"As part of your coverage of food & drink during the holidays, I thought your readers might be interested in a specialty drink from Devotion Vodka, which recently debuted the world’s first-ever sugar-free and gluten-free flavored vodka family."
Frankie’s don’t give a shit.
Frankie’s don’t give a shit if you think it’s too dark inside. Fuck you if you don’t like the video poker embedded in the bartop. You don’t like that they free pour when making drinks and don’t use laboratory vessels to ensure consistency? Go back to fucking San Francisco. Don’t like cigarette smoke? Frankie’s don’t give a shit. Go to Wendy’s.
Frankie’s is a neo-retro tiki bar that serves up great, postcard-worthy tiki cocktails, and does so in a place that has more of a crusty, neighborhood hangout sensibility than you’d expect in always-slick Las Vegas. It’s close enough to downtown and The Strip that it requires only a few minutes to get there, but it’s far enough away to make it feel like an oasis (granted, an oasis at midnight), providing respite from the constant, conning hustle.
And that makes this pretty close to an authentic tiki bar, even though it’s been tiki only since 2008. It feels like the 1950s here, complete with smoky haze, lack of preening, and a leave-it-at-the-door attitude. It’s also got a killer interior, designed by the grandson of the designer behind Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room.
I sipped a couple of tall drinks, including the Lava Letch served in one of the bar’s fine custom tiki mugs (“collectible designs by some of the world's top lowbrow artists”). I’ll admit the drinks weren’t perfect — a bit too sweet for me, but not bad.
The sound track was distantly Hawaiian, accompanied, more proximately, by a raspy, smoke-tortured laugh. This laugh had character — a long, leisurely roll of vexed amusement that dissolved into thorny rattles of a phlegmy staccato, which floated around the room for a long while, mingling with the cigarette smoke.
You don’t like hearing a laugh that reminds you of emphysema? Frankie’s don’t give a shit. You don’t like it, go to the Mandarin Oriental.
1712 W. Charleston, Las Vegas. 702-385-3110. Open 24 hour. www.frankiestikiroom.com
Something's been lost in contemporary cocktail culture. It’s no longer the subculture it was a few years ago, one of those hidden cultural cul-de-sacs filled with quirky individual passions — people obsessed about tinctures or 19th century history or defunct tiki bars or whatever.
Cocktail culture at some point in the last few years crossed the Rubicon, and now sits squarely in pop culture territory. Too often it attracts new adherents for no other reason than it’s where the cool kids hang out. I mean, who doesn’t want to hang out with the cool kids? So, to fit in, callow newcomers learn a couple of bartending tricks and then grow their Edwardian mustaches. They set their flame on low, and fuel it not with a deep-seated curiosity about bitters or the sociology of ancient saloon life. Rather, they're driven by a deep-seated desire to drink free liquor and get laid.
So last night, it was nice to see some old-fashioned flint-and-tinder flames again, both literal and metaphorical.
I’d gotten an invitation to stop by from Nathan Dalton, the bar manager for Felipe’s, a Mexican joint which has great margaritas made with fresh limes, but it's a place you don't see on those must-visit lists for craft cocktail pilgrims doing the stations of the cross in New Orleans. He said was hosting a small party at his house with colonial cocktails, and thought I might want to check it out.
Well... obviously. I got to his house about 10:30. It’s a eggplant-hued shotgun far out in the Bywater. I walked in, and then, in classic shotgun style, walked through the living room, the kitchen, the bedroom, and the bathroom. I turned left at the bathtub, whereupon I entered an extraordinary bar. A great collection of intriguing liquor cluttered tiered shelves, and there was an assortment of quality bar tools spread on a tall, long table.
And there was a loggerhead. And a sugar cone. And wonderful antique set of sugar scissors. (Read more about early sugar ritual and culture here).
Nathan was making up a Rattleskull when I arrived, with brandy, rum, wine, and porter, garnished with fresh nutmeg. He made mimbos and bombos, and grog and a lovely Stone Fence with a delicate hard cider and Appleton rum, with some sugar snipped off to round off the tartness.
