For me, this last year has been full of new experiences, discoveries, friends, and libations. It’s been a particularly interesting year in regards to booze , a time when I’ve been able to overcome my distaste for certain spirits and set the foundation for a lifelong interest in a good, quality drink. As the last few days of December unfold, I feel at least a little responsibility to do a nostalgic post about this past year, so here goes.
This has been, at least from my perspective – where I live, this particular time in my life, etc – as a damn fine year. Last January, I was managing a club-ish bar on the LES side, mostly occupied with the mechanics of a business and less so with the quality of the product going across my bar. We had a menu, mind you, but it wasn’t great. At the time, I was living in the East Village, and when a certain new cocktail bar opened around the corner, I did my 23-year-old duty and checked it out. I’ve posted about this experience in the past, so I won’t get too teary-eyed. No, it was an eye-opening adventure, the result of which nudged me down a so-far terribly enjoyable career path. Over the following months, I studied and transformed the bar, eventually raising the eyebrow of those great and wonderful industry people who liberated me from Hell Square and put me behind two very, very intelligent bars.
This year has also been marked by the democratization of cocktail culture – at least from the perspective of my three-and-a-half years behind the stick – where the once highbrow snobbery of the Few has been replaced by a more, err, pedestrian interest. It wasn’t long ago when the staunch vodka drinker wouldn’t dare venture outside that comfortable realm, but now they will. And this isn’t just at cocktail lounges. On recent trips across the country, I’m noticing more and more bars attempting classic, well-thought out cocktails that jump away from the “-tini” model – syrups, sugars, purees, and pre-made everything is being replaced by fresh ingredients and experimentation with spirits.
Not that many are succeeding, but still.
Our “high-end” and “internationally recognized” cocktail destinations have been very successful, given notice by more than just drinks enthusiasts (Frank Bruni gushing over D&C, anyone?). It’s amazing seeing the most powerful restaurant critics in America saying “Hey, this is where I spend time when I’m not working and want to enjoy a drink.” To me, this sends a powerful message: the cocktail is being regarded as a culinary interest all its own. It has transcended post-prohibition stereotype as solely an inebriant, and entered a more widespread cultural and social role as a thing to be savored and pondered. Does anyone remember their first well-made Sazerac? That drink took me a good hour to drink, not because whiskey was still new (it was), and not because it was too strong, but because it was so damn good and need a whole lot of ruminating.
I sure do, and it happened this past year. A damn fine year, indeed.
I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions, but I’m gonna do my best to post more. And not self-interested, sum-me-ups like this last one. Sorry