Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Michael Arenella featured at the Sartorialist

by Fredo

Loungerati pal and jazz musician Michael Arenella of the Dreamland Orchestra was featured in the Sartorialist's Style Profile this week. Kudos to one of the best dressed men on the town. For more information on Arenella and his music check out his site.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Barfly's Beat: Weather Up and Jakewalk in Brooklyn

Weather Up Brooklyn
by Graeme

It was nearing nine o'clock, and I was topped off on Sicilian cuisine for the first time in over a year, so I was extremely satisfied. A final word then on the authentic ambiance, service, and fare at Ferdinando's: squisito. Thus, our short walk and talk across a couple of blocks, from “Come again,” to “Where to,” settled my constitution. On the corner of Clinton and Union, Fredo hailed a taxi and we motored to Bergen & Vanderbilt, another crossroads, one a fast road, by where Weather Up was situated here or there.

We couldn’t quite locate its brass plate, but so it goes! I’d gotten the tip from my man, Mr. Angus Winchester, forwarded on the note, and Fredo set up the date. Sometimes, that’s how these things work. The finding and keeping, the deal-sealing, that's all part of the precocious puzzle of these most particular pilgrimages.

So we ankled around and about Vanderbilt, and all I heard was, “All right Gee, we’re looking for a church!” Never less than amusingly, we must have walked 100-meters back and forth, to and fro, up and down three or four different cross streets before I started chortling and my charge began moving faster, firing in to some corner joint, a wine bar – me waiting outside trying to catch a light in the wind – but they didn’t know much about the weather. “It’s a good sign,” he opined upon rejoining me, to which I puffed in concurrence, before trying to page Mr. Winchester, until I remembered he was in the air.

After another jaunt, hither and yon, I ducked in to some red brick hang on the other side of Vanderbilt. There’d been nobody about much on the street, but this hold was all flesh and make up. For a minute, I felt overdressed and spotlit, as I catwalked to the bar in my dark grey woollen overcoat – and the by-now revered footwear – I got an answer straight away, “It’s a few doors down, good sir, next to Evelyn Car Service.”

I did my skip, and outside, Fredo is adjusting the driving gloves I gave him back on FA Cup Final day the other year. He’s surrounded by smoking jet particles and the curling scent of hair spray. I don’t stop. No, I smile and go, “Amico. This-a-way!”

Sure enough, just down the doors and windows appeared what looked like an ornamental mausoleum. Inside it felt like a high-end squat somewhere in the subway system. The fellow behind the bar was shaking Boston like he needed an injury to prove his mettle. We eyed the back bar, and there sat the Plymouth Gin. A good start. Along the shelf, Crème de Violette and Luxardo Maraschino. Assured that Fredo would be ordering set an Aviation, I thought I should take something from the five-by-seven inch list, upon which there were eight cocktails, one at $15, the others either $9 or $11.

(Also on there were five wines by the glass, one at $15, the others either $7 or $9; one bottled beer – Coopers Sparkling Ale – and three more on draft). I opted for a La Floridita Daiquiri, and, with no seats open at the bar, I took my cue, and grabbed a pew underneath what appeared to be the fret board of an upright piano.

It took an age to receive our drinks, but as made apparent by the steel stirring spoon straws, the bartender (who turned out to be a James Arnold from Lancashire) was trained by the wee guy with the follicles from Milk & Honey, Mr. Petraske. James had a unique shake, which Fredo calls "the earthquake." Don't try it at home kids - the trauma may bring bodily harm to those not trained in the art of mixology. Once the drinks finally arrived, they were sublime.

Once we'd had a chance to soak in the surroundings – the tables are terrific, the restroom exquisite, and the décor turns this joint into a Victorian place of worship – it was time for another. Encouraged, I took my customary Sazerac, while Fredo opted for the Presbyterian. Again, both were excellent.

Now, normally I prefer to wait a couple of months before checking out a new outlet, but this one, owned by Kathryn Weatherup, one of the original partners of East Side Company Bar, was set to quickly cram. Sure enough, not a second after it was time to go, there were coats thrown on our seat, as we stepped out into the brisk Prospect Heights fold.

At this moment, allow me to indulge you. Fredo wore a brown Knox fedora, a handsome overcoat, a blue blazer with gold buttons, red hounds tooth shirt, his blue Gucci ascot, vintage Brooklyn Dodgers cuff links, and shoes by Ferragamo. Me, I had the lambswool overcoat, the navy Paul Smith suit, the white shirt with gray and turquoise pinstripes by Ben Sherman, tie from Zingaro collection, tie pin courtesy of Vintage Grace, silk pocket square from a French admirer, and Chelsea boots by Kiton. Now back to the review!

We then took advantage of the car service and crossed back to Smith Street to check out another new bar, The JakeWalk. We'd popped in for a pre-opening gawk the previous Thursday, and made acquaintance with the one of the owners, Ms. Michelle Pravda, but by now the word was certainly out around BoCoCa.

So we waited with a couple of mind-numbingly strong something or others for two seats to open up at the bar. Fredo had a port wine Manhattan Cooler, and I the Rum Manhattan (which was far too strong for me, and so we swapped). There were tables freeing up, but the bar is the place to sit, and if you want to sit, you let the hostess know, and she seats you before anybody else. So it goes.

The JakeWalk is a regular-looking hang owned by the same crew who have a cheese store (Stinky) and a wine outlet (Smith & Vine) in the area. Dominated by a gigantic mirror behind the bar, and a featured wall of exposed red brick, it's a simple set-up. There is a small plates menu, a kitchen carvery, and in the restroom, there are colorful stones in the basin.