I helped out with the second round of flip. The loggerhead — an ironmonger friend had crafted it for him and his wife — met the propane flame, and heated for about a half hour. We shut off the lights from time to time, and eventually the loggerhead's head glowed a soft crimson all the way through. It looked like Jupiter viewed through a powerful telescope. We killed the music, and then the loggerhead went into a pottery pitcher full of rum, molasses, and Guinness. It hissed and sputtered and put up a fight as will happen, but eventually it capitulated, leaving a cappuccino-like foam on top. (The liquid-to-loggerhead proportion was a bit too askew to properly caramelize the sugar and burn the grains. But it was still tasty.)
Sometime after midnight we got taking about Campari and then the conversation turned to cochineal, and Dalton got animated all over again. “I got some cochineal!” he said, having recently returned from a trip to Mexico. “You want to eat some bugs?”
He left the room and moments later returned with a sack about the size of three pound bag of flour filled with tiny dead insects. He said he paid $185 for it. We palmed a few — dried, they’re not much bigger than apple seeds — then popped them in our mouths. They were bitter, pleasingly so.
“You’ve got to watch this,” Dalton said, and then mixed some bugs into a cup of water. It instantly turned a deep ruby color, like a shot of Campari. “Now watch this,” he said, sounding more excited than Bill Nye the Science Guy, and squeezed in a bit of lime juice. And it instantly turned a golden yellow — the pH level could change the color, he said. Someone suggested adding baking powder to to try to turn it back to red. Dalton ran off to find some, but none was found. The liquid remained gold. We stared at it, thinking maybe hard looking would bring it back.
It didn’t — nor did the chalk we found. So I finished my Stone Fence, and departed a short while later. I bicycled six miles home through a warm New Orleans night. And I did so feeling more encouraged about where cocktails can take us than I have in a long, long time.
"Winter is officially here! I wanted to share some holiday cocktails that are sure to warm you up in the next few months.
"Many of you may know Pucker as a simple addition to your favorite cocktail. Not anymore! Pucker has recently launched a whole new line of vodka flavors that will take your cocktail from boring to bold in seconds flat."
I was in Nashville last week, and I was thirsty.
I’ve long wanted to visit Patterson House, the neo-speakeasy created by Toby Maloney and partners, which I’d heard had a Violet Hour vibe. So I walked up looking for a barstool at 7pm on a Friday. A knot of about 20 people, many of whom were beefy middle-aged men in blazers, lingered on the steps and in the anteroom. I could hear laughter and clinking glasses behind a curtain. I found a host, and she reported what I already knew: “There’s quite a wait.” She extended her pronunciation of “quite” to several seconds to emphasize the amount of patience required before my thirst would be slaked.
I drove across town, hoping for better luck at the Holland House Bar & Refuge in East Nashville. The Holland House is a restaurant and craft cocktail bar in one of those appealing older neighborhoods where residential and commercial still have a close acquaintanceship. It opened in 2010, not long after Patterson House. (Question: Is all of Nashvillle’s creative energy in coming up with names consumed in the titling of albums?)
I easily found a seat at the bar, which forms a square around a pyramidal temple of liquor. The sacrificial tableau is enhanced by four bedposty columns at the corners of the temple. The pair of crones to my right questioned the bartender (“What do you need eyedropper bottles for? Why does that Scotch [Laphroig] smell like turpentine?”) and the hipsterly couple to my left then questioned the bartender (“What Willet bourbons do you have?”), suggesting that the place attracts both cocktail fans and those who don’t yet know they’re cocktail fans. The bartenders were prompt and attentive, and one was apparently sent over from central casting (newsboy cap, plaid shirt, suspenders, backhanded flourish in bitters dispensing).
The drinks list occupied two menu pages, and consisted of a lot of re-imaginings of classics and some wanderings off the reservation. I had a Dandy If You Do, with bourbon, citrus, amaro and Benedictine, which has the potential to be tongue-tied, but was crisp, neat and articulate. And delicious. I also ordered a Black Lemon Old Fashioned, with blackberries, lemon, bitters, and Bulleit, which was tasty but slightly callow and somehow in need of some maturity.
Other drinks on offer: a cobbler made with gin or vodka, St. Germain, honey, and a house-made lemon soda; and a new wave tiki drink with tequila, citrus, Aperol, and ginger.
The crowd here also seemed to skew toward beefy, middle-aged men in blazers, but my neighbors along the bar cleared that up, and may have explained the wait at Patterson House: it was parents weekend at Vanderbilt. And when parents come to town, how do you distract them from the fact that all their earnings are being spent on keggers? Easy: you take them out for a nice cocktail.
