As many of my co-workers and friends know, I decided to spend my birthday this year in New York as a one man show, and I must say, it was pretty awesome. I decided to chronicle my experience and share it with anyone who had nothing better to do but hear me ramble. Now I will say that in this chronicle I may not have been able to get the names of all the places or people that I visited along the way; but at the same time this was a trip of utter indulgence.
I started out on this trip in my overly anxious way by arriving to the bus station approximately two hours prior to departure. Being that a bus ride was not the most fascinating thing in the world, I spent most of the time sleeping. The one thing I learned from this is that riding on a bus for several hours warrants a drink. So after taking the subway over to Grand Central Station, with a stop at R.A.G. clothing store, I popped out to find the nearest watering hole. I stopped at the first bar I found, a small, cheap Irish bar that I will never know the name of but will probably visit again. Two Stoli & Sodas and a change of plans later, I jumped back on the subway and made my way to Brooklyn.
I arrived in a mostly hipster part of the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn. After a short nap and getting settled in at The New York Loft Hostel, I took a quick shower and donned my new attire. With no particular plans I headed towards the subway station. I passed a custom bike shop with a sign in the window saying barber shop. I decided to investigate this peculiarity, and sure enough in the back of the shop was a barber shop, and being in dire need of haircut I said why not. It turns out the barber was originally from Massachusetts. I asked him where he got the idea to open a barber shop in a bike shop, and he told me he used to own a skate shop in Mass with the same setup. When he moved here his friend suggested he do the same thing in the back of his bike shop. One haircut later, I rounded the corner and came across a small wine & liquor shop (of which I did not catch the name). I went inside to browse, noting an attention to quality by the bottles of Chartruese behind the counter. After a quick chat with the clerk I decided to move on.
Taking a recommendation from my friend Andre, I decided to make my way to the Chelsea area of Manhattan and grab a bite to eat at El Quinto Pino, a small tapas restaurant on West 24th Street. I was immediately struck by the coziness and ambiance of the place that probably only holds thirty people. The menus were written on chalkboards on the wall, the cocktail menu was actually written on a painted column in the middle of an elliptical bar. I ordered a glass of white wine and a couple of tapas based on the recommendation of my server, all of which were delicious and excellently prepared. I then decided to make my way to their sister restaurant, Txikito, just a short walk away. Txikito specializes in Basque cuisine and the cider, or sidra, barrel outside the front door let me know that this place was the real deal. I was welcomed by a warm, wooden interior and a small, inviting bar. I grabbed the first seat I saw and ordered a glass of Basque-style cider made in New Hampshire by Poverty Lane Orchards & Farnum Hill Ciders. It was delicious and true to the Basque tradition of making cider. Taking the bartender’s recommendation, I ordered one of the specials written on the chalkboard. It consisted of fresh dates and thinly-sliced Jamon Serrano piled atop of piece of sweet, hard bread and lightly drizzled with a vibrant glaze. I enjoyed this with a crisp, acidic glass of Ulacia Txakoli that got better with each sip. In talking with the bartender, she recommended I check out a wine shop in the East Village called Tinto Fino, as well as, a couple cocktail bars in the city. Upon getting ready to leave I was greeted by chef/owner Alex Raij, and had wonderful talk with her about her restaurant and also our own offerings in Worcester. Moving on, I decided to head to the East Village.
The next morning I was thankful I had the wherewithal to buy a bottle of water from a vending machine in the hostel the night before. After consuming the bottle in about two seconds, I showered and prepared for another day in the city. Needing a caffeine fix I decided to check out Café Orwell located right next door; this would become my primary source of caffeine for the rest of my trip. It is a great little café that has plenty of comfortable seats and boasts live music on certain nights. I decided to head to the wine shop the bartender at Txikito recommended in the East Village.
After returning to the East Village mid-morning I decided I would grab a bite to eat at the first and most appropriate place I came across. I chose an Italian wine bar, and unfortunately, I didn‘t get the name. I ordered a glass of prosecco and some prosciutto with cantaloupe. After a quick chat with the cute and very Italian young lady behind the bar I continued on my way. I arrived at Tinto Fino to find that they didn’t open for another half-hour. I decided not venture too far from the shop and grabbed a cappuccino with some biscotti at the nearest café I found. Given the unseasonably warm weather I decided to enjoy my selections at a small table on the sidewalk patio. Upon returning to Tinto Fino, I entered a quaint wine shop with some very unique Spanish wine adorning the racks along the walls. My eyes were immediately drawn to three bottles sitting atop an oak wine barrel: Spanish vermouth. Having never seen, or even heard of, Spanish vermouth I immediately asked the clerk about the product. He told me the vermouth, Vermouth Perucchi, had recently become available in the U.S. What amazed me was the exceptional price of $20 a bottle. I told the clerk I would definitely be back to pick up a bottle on my way out of the city the next day.
