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Notes on a Bad Old Fashioned

August 12, 2012

I’m back. Again. And I finally did get my fried chicken from Montauk. It was delicious. Best ever? Probably not. But it’s solid, and I can totally understand why people make a big deal about the stuff. Should you find yourself in Montauk, call Herb’s and phone in an order for a whole fried chicken, cut into pieces. Pick it up on time, and eat it from the bag while it’s piping hot. If they have their corn salad in the refrigerator case, get that too. Because that was also very special.

Seriously, I don’t know why anyone goes to East Hampton when they could go all the way out to Montauk on the tip of the island. If my Aunt S. didn’t have a house in the Hamptons I’d totally opt for a motel in Montauk.

After a long day of driving back to the Capital Region, the last thing I wanted to do last night was write an original post. Luckily, I happened to be sitting on a guest post submitted by a longtime reader of the FLB. And it’s about cocktails. More precisely, it’s about bad cocktails in Saratoga.

Now while one could take this as a cautionary reminder of the importance of specifying your booze of choice when ordering a drink, especially something like an old fashioned. It’s also pretty clear that when it comes to these two Saratoga watering holes, one totally outshines the other.

So in an effort to help you avoid the same pitfalls, I’m happy to share the following.

By Hollie L. Miller

I am a fan of cocktails. This is in fact what led me to the FUSSYlittleBLOG. I had come home from a trip to Chicago where I stayed at Longman & Eagle, whose motto is “Eat, Sleep, Whiskey”. It was there that I had the best Old Fashioned of my life. I came home wanting to recreate the experience, but I needed serious bitters. All Over Albany directed me to Daniel and we started talking Old Fashioneds.

On a Thursday evening in August, my companion and I decided to be tourists and dress up for an evening in downtown Saratoga Springs. She had asked if we could go to The Adelphi Hotel — a rare surviving High Victorian Hotel Inn from the end of the 19th century — grab a cocktail, and sit in the patio. I said of course we could. She was running late and it started to rain, so I went inside to the bar and decided I’d get a drink while I waited.

There are ten cocktails I believe all bartenders should know: the Cosmopolitan, Gimlet, Greyhound, Long Island Iced Tea, Manhattan, Margarita, Martini, Mojito, Old Fashioned, and Screwdriver. I’ll throw in a Cuba Libre as well, but it’s more commonly asked for as a rum & coke with lime.

Upon looking at the bar, I surmised that I could probably get an Old Fashioned with little to no trouble. The bartender was an older gentleman, someone who I thought would be used to more traditional drinks. He was making drinks for a cocktail server and I waited to grab his attention. I asked for an Old Fashioned and he said he didn’t think he could make one, because he had no bitters. However, on the shelf I saw Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters. I pointed them out to him and I waited for my drink. I was distracted by text messages and did not get to watch him pour my drink.

I was handed a highball glass that had plenty of ice, some whiskey, some brandy, and soda water with a very large straw in it, he gave me what was a very odd Brandy Old Fashioned. I took a sip to see if I could stomach it but I could not as it was too sweet for me. I asked “Excuse me Sir, but I believe I ordered an Old Fashioned.” Upon my request, he restated the ingredients of the drink he made. I then corrected him about what an Old Fashioned was.

I’d like to point out that two mojitos had been sent back at the same time I was requesting a new drink. The gentleman asked if he used spiced rum in them, because they tasted odd. He pulled out St. Myers Dark Rum as the rum he used. These drinks were in lowball glasses and had very little mint & lime in them.

Another couple stepped up to the bar as I was directing the bartender on how to make an Old
Fashioned. The bar did not have any sugar cubes, so I suggested table sugar. He brought over a lowball glass of ice. I told him to dump the ice. He cut a fresh orange, placed a maraschino cherry, tablespoon of sugar, and a few shakes of bitters and I asked if he had a muddler and he proceeded to muddle gently. I told him to add some ice but not too much to the glass and then I said the regular amount of whiskey.

I was distracted by text messages and forgot to state bourbon whiskey. Again, this is a drink I think every bartender should know, even if you are a substitute bartender. If you are going to put hotel staff behind a bar, either make sure they can make a drink or give them a bartenders book and the comfort to look it up. My attention came back to the bartender just as I saw him pouring JB Scotch Whiskey in my glass. This was his second attempt and I walked him through most of it, so I felt bad sending it back. So I drank it and I tweeted Daniel about how bad it was.

