The first Saturday in May heralds the beginning of good times. Not only do we have the venerable Kentucky Derby – America’s most famous horse race, the first in the Triple Crown – but also the beginning of Mint Julep season, which extends throughout the steamy summer of the American south. Let’s hope that when the Queen visited Churchill Downs last weekend, fulfilling a lifelong ambition to attend the Derby, she was treated to this most potent and genteel of cocktails.
Mint Juleps are to Kentucky what vodka is to Russia. It’s as much a part of the culture as bluegrass, and on Derby day, the whole of America, from the Pacific Northwest to New England, sips this sweet bourbon treat in a nod to the old south. The winner of the Derby is officially toasted with a Mint Julep, though most of the onlookers will have done plenty of toasting long before the winner crosses the line.
According to lore, the Mint Julep was served on the Kentucky plantation of Senator Henry Clay, who brought the drink to Washington, D.C. in the 1850s, where it was – and happily still is – served at the wonderful old Willard Hotel, still an institution in the capitol.
The chatter stops and a reverential hush falls over the crowded bar, interrupted only by the finest sound known to man: the gentle plop of a cork being withdrawn from a bottle. And this is no ordinary bottle. Johnnie Walker 1805 (birth year of the Ayrshire grocer who founded the brand) is a unique blend of nine rare whiskies, the youngest of which is 45 years old. Only 200 bottles have been produced, it is for sale over the bar of only one establishment in London and a shot of it will cost you £1,000: Famous Grouse, eat your heart out.
The man who withdrew that cork, and who will dispense your grand dram, is Salvatore Calabrese, the dapper little Italian who is the doyen of London barmen and a practitioner of his trade with a worldwide reputation for flair and excellence. He has already fallen in love with the 1805, and not just because of the potential benefits to his cash flow. “This,” he says, “is liquid history” — a mellifluous phrase at the best of times, and all the more impressive from a man whose personal collection includes a cognac bottled in the year before the French Revolution. Continue reading
Here’s an article from TimesOnline by James Collard that we liked and thought we’d share. Discreet, laid back bars are where it’s at…
‘There comes a point in nearly every life when being comfy becomes more important than trying to be cool. Of course, some people instinctively have their priorities right from the get-go; they’re born in their carpet slippers. For the rest of us, the comfy factor hits us late, and like an epiphany. From teenage years onwards, the herd instinct has exerted a mightily powerful pull, dragging us to dodgy dive bars simply because they’re fashionable, and making us queue up for some big club night (or suck up shamelessly to the gorgon on the door). Then once inside, we get drenched in sweat and spilled drinks and deafened by whatever din happens to be the sound-du-jour.
The realisation that it doesn’t need to be that way is bliss. Perhaps we’ve got older, wiser, more jaded. Perhaps we’re married with kids (kids who doubtless will shortly be embarking on the whole nightlife malarkey themselves). Perhaps, like yours truly, you know it’s time to quit the club scene when you realise that Eighties synth-pop is in again, only this time round you’ve got a paunch and no hair. Continue reading
Cabaret is back, and we don’t mean the musical (though there’s a fun, raunchy production of that show currently on in London, but we digress already.) No, we mean the return of high-kicking, can-can dancing, burlesque meets grotesque, fag cum drag, absinthe-fuelled cabaret NIGHTLIFE. Not since Weimar Berlin has cabaret managed to be so pervasive, so radical and so much fun. (Times of war tend to bring out the darkness in us all.)
For those in the know about downtown scenes from Sydney to Soho, cabaret acts have had something of a revival in recent years. The most triumphant and subversive artists out there are, of course, KIKI AND HERB – whose shows on Broadway, Carnegie Hall, and London have brought to a wider public the unique, politically engaged, angry and emotional work of Justin Bond and Kenny Mellman. Currently based again in New York (though they tend to pick up and move abroad without much notice, so keep an eye out), they continue to terrorize audiences in shows at Joe’s Pub on Sunday evenings at the witching hour. This is a must-see sort of thing, and we won’t spoil it by saying too much. Suffice to say that emotionally-packed covers of Gil Scott Heron, Radiohead, the Magnetic Fields and Kate Bush co-mingle. And that’s only in the first medley.
Also in New York is the latest clubland sensation, THE BOX – a small but fully-formed Moulin Rouge meets Vaudeville meets Whore’s Boudoir sort of theatre in the Lower East Side. This is the site of nightly decadence, complete with nipple- Continue reading