From here I decided to head over to Soho and indulge in some shopping, since my wardrobe at home is a little outdated. I decided to go to both H&M stores on Broadway. On a side note, I cannot clothes shop to save my life, so I had to rely on advice via text from my friend Deb. After much indecision and several hard-earned dollars later, I had finally put together a decent outfit to wear out in the city that evening. I decided that I would head over to the Blue Ribbon Bakery in the West Village for a glass of wine. On the way I passed by yet another small wine shop and decided to continue the trend by poking my head in the door. Inside I noticed the shelves behind the counter were mostly empty with the exception of a few bottles of craft spirits. When I asked the owner about the small quantity of spirits, he told me that he was trying to add unique, non-mainstream spirits but was still unfamiliar with many of the products available out there. Enter cocktail-geek mode. I spoke to him at length about the many spirits I had worked with and made several recommendations, and he quickly jotted down the names on a slip of register tape.
I arrived at the Blue Ribbon Bakery and upon walking thru the door was inundated with the smell of fresh baking bread. Looking over the small list of wines by the glass I asked for a crisp white and was given exactly what I wanted. After making small talk with a fellow patron at the bar, I went to use the restroom in the basement and passed by an impressive open kitchen that housed the bakery. I stood for a minute and watched in awe as the bakers worked diligently to prepare the various breads. I returned to the bar and settled my tab. In hindsight I wish I had grabbed a bite to eat here; next time I will.
On my walk back to the nearest subway stop I had a craving for something sinful – hello Five Guys Burgers & Fries. I had a quick bacon cheeseburger that landed in my stomach like a brick; it was exactly what I was looking for. With my phone almost dead I decided to head back to the hostel to recharge my phone (and myself with a nap). Upon waking up a couple hours later, I felt a little groggy and grabbed a double espresso at Café Orwell to drink while I got ready for yet another night out in the city. It was then back to the East Village for my fist stop: Death + Co.
I arrived Death + Co. to be greeted by a doorman standing in front of a large wooden door with a clipboard. When I asked him how to get in, he responded by saying they let people in if there’s space and by how good they‘re dressed. I responded by saying “Well, if I have the proper attire I’d like to grab a cocktail at the bar”. He was able to accommodate. I was let into a dark, funeral parlor looking bar that glowed with dim candles strewn about the room. I grabbed the first available seat at the bar and ordered a rum-based cocktail called Flor de Jerez, named this due to the use of Amontillado Sherry in the beverage. After slowly enjoying the drink and talking at length with the mixologist who made the drink, I ordered a drink using Pimms, with the condition that it could not be a Pimms Cup. She delivered me a delicious cocktail that I could probably never replicate, mainly because the ingredients used in it have escaped me. A short time later, the other gentleman working the bar with her approached with three shots of dark spirit which I could probably identify a yard away just from the aroma alone: Fernet Branca. He plopped the shots down on the bar and said he “knew how much us Boston bartenders are obsessed with Fernet”. I responded by saying that I’m a Worcester bartender, but still obsessed with Fernet none the less. After some more shop talk, I paid my tab and headed back out into the streets of New York to my next destination which would take me to one of the best bars I have ever been to.
While on my way to the nearest subway stop, with plans to catch a train to the West Village to check out a cocktail bar, the cocktails, shots of Fernet, and three glasses of water caught up with me. I made a mad dash for the closest place I could find that could accommodate my “need”, which was a night club that had just opened for the evening. Embarrassed to simply ask to use the restroom, I approached the bar and asked the bartender for a Stoli & Soda. Taking care of my business I returned to the bar and asked to pay my tab using my debit card since I had only a few dollars in my pocket. At this point I found out it was a $30 minimum to use a card and I was only at $10. The only solution to this problem was two shots; one for me and one for her. I opted for Fernet and she chose Jameson saying she couldn’t believe how people drank “that stuff”, referring to the Fernet of course. We got to talking, with me mentioning it was my birthday and my love of cocktail bars. She borrowed one of my blank business cards, wrote down the name of bar in Tribeca called Ward III and said to ask for Abdul when I got there. Though my tab was only $27 she said I was all set to settle up. Upon returning with my card she brought two more shots on the house and said she hoped I enjoy my birthday. Thank you Hulya.
