Spend a few days in New York, and it can quickly redefine your perception of food. A steak at Peter Luger’s is often a blissful introduction to perfected dry-aging, an evening at Per Se is like taking part in a choreographed performance, and a bar seat at Kajitsu will serve up vegetarian fare that’d satisfy even the most devoted meat eaters.
I often, and willingly spend outside my means to enjoy meals like this because there’s just no way to do this at home. None.
On the other hand, I do not enjoy average cocktails. Drinks mixed without care, without precision, and most importantly without passion. Looking at some bartenders in New York, I wonder why I need to pay the 400% mark-up when I could just as easily shake up a mixture of vodka, cranberry, triple-sec and some lime juice at home. I often feel that bartenders get away with so much more than chefs do. Chefs in New York city need to be at their finest, or they’ll get run out of town by their competition. However there’re plenty of sub-par bartenders in New York, but perhaps their patrons are too tipsy to notice.
Perhaps that’s why recently I’ve been venturing to high end cocktail dens, where the drink is an respected art form. The journey started with Apothoke, Maison Premiere and Theater Bar. All three of these places were well hidden with no signage. Fine cocktails for people in the know.
Yet on a recent trip to the wonderful French restaurant Triomphe, I was told by the staff about the little cocktail lounge at the back of the hotel. Lantern’s Keep was its name.
If you can look past the fact that you’re in a Times Square hotel (one where I overheard a guests asking concierge where he could find a slice of “New York Pizza”), the environment at Lantern’s Keep is truly comfortable. The music is slow and mellow, punctuated only by the occasional beat of the cocktail shaker. There are no gimmicks, no fire displays, no grand stage of a bar. Just cocktail masters shaking, straining, and serving.
At the center of it all is Theo Liberman, whose resume includes Milk & Honey. In the cocktail game, that’s instant credibility. The menu is divided into four sections: shaken and served up, shaken and served on rocks, shaken and served tall, and stirred. Under each category is a handful of choices, and some of the ingredients can sound just a bit foreign and even intimidating.
Luckily the Lantern’s Keep is small and intimate enough to ask questions, and get answers that will make you realize how much attention to detail goes into these drinks. The drink Pay Per View, from the shaken and served up section, features 3 distinct types of vermouth. Sweet, dry, and blanc. Yes, vermouth comes in varieties. Yes, the drink was a revelation.
Revelations came one after another. Never a fan of tequila drinks, Infante combined tequila, orgeat, lime, and fresh ground nutmeg, which tasted fantastic. The drink was served on a perfectly square, 2″ ice cube from Okamoto Ice Studio in Long Island City. Again, the attention to detail matters.
Then I decided to try the stirred drinks. I’ve always believed mastery is best demonstrated via simple creations. Here we bypass even the shaking, precise measurements of flavors are critical. Once again, the cocktails impressed. Poet’s Dream packs a punch, with gin, dry vermouth, benedictine and orange bitters. Yet while you can sense the presence of intense alcohol, you do not taste it. The mouth feel is smooth and pleasant, without any hint of aversion.
I’m usually not one who orders apple flavored bonded brandy, but in the presence of a mixologist I put my faith in his creation. The stirred apple brandy drink Cortland was a wonderful surprise, and tasted better and better as the square ice cube evolved the flavors of the drink. I asked Theo for the brand of brandy, then perished the thought of recreating the drink at home. I’d need to stock two types of vermouths. Last I checked my tiny apartment didn’t even have vodka always.
New Yokers often shun Times Square at night, here’s a reason to become a regular.
Drinks were on the house, which did not affect my opinion, nor was I requested to write. Best cocktails I’ve had so far in the city? Yes.
What does this rating mean?
49 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036