Notes on a Bad Old Fashioned
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.
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.
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[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.]