How ’bout a Harvey Milk Punch?

I’m not necessarily a last-minute kind of guy.  This past weekend I decided to stray away from that mold and hold a spontaneous Oscars party at our apartment in Brooklyn.  It was small.  Small to us really means small.  Anything bigger on such short notice would have been disasterous. 

Food was a given.  I cooked a variety of appetizer dishes: refried bean, cheddar and spinach quesadillas; cucumber-mint yogurt; cheeses and crackers, mushroom and parmesan crostinis…Didn’t know I could cook, did ‘ya?

Cocktails were even more of a given.  Here was the selection: Harvey Milk Punches and Slumdog Millionaire Margaritas.  I thought I was pretty witty for coming up with those.  Don’t you think?  Don’t you worry, I’ve included the recipes below. 

On a side note – I did just learn that this past Sunday was National Margarita Day, and we didn’t even know it.  I mean, how can I call myself a bar professional without knowing when National Margarita day was?  I mean, really!

Harvey Milk Punch (variation on a Brandy Milk  Punch)

1 1/2 oz. Hennessy VSOP Cognac

3/4 oz. Chambord Liqueur

1/2 oz. Condensed Milk

Directions:  Shake all ingredients very well in a shaker with ice.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Garnish: Pinch of ground cinnamon on top.


Slumdog Millionaire Margarita (variation on the Millionaire’s Margarita)

1 1/2 oz. Tezon Anejo Tequila

1/2 oz. Grand Marnier 150th Anniversary

3/4 oz. Fresh lime juice

1/2 oz. Simple syrup

Directions:  Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice.  Strain over ice into an old-fashioned glass or straight up into a cocktail glass.

Garnish: chili pepper and turbinado sugar rim*

*to make the rim, combine equal parts chili pepper and demerara sugar, then rub the outside rim of your glass with the ‘meat’ of a lime wedge, and dip the outside rim into the dry mixture.



The Bitter Truth of it All


It’s a very sad weekend in the liquor business, for this is the weekend we say goodbye to LeNell’s Wine and Spirits Boutique in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  LeNell has been gracing us with her presence now for the last few years in the Hook, and yesterday she had to shutter her doors for good (at that location, at least).  But she will back – oh yes, she will be back.  Following a brief stint overseas, I expect LeNell to return in full force and open up anew – perhaps even including a cocktail loung in the mix?!

LeNell’s always had the most extensive Whiskey and Bitters selections in all the land.  She even had a quirky bathtub she kept her gins she sold in.  She is the epitome of southern charm, and will surely be missed.

Speaking of bitters, I attended a great bitters workshop led by Tal Nadari (of Bols Genever fame) and Stephan Berg, founder of The Bitter Truth.  TBT specializes in bitters, but recently added a Rye Whiskey and Sloeberry Gin into the mix.  The Clover Club was the hostess, and Stephan the speaker.  He did a marvelous job of disecting the history and modern day usage of bitters, while the staff at Clover pleased our souls  by passing around various libations using TBT bitters.   

Both TBT and Bols Genever stress their usage in classic cocktails.  One in particular, The Improved Holland Gin Cock-Tail, is straight from Jerry Thomas’ era.  I’ve included the recipe below, so as to fascilitate your mixing of said cocktail:

The Improved Holland Gin Cock-Tail

Glass: A small pre-chilled cocktail glass/coupe

2 shots Bols Genever

3 dashes rich sugar syrup (2 parts sugar: 1 part water)

2 dashes The Bitter Truth Orange Bitters

1 dash of dry orange curacao liqueur

Stir the ingredients with large, hard, cold ice cubes and strain into the glass.

Garnish: wet the rim of the glass with a lemon slice and discard, then after straining the drink into the glass, spray and rim a zest of lemon peel, dropping it into the drink afterwards.

You’ll also notice in past posts and/or future posts, I’ve used TBT bitters in various capacities.  One of my absolute favorites is the Jerry Thomas Decanter Bitters.  If you don’t have a bottle of these in your possession, you are truly missing out.  Adding a dash or two of these bitters to your favorite classics reminds you of the hard work and talent that JT put into coming up with his drinks, and towards running his many bars across the country. 

I will think of you, sweet LeNell, as I sip my bitters-infused cocktails…


The Experimental Experience

For those who may not know, I just returned from a week-long soujourn in Paris and Champagne. Tough life, ain’t it? I was urged that if I were to only go to two cocktail lounges in Paris, that I should visit the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz Hotel and the Experimental Cocktail Club in the “Les Halles” neighborhood of Paris. Well, I literally had to choose between the two (due to time constraints), and I dubiously chose the latter. No offense to the talented folks at the Hemingway Bar – I now have a priority visit for the next time.

