Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Drank No. 2: Balthazar

"Bartenders should not . . . have a toothpick in their mouth, clean their fingernails while on duty, smoke, spit on the floor, or have other disgusting habits . . . The swaggering air some bartenders have, and by which they think they impress the customers with their importance, should be studiously avoided."
New and Improved Bartender's Manual
Harry Johnson, 1900
A couple weeks ago I stopped into Balthazar for a plate of oysters and a champagne cocktail, as a man should do from time to time, if for nothing other than to keep in shape.

I could go on and on about this restaurant, the gem in Keith McNally’s crown. It's gorgeous to look at, very professionally run, and impossibly busy, even now, a dozen years after opening. And while I'm not one to put a lot of energy into promoting restaurant reviews I tend to agree with Andrew Knowlton at Bon Appetit who recently dubbed it "a case study for the perfect restaurant." But Drank is about drinking so here are my notes about the bar.

The bartenders are relentlessly professional, greeting everyone and asking what they'd like before they have their coats on hooks (which are mounted below the bar, the best place for lots of reasons).

Soon-to-be-used glasses are upside down on ice.

Oysters are delivered with the usual garnishes—mignonette (my favorite), cocktail sauce, lemon wedge—on very finely crushed ice (the oysters don’t teeter that way) with a slither of seaweed for contrasting color. They are bone-chilling cold, key with oysters since it improves their texture.

The glassware ice basin is rimmed by silver ramekins of freshly ground horseradish. After the oysters are delivered the bartender asks if you'd like some. This is not something they bring to your table if you're having dinner.

Early in the evening free snacks line the bar. Hard-boiled eggs on an egg tree and thin crisps of a bread that is kind of like Zingeramn’s chile cheddar.

The taps, like those in many New York bars and restaurants, are unnamed. They don't have the cheap plastic beer handles with the name of the beer. The taps are black enamel or stainless steel, period. No names, no brands. The base is thick, round, gleaming brass, very beautiful.

I completely support the non-smoking ordinance in bars and restaurants. I never regret coming home without having to wash my clothes and take a shower. But when I was finishing my oysters I had a fond memory of others smoking at Balthazar. The bartenders had a glorious sense of service about it. If a woman brought out a cigarette the bartenders would light it for her. I never saw them fail to beat any woman to a match, regardless of what they were doing at the time. It stopped most guests in their tracks and time stood still.

80 Spring Street

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