Nine years ago, or maybe it was eight, I met my cousin Jennifer for a wintery dinner in the West Village. We dined at dearly departed, Prohibition-flavored Grange Hall, which has since become Commerce (50 Commerce St., 212-524-2301). It lost Grange’s neighborhood intimacy and my business, but that is neither here nor there.
What matters most is Jennifer’s question. I was standing at Grange’s bar, bottles of amber nectar glowing with the promise of an elevated mood, performing my best imitation of a New Yorker: black Gap slacks, an onyx button-down and obsidian dress shoes as shiny as wax-coated apples. In my Ohio-reared head, I assumed donning this Dracula dress code was the key to making it in the bright lights, big city.
“What do you want to drink?” Jennifer asked. She was a decade my senior, a seasoned vet at a respected publishing firm.
I froze, the question like an icicle stabbing my cerebellum. At the time, I wasn’t indoctrinated into the pleasures of craft beer; to me, a pint of Brooklyn Lager was as exotic as an ostrich. I was better versed in flaming Dr. Peppers and crappy canned beer bearing a 99-cent sticker. Still, I knew that consuming a blazing concoction was not the height of dinnertime chic.
“I’ll have a… gin and tonic,” I said, “with, uh, Beefeater.” A gin and tonic had long been my default cocktail.The vaguely floral beverage spoke of British class, a step up from the proletariats’ preferred vodka tonic. And during those early days of New York living, I drank gin and tonics nearly daily at the sultry, red-hued lounge Sin Sin (248 E. 5th St., 212-253-2222).
My pal Aaron discovered the bar a few weeks into his NYC tenure. He was drawn in by the $3 happy hour (till 8 p.m.). Most evenings, Aaron and I met at Sin Sin around 6:30.We’d quick-drink three or four gin and tonics, before decamping to old-man-dive Holiday Cocktail Lounge or college haunt Blue and Gold. At each venue, the clear, bitter G&T—given a citric edge with a lime twist—was our preferred intoxicant, dulling the edges of our workaday reality.
“Really?” Jennifer said. She was as taken aback as if I’d ordered an Irish car bomb with a chaser of baby’s blood. “That’s a spring and summer drink. What’s your winter cocktail?” Summer drink? Winter drink? I’d never pondered the possibilities of seasonal imbibing. Gettin’ drunk was gettin’ drunk, especially if you were buying. I sipped my gin and tonic quietly, carrying a burning shame as if I’d secretly soiled myself.
Soon afterward, I ditched the gin and tonic. Goodbye, old friend. I experimented with craft beer (why are IPAs so bitter?), bourbon (what happened to my pants?) and old-timey cocktails (where’d my money go?). Gin was a reminder of an earlier era of bad decisions, like that time I ingested psychedelic mushrooms and slept in a park in Amsterdam filled with bike-riding cocaine dealers. I’ve never prayed so hard for sunrise. “I was better versed in flaming Dr. Peppers and crappy canned beer bearing a 99-cent sticker. Still, I knew that consuming a blazing concoction was not the height of dinnertime chic.”
Misguided as my youth may have been, I’m feeling nostalgic for it nowadays. I’m a bona fide thirtysomething, with the gray nose hairs to prove it.Thus, in my dotage, I’m rekindling my teenage love affairs: indie rock, writing typewritten letters and the botanical-scented waters of gin. I’ve discovered that these bright, warm days of early spring are designed for the crisp, sour bliss of the Greyhound. (Squeeze some fresh grapefruit juice, add a dollop of decent gin, finish with a seltzer splash. Drink, sigh, repeat.)
Since I’ve developed a crush on dark spirits, I now adore Ransom Old Tom. Aged in pinot noir barrels, the tawny, mellow potion is a little bit whiskey, a little bit gin and 100-percent delicious. Served straight up or on a rock or two, the flavors of honey, cardamom and vanilla-hinted oak are as revelatory as that religious burning bush.
Continuing my gin-styled explorations, I sampled Bols Genever. Much like whiskey, it’s made with fermented rye, corn and barley; it’s rich and lush, with a malty-sweet current that helps create a novel old-fashioned. But now we get to my much-maligned G&T. Instead of relying on bottom-shelf hooch, I’ve reinvented the old standard with a quality gin such as Martin Miller’s.The British brand packs prickly citric flavors of limes and orange zest, and it marries well with top-notch tonic like the citrus-perfumed Fever- Tree. You scarcely need a lemon squeeze.
It’s a taste of the past, fit for my future.