Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Empire Room

Right across the street from the Irish pub famous for being "The Bar That Banned Danny Boy" is the entrance to the latest throwback to the golden age of cocktails. The Empire Room in the Empire State Building may have been a former post office, but the cocktail palace has been outfitted in retro art deco splendor. The circle theme in the newly restored lobby are echoed in the decor; on the carpet, circular cozy bar stools and even mammic lighting fixtures. And the C shape of the bar would make Stephen Colbert proud.

Lux chandeliers with teardrop crystals and mirrored back bar help light up the room. As did the flashing lights from the Fire Marshall's tests of the alarm system. Yes, it is opening day and there are some kinks that still need to be worked out. But the staff, dapper barkeeps in white jackets, vests and ties and beautiful hostess gals in black dresses and pearls, were eager to serve up classic cocktails. But I have to say, hearing the New Yawk-ese of the Fire Marshall announcing that this was only a test, was a fun reminder of the real working class roots that created this historic building in the first place.

I have always been partial to the Deco masterpiece that is the Chrysler Building and have heard tales of the glorious state of decay that the fabled Cloud Room is in. But that room is still a myth to me. The mad men behind the Cambell Apartment have brought The Empire Room to reality. And in the cocktail wasteland that is mid-town, it is a welcome addition. In fact, last year during a Mad Men sponsored promotion, my Cocktail Daddy (and new Daddy, Ross) and I were sorely disappointed with the weak cocktail lists at supposed "New York Cocktail rooms".

So lets get to the drinks. I started with The Astor, a tasty mix of Bombay Sapphire Gin, lemon and orange juice, Batavia Arrack and sencha tea. The orange juice was fresh squeezed, but overpowered the rest of the ingredients in the drink. Still a tasty concoction, maybe with a different gin, or a lighter hand with the juice. My poor flamed orange peel got scorched and did not make a pretty presentation, but this seemed like another opening day kink that will work itself out.

Honoring the sacred Prohibition Gin, there are many gin cocktails on the menu and each uses a different gin. My second cocktail highlighted the particular gin better. The Empire, the signature drink of the room, is made with Bluecoat Gin, orange liqueur, raspberry-orange marmalade and topped with champagne. I overheard a bartender telling a customer it was sweet, and mine was. Especially was since he forgot to add the champagne. But while I contemplated asking him if he forgot it, he made another one and rushed over to my glass (I thoughtfully made room by taking a few sips) and filled it to the brim with tasty bubbles. To be fair, the proper glassware, a larger glass to warrant the $16 price tag, was MIA, but again it was the first day. The twirly whirly peel garnish was gorgeous on this drink. In fact all the garnish looked beautiful. I was disappointed that there was not nicer tools, however. The bar napkins were thin, the picks were branded with a vodka and there is no cold draft ice here. Perhaps I have become a snob about these things, but these are the little touches that make some other bars so special. And since the environment is a big factor in The Empire Room, I'd like to see that Deco lux across the board. Especially if I am paying $14 a cocktail.

Another thing missing opening day was the food. Truffled popcorn, sliders and other popular bars snacks will all be available soon. Oh hum..I guess I'll have to go back. Twist my arm.

The kinks are minor and I look forward to trying some other classics on the menu soon with my dashing Cocktail Daddy! I love me a nice Bramble and their berries look luscious. Its certainly a nice place for a midtown after work drink.

Wear something nice and shiny, sweetheart. Something that shows off yer figure!

"Off The Menu-The Empire Room"
[NY Times]

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