My first love was cocktails. I grew up in my grandparents’ center city loft in the old world and in the old time. They hosted brilliant parties: I remember women in pearls, with fragile glasses of fizzy drinks. Men at the grand piano with arms around the tiny waists of beautiful girls. There were cut decanters and carved statues of nudes in ivory. Damask velvet wallpaper and thick-framed mirrors, Louis XIV curved chair backs. It was all crystal and lacquer and satin. I had a tray with a gilded frame and leather bottom, and on it I balanced delicate stemmed glasses full to the brim with magical potions which made the adults laugh and dance and tell me stories about each other. My grandfather was always smiling, but always watching, and always in full control. He taught me the rules, and I have never had occasion to question them. 1. Don’t ever serve your guests anything you don’t love. You make it, you taste it, and, if it’s good, you serve it. What if it’s not good? What a question! Dump it – good riddance to bad rubbish. 2. Polish every glass every time, look through it at the light, it should sparkle. “Refill” is a colloquialism for “new glass.” Don’t forget. 3. Fill the glass to the top: it must exude luxury, opulence, abundance. What if it spills? If it spills – good. That’s a good problem. And next time, don’t spill. And 4. Take care of your guests. Anticipate what they’ll need and have it; don’t make them ask. What they don’t need, you make disappear – there are no dirty dishes at my party. Always make their drink, always put it in their hand, hold by the stem. Use people’s names when you address them, look them in the eye, don’t be afraid, they’ll like you, introduce guests to each other with personal details. Don’t flatter – that’s insincere; rather – admire. Grandpa told me that times would change, and so they have, but, he also told me, people would not, and indeed they haven’t. The thirst, the dance, the need for escape, is primordial. We seek luxury, we want to be pampered, we wait to be served. If I am serving you, your cocktail will be made with a good spirit, a fresh squeezed mixer, Fee Brothers bitters, and a classic ratio. If your glasses are polished to a high shine and filled to the brim, if your cocktails are made by hand for the people you admire, then you really can’t make a bad choice. Try these to start, and then come see me for more – I’ll keep the recipes coming.
THE MANHATTAN is the ultimate classic – it’s elegant, it tastes great, and it can be made in a pitcher in advance. Serving a Manhattan will give you a chance to break out your beautiful coupe glasses and show off the cherries you canned last summer.
2 oz rye whiskey of your choice
1 oz very good sweet (also called Italian) vermouth
2 dashes aromatic bitters
Fill a mixing glass or a pint glass two thirds with ice and pour in the whiskey, vermouth, and bitters. Use a long spoon to stir for 30 seconds. Try to move the spoon along the inside of the glass and don’t make any noise – you want the cocktail to stay clear, so don’t let the ice cubes crash against each other. Strain the chilled cocktail into a coupe glass, and garnish with a cherry. For a personal variation or a holiday touch, play with different kinds of bitters and try brandying a cranberry instead of a cherry for garnish.
THE STINGER has only two ingredients and you’ll want to have those around for the holidays anyway, and the cocktail is so delicious, it will make you look like mixologist extraordinaire:
2 oz cognac of your choice
1 oz Tempus Fugit Crème de Menthe
Wrap a large scoop of ice cubes in a towel and smash them with a hammer. Really. When you think the cubes are all crushed, unwrap and dump the ice into a double old-fashioned glass. Fill the glass all the way to the top, like a snow cone. Pour the cognac on top, and then the mint liquor. Try it, and then try to save some for your guests.