This has been getting some press since the end of summer, but I've been holed up in the woods. Yet that doesn't make me marvel less now that I'm out.
The Inebriator Arduino Powered Ccoktail Machine is equal parts fascinating and idiotic. A highball glass mounted on a sort of gurney that scuttles crab-like under upended bottles, returning from time to time to a gun station for mixers The drink demonstrated herein seems heroically unpotable (is that blue curacao added at the end?). Be scared:
I also liked the commentary from engineers about the device at the end of a recent article in Design News (“Serving the 21st Century Design Engineer”). It's a bit like eavesdropping on bartenders debating stepper motors and decelarators, although without well-wrought stories or the alcohol. Here's one:
I detoured a bit out of my way yesterday to see the new Four Roses Visitors Center in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. I was envisioning a big and bold center, like their single-barrel whiskey — perhaps a scaled-down version of the Jack Daniels facility, which is loud and modern but informed by tradition.
The Four Roses “campus” is one of the most beautiful I’ve visited — it’s set down a narrow rural road, and features several Mission-style structures — arriving here is like coming upon a lost compound built by Spanish missionaries, albeit missionaries endowed with a deep understanding of industrial equipment. The structures are uniformly painted the trademark Four Roses yellow, like the label of its best known product.
The new visitor center opened last month as part of a $2.9 million expansion. It’s on a rise above the old visitor center, in a new building that’s also Spanish Mission style.
Sort of. But I wonder: when did we lose the knowledge of how to recreate mission style architecture? The new building lacks the élan and the proper proportioning of the earlier buildings on the grounds. And it’s made with a sort of cheap stucco cladding atop a faux granite plinth, which makes it look like a building from a new mall in an outer suburb. There's also a parade of small shrubberies in front, lending the impression of a waiting line for small shrubbery convention. And it’s weird because none of the other buildings have any design elements like this.
Ooops. My bad. For a moment, I thought this was an architecture blog.
But inside, the center was equally undistinguished - I was hoping for a more of a museum with artifacts of the company’s history. But it’s mostly a swag shop, with tee-shirts and refrigerator magnets, all emblazoned with the Four Roses logo. The new center brought to mind the lobby of a La Quinta hotel. Not a crappy La Quinta, mind you, but one of the good, well-maintained ones in a big city. One with a swimming pool.
Happily, you can buy bourbon in the shop. Unhappily, there was nothing I couldn’t find on my supermarket’s shelves beck home. I asked about the special limited edition bourbon that was bottled to celebrate the opening of the new center, and was available only at the distillery. Sadly, it sold out about two weeks after it went on the market in September. “And you just missed the cask strength limited release bourbon,” the clerk told me, making a frowny face. “That sold out maybe three days ago.”
Don’t get me wrong — it’s a very nice visitor center, and a great gateway for those who know nothing about bourbon and are just starting to learn. It meshes well with the other Bourbon Trail distilleries, a fine remote campuses for teaching Bourbon 101. But for those looking to expand on an existing base — or pick up some otherwise unavailable expressions — it’s probably not worth the detour. Insert frowny face here.
Party Source — a great liquor store with an unfortunate name — is in Bellevue, Kentucky, just across the river from downtown Cincinnati. It’s Wal-Mart huge, which is to say, it’s large enough to distort space and time. In fact, the beer aisle is so long you can actually see the curvature of the earth.
But I didn’t come for beer. I came for bourbon. Hey, it’s Kentucky! And Jay Erisman, the store’s spirits manager, has been mighty helpful to me on the phone more than once as I’ve worked on whiskey stories.
So when my southbound migration back to New Orleans took me through the city last night, a subtle change in gravitational/magnetic fields hit me as I crossed the Ohio River, and my car was inexplicably pulled off the highway.
The store — perhaps this will not come as a surprise to you, but it was to me — is actually a party store. Which is to say a lot of floor space is given over to streamers and paper plates and balloons and cheeses and crackers and bagel crisps. But mostly it’s wine and beer and liquor. And one long, lavish and utterly beguiling aisle devoted to whiskey.
I walked slowly and quietly down the aisle, and paused from time to time to give thanks, as if in a sanctuary devoted to grain. The Party Source is well known locally for the single barrels it selects from various distilleries in the region, then privately bottles. But it’s also well supplied with output from microdistilleries, and has a good sampling of harder-to-find bottlings from the bigger houses, like the Double Oaked Woodford Reserve.
