This summer, a London bar – The Connaught – was voted the World’s Best Bar at the Spirited Awards in New Orleans, which is, apparently, “the industry’s most prestigious competition.”
On reading this bit of news, my first reaction was outrage. Everybody knows the Best of Bermuda Cocktail Awards are the greatest gongs in the business! My second reaction was…more outrage (make mine a double!). Not because of the result (I’ve never been to the Connaught, which seems incredible, given the years of research I’ve carried out in this field, but it is, alas, true). No, it was the thought of the jammy so-and-sos who managed to inveigle themselves onto the judging panel. That was MY dream job!
“I’ve been to the Connaught,” my husband said quickly, hoping to stave off a full-blown rant.
“Did you have a martini?” I asked, the martini being the specialty of Agostino Perrone, their head bartender, who likes (I read) to wear one white glove when working. Mixology’s answer to Michael Jackson.
“It was breakfast,” he replied.
So I’ve decided if I am not to have a glittering career as a jet-setting cocktail judge, I will just have to dry my bitter, 100-proof tears and invent my own awards.
I shall call them The Pick of the Pops, in honour of my Uncle Jack, who always refers to a drink, no matter how ruinously strong, as “a pop.” Bless.
Best Decision Involving a Cocktail: Making a beeline for Joe Allen’s bar, in Covent Garden, after arriving ridiculously early for a preview of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame at the Duchess Theatre. (If anyone ever offers you a ticket to this play, no matter how starry the cast, just say no.) The bartender, a dapper, 50-something Frenchman, whipped up the best Manhattan I’ve ever had that wasn’t made by my dad. The secret? Use a bit of maraschino cherry juice along with the CC and vermouth. C’est vrai!
Worst Decision Involving a Cocktail: Not staying in Joe Allen’s for a second, or possibly a third, Manhattan.
Best Dirty Martini: The one at Baltic, a Polish restaurant just off The Cut in Southwark, made with Belvedere vodka and two fat olives. Is it a drink? Is it a snack? Oh, who cares? Whatever you call it, it’s the perfect way to prepare for a testing night of Chekhov at the Young or Old Vic Theatres just round the corner. And I don’t even like martinis.
Longest Liquor Run in History: The weekend I spent driving widdershins round Brighton and Hove, scouring supermarkets, off licenses and any corner shop that looked like it stocked more than Happy Shopper baked beans, for a bottle of Canadian Club. All so my father could fix me an Old-Fashioned. Unlike 20 years ago, it is now possible to recreate almost all my old favourites without having to confiscate my visitor’s duty-free allowance. Cockspur? Waitrose sells it. Black Seal? I’ve enough bottles hoarded to last me a hundred dark and stormy winters.
But CC remains a rarity (I wound up ordering a bottle on the Internet, since you ask). Especially now that it’s no longer available at Freddie Wade International Airport…why, oh why?
Best Planter’s Punch: The one made by Ryan Gibbons at the Barracuda Bar. One of the most depressing changes since I left Bermuda is the gradual disappearance of the Planter’s Punch. I know it’s a touristy drink, but it’s a tasty touristy drink. This summer, several watering holes I visited professed never to have heard of it. One waitress asked if I meant a “Builder’s Punch.” What? I only hope she didn’t think I said a builder’s paunch. Mr. Gibbons, who’s on a roll, having also won the Best of Bermuda award earlier this year, built my punch from scratch, squeezing the lemons, limes and oranges by hand. And there was no hint of scorn on his face that I’d picked this and not something more “sophisticated” like my daughter’s chocolate and peanut butter martini.
Best Cocktail Discovered in a Novel: The Alexander. Yes, I know, but I don’t mean that one. I’m talking about a classic Alexander. Made with gin, not brandy, back when gin was made in a bathtub. Often with someone still sitting in it.
The book was Elmore Leonard’s Up in Honey’s Room, and after the umpteenth mention, I was forced to Google the recipe. In case you, too, are now curious, here it is: 2 ounces of gin, 1 ounce of white crème de cacao and 1ounce of double cream (hey, I never said it was good for you!). Shake with ice and pour into a chilled martini glass. Top with grated nutmeg.
Best Margaritas: The two I had with my husband in Ruidoso, New Mexico, this summer, at four o’clock in the afternoon, to toast Chelsea’s glorious win in the Champions League Final. I had been too anxious to watch the game. My role in their victory was limited to standing on top of a big rock on the shore of a lake outside our hotel room, like the boy in The Karate Kid, directing positive thoughts toward Munich. But I was still able to take part in the post-match celebrations. Oh, yes.
Drink I Miss Most at This Time of Year: Eggnog. Made with Dunkley’s Dairy’s finest (absolutely NOT the low-fat version…it’s eggnog, people, not a slimming drink!) and a good couple of glugs of Canadian Club (see above). Top with grated nutmeg, sip and have yourself a merry little Christmas.