Intrigued and excited by this new prospect I opted to change my plans and make a beeline for Tribeca (with a quick stop at McDonalds to once again use the facilities). Approaching the door a homeless man asked me to buy him a burger. Brushing it off as simply another vagrant wanting money for booze or drugs, I said no. Then once inside I realized that he didn’t ask for money; he asked for food. On my way out I took out the few dollars I had in my pocket, handed it to him, and told him to buy a couple of burgers. Moving on.
I arrived in the Tribeca area and, thanks to the wonderful technology that is GPS, I soon found myself standing outside Ward III. I walked through the door into a chic, urban bar with high ceilings and dim lighting. As I approached the bar, I was greeted by the scent of fresh spices, citrus fruit, and unhindered spirits; like entering a mixologist’s Shangri-La. I grabbed a seat at the bar and asked the bartender for Abdul, which turned out to be him. I presented my business card that Hulya had written my instructions on. The bar espoused Bespoke Cocktails in which they present a list of options that included Spirit, Texture, Spice, Flavor, and Fruit. I told Abdul I was in the mood for a brown spirit; he suggested Bourbon and I, never shying from Bourbon, gave my approval. The cocktail which I could not name, most likely because it may now have been named after me, was elegant and intense with flavor that covered every taste bud in my mouth and brought sensation to the pallet. Being the conversationalist that I am, I immediately started talking to Abdul about cocktails, the bar, what I did, etc. At one point he gave me his card and I noticed under his name was “Proprietor”; I thought that was pretty cool. After several savory and delicious cocktails later, I made my way back to Brooklyn with one stop for a Chimichanga, which, had I been perfectly sober, most likely would not have eaten.
Upon returning to Brooklyn, I decided that since it was my last night there I would check out the nearest bar on Flushing Ave that Yelp would take me to. I ended up at the Wreck Room and grabbed a seat at the bar next to a cute young lady named Stephanie. I asked her what was good to drink and she pointed the small chalkboard that listed a Tecate & shot of Tequila for around $5. I of course ordered this and me, not being a shy person, started conversing with Stephanie. Several Tecate & Tequilas later we decided to grab a quick bite to eat before heading to a nearby cocktail bar she had told me about. It was at this point that I found out I do not like Falafel, at all. We left there and headed over to The Narrows, a great little cocktail bar also on Flushing Ave. After a couple drinks here it was time to call it a night, or morning, since it was almost four. Believing that chivalry is not dead, I walked Stephanie home, said goodbye, and took a cab back to the hostel.
Waking up the next morning slightly later than planned, and with a slight hang over, I packed my belongings, checked out, and placed them in the day storage which the hostel offered. I headed off, with yet another stop at Café Orwell, to Aldea on West 17th Street for lunch with my friend, Maria Stevens, the JM Fonseca-Faustino US Brand Ambassador. I arrived a few minutes early and grabbed a table while I waited for Maria to arrive. She arrived with a bottle of 1982 Faustino I Gran Reserva, bottled in my birth year, as a gift. Thank you very much Maria. At this point I also had the pleasure of meeting Chef George Mendes, truly a gifted chef. I opted for the three-course menu, as did she. The first course was a wonderfully prepared Arugula & Pickled Apple Salad with Sao Jorge cheese & hazelnuts. This was followed by an Organic Chicken Breast with baby bok choy, mushrooms, & coconut curry. For desert I opted for the Banana Caramel Bread Pudding with crème fraiche sorbet. Of course this was accompanied by a bottle of fresh, crisp white wine. Upon leaving lunch I headed back down to Tinto Fino and bought a bottle of the Spanish vermouth that had caught my eye, opting for the blanco version.
I went back to the hostel and collected my belongings. I spent the next hour sitting in Café Orwell, reminiscing over the past few days’ events with a sadness to be leaving, but we all have to return to reality at some point. I left Café Orwell and jumped on the subway to the transit authority and several hours later I arrived back in Worcester. Upon returning to my humble apartment, weary from travel, I unpacked. After tasting my purchase at Tinto Fino I decided to craft a cocktail. I dubbed it Manhattan Affair 82. Cheers.