By the time my companion arrived I had slyly communicated to her that I’d prefer to go somewhere else. She wanted food and good drinks, and I had wanted to try the Sazerac the internet said was made at The Adelphi. But now I just wanted something to wash the bitterness out of my soul.

We walked to The Living Room which is on lower Caroline Street. I knew cocktail-wise it would be interesting as a friend who works there asked me where I got my bitters a few weeks prior to their opening. Upon walking in I was still talking about my Old Fashioned experience at The Adelphi, and the owner she said that she could “make me one mean Old Fashioned, but that if I loved Old Fashioned I’d really like a Sazerac.” To which I shouted out “we were just talking about Sazeracs!”

My companion ordered a Hemingway Daiquiri and I ordered the bourbon-based cocktail titled Death of a Ladies Man. We decided upon their combo cheese and charcuterie plate and settled in for nice conversation. Our drinks were presented beautifully. My companion’s drink came with a very beautiful flower, which made her smile, and mine had a nice lemon peel curl. I took a sip of the Death of a Ladies Man and was thoroughly pleased.

The maple in the simple syrup was hinting, not overpowering. The tabasco was enough to give a little kick in the back of your throat. The curl of the lemon peel served a purpose of flavoring the drink, not just garnishing it. It took a place in the top five drinks I’ve had in my life. That’s big talk, I know that. The flavor and balance of the drink was similar to my experience in Chicago and I can’t fly to Chicago every week for my favorite drink, but I can stop by The Living Room after work.

A second round of drinks had me ordering a second of the same, while my companion ordered a Daisy Buchanan. I encouraged her to do so, because they use real egg whites in their cocktails and this one she was considering used Crème de Violette. My companion was very pleased with the Daisy Buchanan and she allowed me a sip, after which I too became a fan.

It was the experience I was hoping to have at The Adelphi, where the drink recipes have lasted from Victorian times and through Prohibition. A history lesson in a glass, at a place of Saratoga Springs architectural history.

Our bill came at The Living Room and I took one look and laughed. My bad Old Fashioned at The Adelphi was $10 whereas the drink I am raving about was only $8. So if you are treating yourself to a day at the track or just find yourself wanting something crafted well, skip The Adelphi and walk downhill on Caroline Street to The Living Room.

# # #

[Notes from The Profussor: For the record, I do not endorse the muddling of fruit in an Old Fashioned. Rye is really the preferred base spirit for the drink. Bourbon is more common, but there is indeed a brandy variant. I’m also fairly confident that Ernest Hemingway never had a flower in his daiquiri.]

13 Comments leave one →
  1. August 12, 2012 1:37 pm

    The Adelphi may be an old hotel but the current management and ownership is brand new. Sounds like they are having some growing pains. The Living Room is also pretty new, so I guess that’s no excuse.

    Hollie, how about you check out 9 Maple for us? That’s always been my go-to place for hard alcohol (although I am an unimaginative Islay drinker, so I would be unlikely to brave the mixed drinks).

    • Hollie permalink
      August 13, 2012 10:42 am

      Oh, I love 9 Maple. They have some of my favorite bourbons. I’ll have to put it on my list. Though after talking to friends this weekend, I also have to check out Druthers.

      • christine permalink
        August 13, 2012 6:44 pm

        I went to Drurher’s last weekend. It was an exercise in patience I hope to never repeat. Our party of four arrived at 5 pm and we were told that the wait for a table was an hour. I don’t mind a wait, but the restaurant wasn’t full. There were alot of empty tables, so I was confused. We got drinks ($6 for a draft beer and $6 for a gin and tonic) and began our wait. One of the people in our party asked a manager why we were waiting and he said that their kitchen can only handle 100 dinners at a time, so we were waiting so the kitchen could catch up.

        We were seated, as promised, at 6 pm. We ordered apps and simple dinners of burgers and one taco dish. We waited nearly an hour for our food, which was good, but I’m not sure how long someone wants to wait for a “good” burger. The atmosphere was okay, but the ceilings are high and it was very loud… we were yelling at each other and our waitress, who was friendly and as attentive as we could have hoped.

