tie one on: three gin cocktails

Gin is a liquor that many of us associate with old men or collegiate over-imbibing. Somehow, I escaped both correlations, discovering the classic "G & T" at the ripe tippling age of 23. It quickly became my go-to at sleazy bars and upscale haunts alike. And when my relative lack of cocktail knowledge became a professional liability - spurring me on to discover the city's best mixology - I still remained largely loyal to this purest of spirits. Photo Credit - Clay Williams

Interestingly, over the past year, gin has shifted from a peripheral pleasure to a celebrated ingredient - most notably with the opening of a string of gin-centric bars. So in honor of my longest lasting liquor love, I'm listing off my top gin cocktails in the city. It's by no means an exhaustive imbiber's city guide, but rather a personalized collection of favorite finds.

3) Hong Kong Garden, Lovers of Today I was introduced to this tiny subterranean bar by a boy who I was not yet seeing. He, being a poetic personality, knew just where to casually seduce a lady. But that night, he wasn't the only thing I fell for. The unique addition of yuzu pepper to the Hong Kong Garden's elegant gin- and lime-filled coupe quickly distinguished it from the other spicy cocktails I'd eagerly sipped around the city. Since then, I've returned with other men, but I'm still loyal to the Garden.

2) Negroni, Amor y Amargo - and Weather Up These days, my go-to cocktail is no longer a G&T, it's a negroni. Campari inducted me into the cocktail game, and it remains a flamboyant bitter that I never tire of. Needless to say, I've tasted negronis all over town, and these two bars are among the best. Amor y Amargo for obvious reasons: they're the bitters experts. So if you're looking for both balance and intensity, they're your perfect cocktail bar - for negronis and more. As far as Weather Up, they won me over with their cubes. Oversized, hand-cut squares, swaddled in sturdy lowball glasses, create the perfect climate for a refreshingly chilly negroni that is (almost miraculously) never watered down.

Thick as Thieves - Photo by Marissa Evans

1) Thick as Thieves, Gwynnett St I came upon this bar entirely by accident, at the invitation of a young food professionals networking group. As we nibbled on the restaurant's addictive, buttery whiskey bread, I consulted with a waitress on my second round. When she brought me this drink, I audibly raved. It was my first encounter with Cocchi Americano and the more unusual quinine. Cut with lime, this libation is less aggressive than a bitters-driven negroni, but avoids veering down an overly saccharine route. It's easily the most unique, elegantly grown-up gin cocktail I've tried to date.

To learn more about the Thieves' story, I contacted Adam Volk, General Manager at Gwynnett St:

"Originally the Thick as Thieves was made as a riff on the classic Tanqueray and tonic; I was looking to create a more elegant version of my favorite drink. It started out with myself and Doug Mancini and soon after we were joined by Gerry Corcoran and Marissa Evans. After we played around for a while, it was brought to its current form, using Tanqueray, Bonal, Cocchi Americano, lime juice and our house-made quinine tincture. I actually was inspired to use the name from The Jam song "Thick as Thieves". The name comes from the saying 'they are as thick as thieves' - an idiom for close-knit people or groups. Gin and tonic being such a classic combo, it seemed to fit."

Better yet, for those who like a little food with your booze, Gwynnett St's kitchen has received raves reviews from numerous publications, including the ever-intimidating New York Times.

So belly on up to one of these fabulous bars, and raise a glass to good ol' gin.

Lovers of Today, 132 1/2 E 7th St, New York, NY Amor y Amargo, 443 E 6th St, New York, NY Weather Up, 589 Vanderbilt Ave, Brooklyn, NY Gwynnett St, 312 Graham Ave, Brooklyn, NY

tie-one-on: "the tippler"

It's curious how these things happen.  I recently met the editor of a food publication, who asked about my areas of food expertise and ignorance.  Cooking, restaurants, markets, wine - I've got it covered.  But cocktails... well, "I look forward to learning more". For me, cocktails have always, quite literally, been the murky end of the watering hole.  I typically stick to wine  or the occasional Delirium/Chimay Bleue (though I do appreciate a good gin & tonic or mint-packed mojito).  Over the years, my cocktail-obsessed friends have staged several initiations:  The mint julep (I've always loved Ray Charles' "One Mint Julep"), the dark and stormy (when in Bermuda...), my first [dirty] martini (love olives! love gin! we're in Paris!)...they all failed to seduce me.  And don't even get me started on cocktails that don't remotely taste of alcohol (signing that tab is like signing off on the worst hangover of your life).

But in the week since that interview, serendipity's crept in.  First, a Brooklyn nightcap with jazz musicians.  They were sipping Islay Malt, and I was enraptured by the smoke in the air.  Though I could only get down a few sips, unlike other dark liquors I've sampled before, this one held held my interest and made me want to learn to drink it.  The composer and bartender of the group studied me determinedly, ultimately deciding a Campari would be my better companion.  Surprisingly subtle sweetness and the scent of orange rind, followed by the bite of grapefruit bitters...I was hooked.  As I gazed into the crystal ball of my dazzling pink drink, an optimistic cocktail future opened slowly before me.

Cue The Tippler.

Slated to open in May, the Tippler didn't make its sub-Chelsea Market debut until mid-September, but the crowds are already more than trickling in.  Right off the crossroads of the Meatpacking - where 6-inch-stiletto'ed vixens, charming-but-cocky entrepreneurs, and borderline-legal social-climbers come to play - the entrance to the Tippler could be easily missed.  The only sign of their existence, jutting into an otherwise empty alley, is a yellow-bulbed throwback, we're "OPEN".

Once inside, it was clear I was still in the quartier of cool.  The crowd was not quite pre-Boom Boom Room - perhaps more post-Pastis - but the vibe was decidedly "sophisticated, creative, urban professional".  I was running late and - without even batting an eye at the drink menu - grabbed a glass of (very good) vinho verde.  But when I joined my friends at the back table, I sensed that the cocktails spread over the table were not the good ol' classics of Robitussin-y yore.  The raves started at a low rumble, but quickly fixated on a certain "Sea Monkey".  "It feels like drinking celery," someone said, as the tumbler tilted towards my lips.  Sea and celery indeed - but not overly brine-y - and anise, but mellow, like fennel.

Curiosity peaked, I asked the bar-man for another whimsical gin drink.  "Curly & the Turk" : Blue curaçao, gin, lemon, hibiscus, chili pepper - it looked like a snowcone for adults, but the citrus and spice more than balanced the sweet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFxHaUn28-c&feature=player_embedded

From there I met "The Marauder of 15th Street" : tequila, gin, chile, bitters, smoked salt - the layers of flavor unfolded like a beautifully-plated, boozy dish.  A friend chose the bison grass vodka "Derek Smalls" - the unusual herbaceous kick prompting audible expressions of excitement.  In brief, it was if we had landed on the sophisticated, understated set of Charlie & the Cocktail Factory : a bar of "pure imagination".

Before you dismiss my whimsical musings - I should present some of my more serious bar companions.  That night, I rubbed elbows with the likes of cocktail consultants, restaurateurs, and stylistas - veterans of strong drink to say the least.  They too were more than tickled by the Tippler, and with good reason.

Because somewhere beyond the immaturity of binge-drinking and the snobbery of cultivated consumption, there is the possibility to revel in a truly remarkable cocktail.  The Tippler has beautifully hit the bulls-eye, drink after drink.