The cocktail bars of New York City are a natural resource like the Redwoods in California and the bartender is like a forest ranger protecting you from the wild animals and guiding you through the thick under-brush of alcoholic beverages. This description is tongue and cheek but in 1967 when I walked into Charley O's, a great New York City bar and grill. I KNEW I was home; to quote my own book The Craft of the Cocktail,
"... I fell in love with bars because of the uninhibited, disordered and surprising way life unfolds at the bar. The only logical progression in my life has been the wealth of characters that crossed my path, leaving their sweet, sour, strong, and weak for me to ponder. I dedicate this book to all the friends and strangers who took a moment to tell a great story and send me on my way".
Over the next several years I learned the ethics of the barroom, what to drink, and when to drink it and why. How to treat the bartender and how I should be treated in turn. And of course how to tip. But the most important thing learned was how to listen and enjoy the life of the bar.
In 1959, in New York City, Joe Baum, a genius of the restaurant business and the president of the newly formed Restaurant Associates Company opened two restaurants that would change the way we eat and drink over the next 40 years. Both restaurants were located in brand new glass towers. The Four Seasons Restaurant was located in the Seagram's Building on Park Avenue. The Seagram's Building is the architectural achievement of two of the 20th century's most celebrated architects, Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe and Philip Johnson. The second restaurant La Fonda Del Sol was located on 6th Avenue in the not so celebrated Time Life building.
The Four Seasons, still operating today, celebrated a return to fresh and regional ingredients prepared with culinary techniques from around the world, while La Fonda Del Sol celebrated the cuisine of the Latin Americas' from Mexico to the tip of South America. La Fonda's cocktail menu boasted the Pisco Sour and Mojito Criollo ... indeed Joe was way out front of the pack!
All this in the 1950's world of bland unchanging menus based on meat and potatoes when the most exciting greens on the plate were iceberg and Romaine lettuce. I went to work for Joe in 1985 and he demanded that I recreate the 19th and early 20th century cocktail bar based on fresh ingredients and classic recipes. Over the next 15 years with Joe, most of them at the Famous Promenade Bar in the Rainbow Room, I celebrated the American cocktail.
Today as founding president of The Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans, I along with curator and author Ted Haigh and the other founding members of the museum continue to celebrate the great American culinary institution the cocktail. We are a non-profit Museum and you can visit for a virtual tour at www.museumoftheamericancocktail.org.
and shut the lights when you leave