My good friend, Andy, with whom I spent four glorious years with at a small liberal arts college in upstate New York, accompanied me on this trip. We wandered around the pedestrian-only streets of “Les Halles” in search of this Experimental place I had heard much about. We strolled up the Rue St. Denis, passing by hip bars and pubs that eventually turned into sex shops and peep show establishments. Hey, this was the real Paris – raw, uncut, charming.

We finally arrived at the Rue St. Sauveur, a street that is as small as small can be. We walked until the street changed names, and wondered how we could have missed our destination. Then I recalled – this is a speakeasy style place, just like all of the other speakeasy style places, it’s hard to spot – that’s part of the kitch.

We turned around and came to #37. A small golden plaque adorned the building, emblazen with the words: “Experimental Cocktail Club.” Here we both were, ready and willing to enter into Parisian cocktail heaven.

The place was empty – mind you we arrived at around 5:55pm and they opened at 6pm. This was actually a good thing. We were able to watch the Carina, the Bar Manager/Tendress prepare for the evening: picking fresh basil, laying the long lemongrass stalks into highball glasses on the bar, organizing the syrups and tinctures.

The place is tight. And by tight I mean it’s well-run and the staff is well-educated. Our first round included the “Bee’s Kiss” – a creamy blend of Appleton VX Rum, cream, honey, and pepper. My drink was called the “Rye Tobacco Sour,” and included Rittenhouse Rye, Tabacco liqueur (although I couldn’t much taste this in the drink), fresh lemon juice, egg white, and bitters. The drinks were good: I would have loved for the Bee’s Kiss to have drummed up a bit more honey and a bit less cream; some more frothy foam on the Rye cocktail would have been nice (the key is really to shake as hard as you possibly can) – I guess this means I’m becoming a cocktail snob. Please! Say it ain’t so!!

The next round was perfect.  Andy got the Old Cuban (Havana Club 3-yr, Champagne, Ginger cordial, lime juice, fresh mint, sugar cane, and angostura bitters), a classic!  I sipped “Carina’s Experience” – a drink that just popped out at me on the menu, mainly because it was the drink’s namesake who was tending to us.  Along with the “Strawberry Alarm Clock,” (Ketel One, fresh strawberries, fresh lemon, fresh mint, strawberry cordial), these two drinks, according to Carina, are the most popular.  Although the menu notes “uniquement du lundi a mercredi” (only from Monday – Wednesday), I was in luck, and the ingredients for the “Carina’s Experience” were available.  Carina made the drink herself, and she suggested Gin as the base, in lieu of the Cognac Grosperrin that is stated on the list.  She combined this with Carpano Antiqua (very hot these days), lavender essence, and the Bitter Truth aromatic bitters. 

Our two drinks were so well-balanced that for the rest of our trip we stood up as straight as arrows. 

By the time said second round hit the bar top, the place was packed, shoulder to shoulder. Our glasses empty, we ducked out then and there and continued our evening with a stop in the 17th arrondisement at my cousin’s boyfriend’s flat. The night culminated with a stop at Chez Castel in the 6eme arrondisement (for those of you who don’t know this system in Paris, it’s fairly easy- each neighborhood is given a number, beginning with 1, and starting in central Paris and spiralling outwards). This really is a topic for an entirely different post – but you’re in luck because I’ve just decided to include it in this one.

Club Castel – the name itself evokes secrets, lies, deception, $50 glasses of Champagne. We somehow finagled our way into this members-only, celebrity hot-sspot club (or I think it used to members-only at one point). My buddy Andy, oh good old Andy, was wearing a huge no-no: Jeans and Sneakers. We were never going to get in here. Yet, somehow we did. Not sure if the doorman was bribed, or perhaps more feasibly the promise of multiple bottles purchased by our new friends was exclaimed. Nevertheless, we made it inside.

This multi-storied lounge/dance club was an eye-full to say the least. The walls, bars, furniture and clientel were the epitome of oppulence. I noticed grey-haired fancy men sipping champagne at tables, gawking at the late-teen, early-20-something year-old blonde beauties swirling around them, of whom were aching for the chance to explore their old man gawker pockets.

When you’re at Club Castel you dance – you dance hard. The lights get you moving – the music (although all American, like Britney Spears and Alanis re-mixes) gets you jumping, and the drinks force you to empty out your pockets. Needless to say, we only had one round.

If there’s one place to go in Paris, it’s the ECC, hands down! And if you can get into Club Castel, go for it, but just don’t wear jeans and sneakers…or do and see what goes down. Your choice.


The Experimental Cocktail Club

37 Rue St Sauveur

Paris, France


Chez Castel

15 Rue Princesse

Paris, France

Sneak peek – next entry: Champagne!

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