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On the House: Dive Bar Survival

On the House is our weekly column written by the owners and operators of the great food and beverage establishments of New York. Your resident proprietor is William Tigertt of Freemans.

2006_09_onethehouseA.jpgAll hardcore bartenders have a foolproof drink, one they order when backed into a corner at a lousy bar. Like a snub-nose .38 for the noir detective, for the professional drinker (and now you) these drinks are standard issue.

So when stuck between a rock and Hard Rock café in an airport what’s a New York cocktail jock to do? The first answer, always, is: drink beer. It’s the truth, but it’s not very exciting. So I had to dig deeper. If beer wasn’t an option, I proposed, say they had drank half a case of pilsner the night before and couldn’t stomach any more of the barley soda pop – then what would they order? I wanted to know. So I did the, well, rounds, asked some some of NY’s finest barmen to weigh-in, and this is what I found out:

“If a bar has got whisky, bitters and a sugar cube somewhere; you can make an Old Fashioned. --Greg from Milk & Honey

Sasha’s boy gets technical with the Old Fashion. Traditionally, the Old Fashion doesn’t have the muddled orange and cherry in it. The fruit was added in the fifties to make it appeal to a wider audience. You would still have to break the sugar cube with the back of a spoon and stir it, but neither bitter or sugar cubes really go bad, so this is a safe bet, but a little work.

Bourbon, rocks. Unless the ice looks dodgy. Then just bourbon.” -- Lewis from Von

Whisky in a glass is hard to mess up. Make sure the ice bin looks clean, without a lot of extra bottles and mischief in it. I’d also recommend you order the ice on the side, so you add as much as you need. Some places will go crazy with the crappy sliver ice and will serve you a whisky slushie.

“Ask for a gin and soda with extra limes on the side. Squeeze four or so limes into it, give it a good stir, and you’ve got a Gin Rickey” --Phil from the Pegu Club

More trickery. A good Rickey needs fresh lime juice (not Rose’s). If you can’t trust the bar to provide the juice, do it yourself. I would keep this one on the QT, or you might end being the barback all night. Also make a point to ask for the limes; don’t just raid the bartender’s garnish tray. It’s bad form, no matter what kind bar it is.

Champagne.--Taka from Angel Share

Feel free to make it classy if you have the means. If the place doesn’t serve a lot of wine, I’d order a split or full bottle, so at least you know you’re getting fresh bubbly.

“The best Bourbon on the rocks they have. Sometimes they have a nicer bottle stashed somewhere, so it pays to ask.” --Yana from The Soho Grand

Shake ‘em down for the good stuff. Good strategy. Even if it’s a lousy dive, the owner might have a good bottle hidden away for regulars or personal use.

“Aged rum, neat. Most bars at least have a bottle of Mount Gay.” --Toby from Freemans

Aged rum is a refreshing change from bourbon, and pretty cheap all things considered. Barbencourt makes great aged rum in both three, five, and seven year varieties. My personal favorite is still Havana Club Añejo (aged seven years), but you’ll have to smuggle some back from the duty free shop aboard until there is some regime change either domestically, or in Cuba.

Boiler maker, a whisky shot with a beer back. Preferably Irish whisky like Red Breast or Van Wrinkle rye if they got it.” --Breton from Little Branch

Back to the beer. The Boilermaker is blue-collar classic, not to be confused with a depth charge, in which the shot is dropped into the beer. Irish whisky is also a good call, as it’s much cheaper than it’s Scottish cousin and can be just as good. Van Wrinkle whiskey is amazing, but good luck finding it. It’s not that expensive, but it’s only produced in small batches.

So there you have it. Four out of seven, New York bartenders drink whisky as a holdout. Cocktail fads come and go, but a whisky neat is forever. As it turns out New York bartenders have more in common with a private dick than I thought.


· On the House: The Bruni Journal, Coda [~E~]

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