In the end — who do I see about getting that hour back? — I picked up a bottle of the five-year, 114 proof Willett private bottling ($35), and a bottle of the elusive Weller 12-year ($25). And for good measure I picked up a bottle of Scarlet Ibis rum ($25), because, well... do I need a reason?
I wasn’t the only customer paying obeisance and getting lost while wandering the wheated plains. A pair of hipsterish 30-something guys were also wandering around slowly, and pointing out bottles as if at treasures in the Louvre.
“I don’t know why I’m so stuck looking at whiskey,” one of them said.
And his friend replied, “Um, because it’s delicious?”
Al’s has some 820 different bottles of spirits arrayed on a towering wall of shelves reached via rolling library ladder.
Do I need to write more? Yes? OK, then:
Al’s is on South Clinton Street in downtown Syracuse, part of a row that’s lined with beer and shot joints of the sort that attracts college students like flies to simple syrup. You can get a $1.50 Jack and coke across the street. But Al’s is classier, and has a solid, durable, and masculine feel to it, like an old-time saloon, with high ceilings and a little neon, but without getting all cute about it. You get the feeling Al’s could take a punch then come up smiling.
Al’s has a long and stout bar that makes for a manly place to hang out, and it’s got seating areas fore and aft of the bar with those durable leather couches that look like the distant cousins of catcher’s mitts. They appear as if they could take a punch, too. Up front there’s an 8-foot projection screen, making Al’s a good place to catch a game. A manly game. Note: not soccer. When I left, someone was setting up for a weekly trivia game. I didn’t stick around to find out if the questions were manly questions or if the loser got punched in the face.
About the spirits: there are a lot of them. Did I mention there are about 820 different varieties? That’s what Jim the bartender told me, and a quick scan of the shelves gave me little reason to doubt his claim. This includes 100+ American whiskeys, and about 80+ scotches. It’s a fine selection, and had I the time I would have enjoyed working my way through some very excellent whiskies, including Elmer T. Lee, Basil Hayden, WhistlePig, and Tuthilltown. He reported that he moves a lot of Smooth Ambler Old Scout, which is indeed a fine bourbon. He does this through hand-selling, he said, and I like a place that takes the time to highlight the little-known good stuff. Jim said that if a distiller or distributor stops by with a bottle, and they like the way it tastes, they’ll find room for it on the shelf.
I ordered a Manhattan, part of my long term Manhattan project to assess the current state of this historic cocktail. More on this later. Jim asked for my bourbon preference (they also have a whole lot of ryes) and suggested Redemption High-Rye Bourbon from Indiana. He built it in a rocks glass, without first mixing it in a glass or tin. It was capped with Gary Regan’s Orange Bitters (good), but the first sip tasted mostly of bitters since it hadn’t been subjected to much too-and-fro (bad). And it was served over sloppy crescent ice with a bright red cherry (meh). It was also lighter on vermouth than I’d like. Overall, I’d give it B-.
Food here is strictly college fare — chicken nachos, buffalo chicken wraps, that sort of thing — but reasonably cheap ($5 to $8) and offers ballast where ballast is called for. It’s open until 2am, and you can order eats until 1:45am, which is essentially a public service.
Also, it’s just a few blocks from the freakishly interesting Niagara Mohawk Building (right). Which means that after you’ve had a few drams, you can wander down and repetedly shout “Surrender Dorothy!” and make jokes about flying monkeys. Don’t dismiss this as a stupid frat boy activity until you’ve tried it.
I Googled around to see if there was a fancy cocktail lounge in Syracuse, but didn’t turn anything up. If anyone has suggestions, let me know.
If not, that’s OK. I’d be happy to wander back into Al’s next time I’m in town, and try some more whiskey.
321 South Clinton Street Syracuse, NY 13202; (315) 703-4773; alswineandwhiskey.com
Note to readers: St.-Germain is releasing a limited edition, faux-vintage, one-speed bicycle, which looks really, really cool. Don’t you think it would be really cool to have one of these to ride around your city, especially if your city were flat, like, say, New Orleans?
Also, St.-Germain liqueur is really, really good in cocktails. You should buy some, and then buy some more. It tastes like French alpine elderflowers, only better.
Note to St.-Germain PR reps: Please contact me for the particulars as regards shipping.