Once we got seated though, oh my God, did I dig it. Bartenders Mr. Matt DeVries and Mr. Ari Form looked after us very well indeed, making me an exquisite 'Fredo Negroni,' and even setting up an Amaro-tasting for the man to my right, wearing Gucci. So there we were, with pretty glasses of Cynar, Fernet Branca Menta, Amaro Montenegro, and I think a Borelli. I'm just saying, people who run cheese stores and wine cellars should be actively encouraged to open bars. Why? "Would you like to try—"

Weather Up
589 Vanderbilt Ave.
@ Dean
Prospect Heights

The JakeWalk
282 Smith St.
@ Sackett
Carroll Gardens

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Barfly's Beat: PDT and The Mafia Table

It was Thursday night and I was in the mood for a real cocktail. I’m talking about one with gin. Maybe some lemon juice, bitters, an egg white in there too, but definitely gin. So I rolled into PDT on St. Marks as the establishment was opening for the night. Well “rolled in” is not quite accurate. It was more like I walked into East Village hot dog institution Crif Dogs, slipped into the vintage phone booth, dialed a white plastic phone, and looked up at the CCTV camera. Then the wall opened up. I was arriving sans reservation but I was not worried. I have often found that in order to enjoy hush-hush speak easies like PDT (short for “Please Don’t Tell”) one has to show up unfashionably early and score a bar seat. 

PDT is reservations only and they must be made after 3pm on the day of your visit. Like other high end cocktail lounges such as Death &Company and Milk & Honey, there is a no-standing policy. Either one has a seat at one of the comfortable bar stools or booths or you cannot enter. I made it through the door and asked the delightful hostess for a bar seat which are first come, first served. I was waiting for some friends to show up but they were coming early, too, so we would be OK.

Don Lee, one of the talented bartenders, sorted me out with a Donizetti (Tanqueray Gin, Amaro CioCaro, Rothman & Winter Apricot brandy, and Moet White Star Champagne), which took the edge off a hectic day at work in a few sips. The cocktail menu is designed by Jim Meehan of Pegu Club fame. The bartenders are seasoned mixologists who know their cocktail history, use the best ingredients and authentic technique to produce exceptional drinks. The menu has old classics like the Old Fashion but reinterpreted, PDT’s Benton Old Fashion has bacon infused George Dickel Tennessee whisky, maple syrup, and Angostura bitters. That’s right - bacon.

Cocktail in hand, I survey the room and soaked in the place. The bar area provides most of the natural light for the room. The lack of windows adds to the secret hideaway feel. There is taxidermy on the walls, low lighting, and the striking wood ceiling transports you to a bygone era. Then I saw it - the best seat in the house. I was at at the end of the bar near the WC. To my immediate left there was a circular booth with a round mahogany table illuminated by a single Edison light bulb. There was also a black velvet curtain that could enclose the table creating a private area. I asked Don about the table. He called it the “Mafia table” and it is reservation only.

My friends arrived and additional delicious cocktails were ordered. One of the perks of PDT is that you can order hot dogs and hamburgers off of Crif Dogs menu. The food is delivered through a rectangular slot in the wall. And let me tell you, their “New Yorker hotdog” actually goes well with an Aviation!

The Mafia table’s party of four reservation arrived but only stayed for one round of drinks and left. I asked the waitress if we could have the table until the next reservation arrived and she told us no problem. So we snagged the table and continued to enjoy the PDT experience. More cocktails followed and before I slipped out of the clandestine phone booth I grabbed one of their cards. Next time around, we’ll be sitting at the mafia table. 

More good news: The proliferation of Prohibition-era styled speakeasies has now crossed the East River. Since January, two classic cocktail lounges have opened in Brooklyn. Weather Up on Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights and Hotel Delmano on Berry Street in Williamsburg. In April, the JakeWalk, part enotecca, part cocktail lounge opened its doors on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens. Next month, the eagerly awaited Clover Club, from the folks behind Manhattan’s Flatiron Lounge, is due to open on Smith Street, too. This spring, expect gin blossoms to be blooming for New York barflies.

- Fredo

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Jet Set Cocktail Party in Seven Steps

by Fredo

(Fredo bartending at a recent cocktail party)

Once upon a time in America people used to entertain guests in their homes and the cocktail party was the Rolls Royce of a social call. In the bustling suburbs, bars were set up on patios and theme parties like Tiki Night were commonplace. In the cities, Home Bars were a dime a dozen and ranged from a hidden away liquor cabinet with service utensils to a full-on bar built into someone’s basement. One could escape the ills of every day life and visit with friends in an intimate and sophisticated environment. The local cocktail lounge provided that outlet for many, but the cocktail party brought socializing to the safe confines of the living room.

A cocktail party’s success began with the hosts. The Host and Hostess made sure their guests were comfortable by setting the mood, providing hors d’oeuvres, and keeping them well-imbibed. People dressed up for the occasion. Generally, one put on their best duds to attend a cocktail party – women in sleek cocktail dresses, men in jacket and tie. This didn’t just happen on Park Avenue, getting dressed up when visiting another’s home used to be the norm! The gentlemen drank Rob Roys, Side Cars, Old Fashions, and Martinis – they knew how to make them from memory. Better yet, so did their wives and dates. My maternal grandmother continued to bring a pitcher of her famous Manhattans to family parties well into her eighties. I credit her for my own love of the classic cocktail and inspiration to keep the tradition going ...

(Read the rest of Fredo's article at THE CAD)