One part Eastwood,
One part Astaire.
Add a dash of Bogart.
Shake, strain and enjoy.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Be Good Or Be Gone

Image: McSorley's New York

The Sperry chukka boat shoe that embraced my foot slipped slightly as I entered the saloon style doors, forgetting that part of McSorley's allure is its sawdust strewn floor. A quick survey of the place and panic set in. Nearing 30 and my patience in serious decline, I tend to eschew crowded, loud bars for the refined hush of a classy cocktail lair. But I made an exception, in anticipation of Irene's wrath and inevitable solitude holed up indoors, to venture out on a Friday night to drink in the history of New York's oldest Irish bar.

As I weaved my way past the throngs of inebriated guests to the oasis of tables in the rear, I couldn't help but soak up the antiquated atmosphere and allow it to penetrate my psyche. The likes of Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Boss Tweed had all imbibed in this very space so who was I to be weary of its charm? The floor trembled beneath me, signaling its age, as we approach the warped, carved table that would be our domain. Puddles of lager were swiftly wiped away and a command, not a question, was put before us.

"Light or dark?" bellowed the bearded scalawag of a man that would be our waiter. One part Cro-Magnon, one part grizzled sailor, his hair was long and as gray as his beer soiled smock. His abruptness was matched only by his surly disposition; his attitude providing continuity to the experience whereas a fresh-faced young lass would have sullied the vibe. The skin on his face and hands was aged and callused and his fingernails resembled those of a coal-mining pirate. This wasn't so much a job as a calling - his carved out niche on this earth. God forbid this landmark shutter, as his skill set would not be applicable for, say, a Walmart greeter.

"Light" I replied, caught slightly off guard but confident in my choice. After a week of dealing with demanding clients and finicky co-workers, this was a welcome moment of clarity. Smee disappeared into the crowd to fetch our ale and we settled in to discuss the week in review. A gentleman in a straw boater and his lovely lady appeared, taking a seat at the other end of our table. An old fight song rang out across the bar, male voices chanting in unison, complete with interlocking arms and mugs clanking in communal cheer. Then out of no where, 6 mugs of suds were gruffly slammed down before us, the frothy heads careening out on to the notched table refilling the pools that were earlier wiped away. For every one beer ordered two mugs arrive so the night was now well underway!

With time our party grew larger, and the next round brought 24 mugs, carried 8 to a hand by our esteemed barman and his colleague - quite the impressive feat to witness. As mug after mug was passed over and around me, I quickly realized my pristine white shirt had no business in this establishment - nice clothes were not only unwelcome, but potentially at risk. Had I been more in tune (and less rushed), my pressed linens would have given way to crumbled chambray to better align with my environment... I was a show horse in a sea of Clydesdales. This is workwear's haven.

Conversations started to splinter and I began to veer off into a mental dissection of the untouched treasures providing the decor for the historic bar. It's reported that no artifact has been removed from the walls since 1910. Paintings, poems and political pomp, certificates, clippings, carvings and clocks all serve as reminders of McSorley's place in New York history. At the bar area, an original "WANTED" poster from the Lincoln assassination shouts a national tragedy and Houdini's handcuffs swing freely from the bar rail. A row of dusty wishbones looms eerily overhead marking the loss of human life - these harbingers of fortune left by departing doughboys during WWI. The soldiers that returned snapped their talismans, all the while knowing their wish had already been granted. Those bones that remain haunt this hallowed ground with dreams unrealized.

There is no cash register, no bar stools, no liquor and until 1970, no women. "Good Ale, Raw Onions and No Ladies" was its claim and I doubt they heard any complaints. One gets the sense that political correctness has never been enforced here.

With the rest of the spoiled masses panicked over Irene's pending visit, our stint in Olde New York was a welcome reprieve from their unsubstantiated anxiety. A hurricane seemed like small potatoes compared to the trials this place had seen. From the gangs of New York and the atrocities of war to corrupt political machines and the depths of tenement life, McSorley's has offered solace from far worse than a little rain storm.

The last of my ale slid effortlessly down my throat and I placed my mug with authority back onto the nicked up boards of the table. We surrendered our territory to the next army that approached and headed for the swinging doors that led back out to 7th Street. Passing regulars and newcomers alike, I looked around and realized that the people I was surrounded by could have given a shit about what Irene was to bring. Not one of them had thoughts of food or batteries or survival. Their only concern was for the next round and if their ale house would be open for business.

You don't get more rugged than this.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

No Rest For The Weary

A week ago, the sun squeezed through the dusty wooden slats of my aged venetian blinds alerting me to the fact that Sunday had begun. My body felt like jelly and the thought of springing from my slate gray sheets was about as enticing as a moldy deviled egg. The sinus cavities sunk beneath my flesh were packed tighter than a rush hour 6 train and my eye lids were laboring to stand at attention. On the air mattress to my left sat my sister, staring, zombielike, at something on my floor, waiting patiently for her lazy, slightly infirmed brother to arouse from his slumber. She had a stomach to fill and a bus to catch.

