In the depths of the especially hot and sticky summer we've been having for the last few weeks, one of my favorite respites is found in a glass. Don't worry, Maw Manhattan: I'm not an alcoholic. I just think a cocktail is a wonderful way to cool down every once in a while, and I have been learning to enjoy the artistry that can go into making a drink. This is in part due to SE, who is an amateur mixologist in his spare time, his home bar stacked with all manner of quality bitters, liqueurs, bottles printed with the phrase "Creme de" [insert flower, fruit, or herb here].
Every once in a while, SE will leave his home in pursuit of a truly wonderful cocktail. I have had the pleasure of being in his company for such endeavors, and one recent excursion took us to the Upper East Side for a visit to the very luxurious Mark Hotel. Consistently rated as a five-star home-away-from-home for people who exemplify "the other half" in the phrase "how the other half lives," The Mark is home to its own personal Frederic Fekkai salon, a trolley service that takes its clientele to and from Bergdorf Goodman (and offers them 24/7 access to the department store), and room service by celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, among many other amenities. It is also known for its hotel bar, The Mark Bar.
After a not-especially-special trip to another bar that evening, one whose quality of cocktail did not match the requested expense, I wanted to get SE a truly special cocktail at a place where I knew, I knew we would be able to get them. I had read in New York Magazine's very cool "Absolute Best" series, in which they list their favorite bars and restaurants that achieve a variety of accolades ("Best Birthday Cake" and "Best Lobster Roll" are two that come to mind), that one on their list of "The Absolute Best Uptown-Hotel Bars in New York" was The Mark. So in a bout of adventurousness and spontaneity (which, we would learn later, would be a theme for the evening), I made the suggestion and we spirited ourselves uptown.
Walking to The Mark from the subway, we passed both the ornate cement and modern brick facades of elegant townhomes dotting the walk between Lexington Avenue and Madison Avenue on 77th Street, as well as stores empty of people yet still beckoning their wares with brightly lit windows. A doorman welcomed us into the hotel, its artistically modern furniture and bright white walls covered in contemporary canvases. The air was cool but not chilly, and everything was the polar opposite of the subway ride we had just taken to get there.
We made a sharp left and entered the bar, its couches printed in a brown and white cow pattern, walls decorated in shimmering copper tiles, each centered with a circular, dotted light fixture. The space was covered in a hot pink light of sorts, and we made our way to the silver bar with its matching stools to have a look at their cocktail menu. I chose a fruity champagne cocktail, and SE selected The Mark Bar's take on the classic Aviation--typically gin, creme de violette, lemon juice, and maraschino liqueur, the bar tops it off with a generous splash of Prosecco. As I expected, the drinks were heavenly. Bubbly and sweet, but not too sweet, they were what the drinks we had earlier in the evening should have been.
As we sat and sipped and discussed, the bar became more empty, and soon a gentleman was sitting next to us. A sort of Brazilian Richard Branson in appearance, his pregnant wife (his third) and his child were sleeping, he explained, and he was going to treat himself to a dirty martini. He was in real estate in Miami, it would turn out, and a car enthusiast, much to SE's delight. The two of them slowly but surely eased into a jocular chat that left them both laughing and smiling. I left to use the restroom at one point and when I returned I discovered we were all about to do tequila shots, courtesy of our new friend. Shoot the tequila I did--rather, to the best of my ability, since it was a rather generous shot, though of the deliciously smooth Don Julio. More time passed, more laughs, more discussion, and it was just we three in the bar, closing it down. The gentleman had so enjoyed our company, he said, and then in an act of kindness and generosity we very much appreciated, treated us to our cocktails. He and SE traded business cards, and we shook hands, gave hugs and said thank you, separating into our respective evenings. If you had told me our evening would have gone this way when we started, I would have been delighted but I wouldn't have believed you. But, as ever, evenings like this are why I moved to New York.