        Maybe you might reconsider trying this place after the racing season is over and they work out the kinks. I wished I hadn’t gone, as I am now turned off and it seemed like such a great addition to the downtown scene.

        If you decide to go… good luck!

  2. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    August 12, 2012 5:04 pm

    Wow, BMF beat me to it. 9 Maple, and change of ownership for the Adelphi. I would add that the Adelphi has never been known for classic cocktails, but rather blender drinks.

  3. August 12, 2012 8:41 pm

    I’m sad to hear this. I’m staying at the Adelphi again for Travers weekend at the end of August; I love the character of the hotel (drinks out back or on the veranda), the location and the cocktail / dessert bar. A friend and I go up annually for the Travers and I’m wondering if it’s the same bartender we had last year – older gentleman, a little on the heavier side with a full head of white hair? The drinks he made for us were generally good. My friend ordered the Sazerac, which either wasn’t on the menu or the time or the bartender said he wasn’t sure how well he would make one. Being a New Orleans native, she was skeptical, but it passed her high standards.

    Hopefully we’ll have good luck this year*. And, thanks to the Profusser, Hollie and Burnt My Fingers, I know several places to try: Wine Bar, Living Room and 9 Maple. Much obliged.

    By the way, are there any recommendations for restaurants? We’re eating at Hattie’s on Friday night looking a dinner location for Saturday. Have tried Mouzon House, Maestro’s and Scallions.

    *Or maybe not – the new management is as of June (http://www.saratoga.com/whatsnew/2012/07/questions-luke-duggan.html)

    • Stevo permalink
      August 12, 2012 10:20 pm

      The menu at the Living Room looks excellent. I hadn’t heard about this place until now, and I must try it for dinner. Best of all they have selections for the little ones. My wife and I can bring our well behaved munchkin along for the fun.

    • August 13, 2012 9:44 am

      Jafe, of the three dinner spots you mention Maestro’s is definitely the one I’d choose and it’s right next to the Adelphi. Check the local Yelp reviews… a few of us have tried to define our likes and dislikes. Mio Posto is a new place I like a lot.

    • Hollie permalink
      August 13, 2012 10:55 am

      Jafe,
      Your description does sound like the gentleman in question. And as always, there are many things that can happen that throw off someone’s performance. So you may have a different experience than I did. It’s just such a beautiful building with a good former reputation that it’s hard for me to not expect higher of them.

      As for your other adventures in Saratoga. One of my favorite places is Harvest & Hearth, it’s about a 10 minute drive from downtown.

    • christine permalink
      August 13, 2012 6:52 pm

      As a native Saratogian, I would recommend Pennell’s for italian, The Wishing Well, Longfellows and The Olde Bryan Inn for classic american and a quick pop into Putnam Market for sandwiches and the like. Enjoy your stay!

  4. Josh K permalink
    August 12, 2012 10:50 pm

    Had a similar experience with expensive but incorrectly mixed Mojitos and Old Fashions by the female barkeep at Justin’s on Lark. I find this odd seeing as the bartenders over at Dejohn’s across the street (owned by the same guy) usually make incredible drinks.

    Nothing worse than ordering a 9 dollar drink at a place known for its cocktails and class and yet the most basic of drinks aren’t made correctly.

    If the Adelphi Hotel in Saratoga isn’t able to make a proper drink, I raise this question: Is the art of mixology in the Capital Region becoming a thing of the past?

    • Mr. Sunshine permalink
      August 13, 2012 9:50 am

      Terrific mixology at Max London’s!

    • Hollie permalink
      August 13, 2012 10:47 am

      Josh K, there are plenty of places that believe in mixology. However, there appears to be different levels. I know I’ve had conversations with the bartenders at the Capital District Gastropub about some of their simple syrup infusions when talking about how i’ve infused some spirits.

      It comes down to business. if it takes you twice as long to serve one drink as it does, say two or three, then the business fares better with the faster service.

      There are some places now that are fighting that. Letting you know that just like a good meal, it takes a little bit of time to prepare a drink freshly.

  5. Uncle Laurie permalink
    August 13, 2012 12:23 pm

    Moral of the story – never text and order a drink without watching the prep of said cocktail!

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