The previous day had been spent at exhaustive lengths reliving the Prohibition era at the 2011 Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island and subsequently at the most fitting of cocktail dens - The Clover Club in Brooklyn's Cobble Hill. The artful crooning, playful dancing and cheerful drinking had left us weary, and me with a crescendoing sinus infection.

Ever wonder what "the cat's pajamas"
looks like?

With a firm squeeze, the goodbye hug ended and the younger of my parents offspring disappeared into the throngs of hyper visitors anxiously attacking a red bus like it was the last mode of transport on earth. As I walked back towards the subway, the sky belched out an ominous grumble - a foreshadowing of the storms that were to come. (Little did I know that the worst of it was still a week away - hello Irene, you dirty little whore).

Pleasant weather is strife with guilt. With the command of a vixen's stare, the sun and breeze can lure one from their dwelling and deeds to simply bask in its ego. Productivity, rest or mindless entertainment run afoul in its midst, even when such things are all that's desired. It has a way of taunting with its glow but on this particular Sunday I was anxious for the storms to roll in and my recovery to begin.

I bounced lightly on the subway car home, the rumbling motion jostling my compacted head. I affixed my swollen eyes on the dermatological ad that promised clearer skin (no money down!) to avoid eye contact with the creepy European tourists and their inappropriate Ed Hardy tank tops. The longer I stared, I thought about the rest of my day; the excitement over my pending leisure was slowly overtaken by fear of boredom. A wasted Sunday was unacceptable, even if it was in the name of health. Leisure, in my opinion, should still produce some valuable personal advancement - writing, reading, good conversation, etc.

The jolt of the subway car knocked an idea to the front of my subconscious and I snapped to in a fit of excitement. Earlier in the day, my sister and I were discussing the cocktail list I was developing for a pending bridal shower she is hosting**. Today would be the perfect day to finalize the menu and experiment with a concoctions I was unsure of, a non-alcoholic soda - perfect for a gentleman dosed up on Advil Cold and Sinus. Productive, relaxing and delicious:

Perhaps the coolest part that can barely be seen:
Served in a highball from The Sands Las Vegas!

Strawberry/Basil/Lemon Soda (as seen in Bon Appetite):

1 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Raw Sugar
6 Basil Leaves 5 small (or 3 large) Stawberries, quartered
1 pinch Kosher Salt
6 oz Club Soda

-In a large mixing tin combine lemon juice, sugar, basil, strawberries and salt. Muddle ingredients. Add ice and soda water. Stir until well chilled and blended. Strain into highball glass with fresh ice. (Can also be adapted into a margarita)

Double double toil and trouble:
My potion.

The good kind of mess!

Contrary to popular opinion, I think that mixing drinks is less about the booze and more about tradition, technique and precision. The ritual and motions are not only therapeutic but create a connection to a time when quality and craft were at the forefront of society. Like any other creative professional, mixing a drink, regardless of alcoholic content, excites my artistic spirit as well as my burgeoning palette. The endless combinations, ingredients and flavor profiles keeps my interest constantly piqued about what possibilities lie ahead. Not only do I revel in trying new recipes but have become passionate about introducing others to my findings and derive much satisfaction out of serving drinks to those that appreciate and enjoy their purpose. This crisp, complex soda highlights how wonderful a drink can be, even devoid of intoxicating proofs. And it provided the perfect remedy for invigorating my soul when my body was rife with discomfort.

But why not take my culinary efforts to the next level and add a light lunch to the mix. One of my favorite restaurants in New York lies on Court Street in Brooklyn's Carroll Garden's neighborhood - Frankie's Sputino. Aside from their unabashedly fresh take on Italian entrees, they produce one of the simplest, yet inventive crostini I've had: fresh ricotta, local honey and cracked pepper on toasted housemade bread. Simple in design, profound in taste. Here's is my take using more readily available ingredients:

Modified crostini

• Toasted Sesame Bagel (if you're not in NY, I don't know what to tell you)*
• Goat Cheese
• Macadamia Honey
• Fresh Cracked Pepper

Straight from Australia via my chum Vinny

I sat to nosh as the sky opened up. Thick beads of rain beat down steadily on the fire escape just outside my window, creating a soft hush to muffle the passing traffic. I felt all the more refined having created my own lunch and nestled in with my victuals for a thorough exploration of the WSJ Weekend Edition. I don't know if it was the Advil, the nourishment, the cool rain-induced breeze, the excitement or a combination of the lot, but my head cleared by evenings rise and the remainder of the night was spent enjoying the leisure that only a rainy day can bring.

Yes, an actual printed newspaper… remember those?

Sickness led to boredom. Boredom led to creativity. Creativity lead to productivity. And productivity provided the cure.

*Sorry, Im a NY bagel snob
** Due to Irene's bitchy wrath I was unable to travel and my cocktail list was for naught. For those interested here is the menu for your viewing pleasure.