On my most recent visit to the cocktail Mecca called New York City I had a couple free nights to gallivant through town and sip my way to enlightenment.
Drinking and eating in NYC is a blessing and a curse. A visitor only has so much time. Battle lines must be drawn, strategy chosen and routes locked in.
The East Village cocktail scene is like something out of lore. You can’t swing a bat without hitting a world-class drinking hole. One of the first places on my list was Amor y Amargo (Spanish, Love and Bitters).
The last time I visited NYC I ran out of time before making it down to the Bitters Emporium. This time I made a point of it.
Upon arriving I’m surprised by the size of the space. A few seats at the bar and a tiny area for some standing patrons. Perfect size for an intimate experience. Shirley Brooks and I grab seats at the bar. Quickly greeted by a surly, but warm, gentleman. While perusing the menu I realized the bitters show room and cocktail bar doesn’t just sell bitters and have it in their name. They celebrate everything that is bitter.
There is not a drop of citrus at Amor y Amargo, and the only soft drinks they offer are still water and bubbly water.
I overhear the barman expertly guide a guest, who’d asked for a coke, into sipping an amaro based cocktail using the most subtle form of suggestion. The customer’s delighted with the drink. Another bitters convert made.
That bar man, Sother Teague.
I was impressed hearing Sother sell a drink made with Meletti Amaro to his guest, explaining that, “cola-nut is one of the ingredients in Meletti”.
My turn to order comes. I choose swiftly. Between my quick draw on the cocktail choice and my eyes fixating on the back bar, Sother realizes that my interest goes beyond casual consumer. We quickly fall into bartender conversation, though Sother never skips a beat with other guests coming and going. Watching the way Sother controls the room is a treat.
While chatting, he mentioned that he was teaching a class at PDXCW on the psychology of a cocktail bar. Seeing Sother in action and then hearing him speak on these same ideas in a classroom setting proves to be refreshing. Getting back to hospitality and then taking it a step further and showing how and why these practices work in a real setting. (Grippo’s report from PDXCW14)
The two cocktails Shirley, and I order are amazing.
And the house favorite, the “8 Amaro Sazerac”. A combination of eight Amari, Peychauds, Orange Bitters and served in a Green Chartreuse rinsed glass.
While enjoying our cocktails, Sother notices my eyes continuing to dart around his back bar and asks if I have any questions about bottles. My reply, “Where do we start”?
Proud of his obscure bottles, Teague is kind enough to indulge my curiosities. Pointing out a good handful of exotic, strange and hard to find bottles he starts pouring me tastes.
Having both taught at the New England Culinary Institute and worked as a researcher for the Food Network, Sother is knowledgeable in all his selections – I’m truly enlightened by what he knows and the way he chooses to explain the products.
My favorites of the night:
Varnelli Punch. An amazing product. Complex and unusual, it tastes like a clarified eggnog with a bit of Jamaican pot still rum.
A few Fernet bottles that were a pleasure to meet. The obscure Alagnoberta Fernet, and the delicious Letherbee Fernet from Chicago.
When you are in NYC, even if you live there, make sure you stop by. Visit one of NYC’s great barmen, Sother Teague, along with his talented team. Have a deliciously bitter drink and stay for the enlightened conversation.
A tribute to Amor y Amargo: