The Observer found itself well into Friday evening standing in a VIP line outside the New York Public Library with people far better dressed than us. Although we didn’t look nearly as schlubby as another three-named journo who we passed by later in the evening, we stood patiently in our khakis and blazer while those dressed in tuxedos and cocktail dresses waited with baited breath to enter for the annual Manhattan Cocktail Classic Gala, which kicked off several days of panels and parties that celebrate the history and craft of the cocktail.
Inside, 25,000 cocktails were being spread throughout the library’s four floors. The clock struck nine and we walked through the front entrance, now illuminated in a dim and seductive red lighting that seemed rather naughty, given the structure’s history. In front of us was a row of tables, where men in garishly drawn-on moustaches and eyebrows stood next to women dressed like slutty 18th century countesses (the reference was lost on us), each of them laying out row upon row of bespoke drink.
We first stopped by the Hudson Whiskey table, where strangely bearded Freddy May and brand ambassador Gable Erenzo were serving a Hudson Baby (Hudson Whiskey, pink grapefruit juice, ginger beer). We asked Mr. May if his evil beard was real.
“I drew it on,” he replied. So what’s up with everyone’s costumes? we asked.
“It’s inspired by the film The Hunger Games,” Mr. May said.
Oh, we have not seen it, we said.
“I haven’t seen it, either,” he admitted.
We spotted Patricia Vasconcelos, a petite young lady who was struggling to put on a black rubber bracelet. The bracelet, we would later learn, was a gimmick handed out by the event’s coordinators. Each booth had a box. If you liked the drink they served, you tapped your bracelet on the box and it kept a digital tab of what you had imbibed (as one was bound to forget his tally by night’s end). We helped Ms. Vasconcelos with her bracelet while we asked her which drink she thought we should try next.
“Have you ever had a Negroni?” she asked, with a mischievous glint in her eye. We have not.
She brought us to the Campari table, where Jacques Bezuidenhout, a South African mixologist based in San Francisco, whipped us a Negroni with Campari, Plymouth Gin and “very classic botanicals.” It came in soft and sweet, and packed an assured punch six sips later.
Ms. Vasconcelos grabbed our hand and took us to the Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum table, where bartender Natalie Jacob was dressed as a “Tropical Gaga,” complete with a turquoise Lady Gaga-esque wig and leis. She served us a Hello Mai Baby.
“It’s a variation of the Mai Tai,” Ms. Jacob told us. It was not the right drink to follow the Negroni with.
There were other drinks and treats to sample: The Troika at Stolichnaya’s booth (“Tap my box a hundred times,” joked faux-mustachioed bartender Aidan Demarest, as he nodded to his bracelet box); the Patron popsicles (we tried the blackberry and barely tasted the Patron); a Buffalo Trace Bourbon drink that wasn’t sweet enough to Ms. Vasconcelos’s liking.
We caught Jazz Age big band Michael Arenella & His Dreamland Orchestra performing “Baby Face,” the entire group appearing as timelessly New York as the library itself. Then we circled across the booths, taking a sip of a rare Norwegian liqueur and an apple brandy concoction. Somehow we soon found ourselves standing in front of a milliner from Worth & Worth as he measured our head with tailor’s tape as we waited in line for a photo booth. We posed in pictures with Ms. Vasconcelos and her friend, they in feathered caps and we in a nice-fitting fedora.
Then there were pretzels and deviled eggs and more pictures and more Troikas (they were our favorite of the evening–see the recipe below). Then we were sitting in a barber’s chair, getting our hair cut by a stylist from the John Allen salon.
We stood up from our chair and looked around. Ms. Vasconcelos and her friend were nowhere to be found. Our pictures from the photo booth were gone, as was our complimentary CD from Mr. Arenella. The rooms were now filled with a swell of partygoers (the headcount jumped from 1,000 people to 3,500 people in just under an hour, we were later told).
There were lines for drinks, even for popsicles. The Gala was no longer a party of abundant drinks and endless whimsy. It was like any other event in New York: it was packed and impossible to get a beverage.
We left the library and cursed ourselves for not grabbing a black bracelet earlier in the evening, for we would have tapped many a box.
½ oz fresh lemon juice
½ oz Lustau Pedro Ximenez
½ oz St Germain liquor
1 ½ Stoli elit