail” (originally US, also early 19th century) is perhaps analogous, from the idea of an adulterated spirit.
It originally referred to the docking of the tails of horses that were not thoroughbred … They were called cocktailed horses, later simply cocktails. By extension, the word cocktail was also applied to a vulgar, ill-bred person raised above his station, assuming the position of a gentleman but deficient in gentlemanly breeding. … well, how interesting and relevant.
Cocktails became less popular in the late 1960’s and through the 1970s, until there was a resurgence in the 1980’s with vodka often substituting the original gin in drinks such as the martini. Traditional cocktails began to make a comeback in the early 2000’s and by the mid-2000’s there was a renaissance of cocktail culture in a style typically referred to as “mixology” that draws on traditional cocktails for inspiration but utilises novel ingredients and often complex flavours.
So now we’re back in London I am on a bit of a mission:-
To find a Mixology teacher like Dale DeGrob
Do a mixology course
Check out the best places in London to make a comparison
Go back to New York ASAP
Throw all my books away and put a massive bar on my bookshelves instead with every bottle of alcohol that has ever been required to be added to a cocktail – although there is a “Don’t Try This At Home” worry, because they’re just never quite the same as when you put yourself into the right space for the event.
We are going to open a bar locally serving, yup, you guessed it…cocktails.
So until then, if you’re happening to be in NYC any time soon, do pass on our love to the cocktails and let me know how you get on and where you recommend. If you want anymore inspiration then Time Out New York have just listed the Top 50 Cocktail experiences you should have in NYC. Just not all at the same time:- Top 50 cocktail experiences you should have in New York.
And a huge thank you to NYC & Company for the city passes that allowed us access into all the fabulous attractions. Check out www.nycgo.com for an up to date guide to what’s going on. Buying the CityPass gets you 6 admission tickets for $116.00 per adult and $92.00 per child and you get to skip the queues.