Birthday of the American Cocktail Toasts.
by Chris Barnett
Atlanta and London are two booming business capitals, separated by seven hours and 4,000 miles of ocean, where conversation and commerce mix easily in the right setting: an inviting bar, over well-crafted drinks, with personable bartenders keeping it all flowing, the perfect host skilled in welcoming guests on their first or 30th visit.
In honor of the 200th Birthday of the American Cocktail, which is being celebrated around the world on May 13, Frequent Flyer checked out three very different bars in two towns that know how to enjoy a drink, where business travelers can feel very much at home, entertaining a customer, catching up with a colleague, or forging new friendships.
Dukes Hotel Bar: Discreet Hideaway, Bring Money
London is abloom today with bustling bars and stylish saloons. The cocktail safari has replaced the pubcrawl as a civilized way to drink in the charms of this, the most electric city in the English speaking world. China Tang, a sleek, new, high-voltage Asian bistro-bar, recently opened in the venerable Dorchester Hotel.
Too frenetic for my taste but then I'm not 22. And the fabled British pubs perched on almost every corner and now all owned by breweries, are mostly boring; the publican just pulls draughts and collects quids. When I'm in London to unwind over something ice cold and spirited with a colleague, a pal, a new editor, or my wife, I want a refuge that's calm, clubby but not comatose. Where the paneling is at least 100 years older than my whiskey. Where the bartender is part alchemist, part ambassador, with great stories who tells them while mixing and pouring without spilling a drop.
For my money and fortunately I brought lots of it - Dukes Hotel Bar is the perfect libational sanctuary. It has the looks, the lore, the intimacy and the cocktail craftsmanship I thirst for in a great bar without the pretentious decadence in the drinking dens of London's newer hotel. Dukes also has an extraordinary, well-seasoned head barman named Tony Micelotta, a smooth Italian seemingly capable of negotiating truces between warring nations.
Micelotta, who apprenticed at the American Bar of the Savoy Hotel under the legendary head barman, Peter Dorrelli, longtime president of the U.K. Barman's Guild, says his job, above all "is to make people feel at home." The setting helps. The bar at Dukes, originally a private home built in 1780 that became a hotel in 1908, is essentially three cozy sitting rooms, (one for non-smokers), filled with leather arm chairs and tables and one sofa. The decor is very British traditional "mahogany paneling, interspersed with a subdued blue striped wallpaper and four original paintings of various dukes" Wellington, Cumberland and lesser known royals in sporting scenes - so you never drink alone.
Micelotta, stationed behind a tiny bar without bar stools, is a maestro of the classic dry martini and a former winner of the World Martini Championship. He is also quick to protect the cocktail's honor. He dismisses as rubbish the legend that Sir Ian Fleming coined the phrase, "shaken, not stirred" for his 007, James Bond, while sipping a Dukes martini. "Ian Fleming was a customer," Micelotta says, "but that's a myth."
Aficionados have long debated the birthplace of the martini, but Micelotta insists it was "officially born in 1910 at the Knickerbocker Club in New York by an Italian barman named Martini who substituted dry Martini and Rossi vermouth from Italy for Noilly Pratt vermouth from France." Around the world, a martini was made only with dry gin, preferably distilled in London, until World War II "when Americans started asking for a vodka version made with Smirnoff."
Today, ordering the potent cocktail at Dukes is the first step of a ritual that has made it "one of the most expensive martinis in the world - 15 pounds sterling or 28 dollars U.S. including service," Micelotta says rather proudly. He begins by opening a big freezer cabinet behind the bar where the most popular gins (Bombay Sapphire, Tanquerey or Plymouth Navy Strength 108 proof) and vodkas (Belvedere, Potashki from Poland) are stored along with the glassware. He loads all the ingredients onto a small "trolley" called a Gheridon, rolls it over to you, and prepares it tableside, like a Caesar salad.
"At Dukes, we go to the customer, they don't come to us," he explains. "Into a chilled glass I put a drop of dry vermouth. Then I pour 125 milligrams or five ounces of either gin or vodka. I don't stir, I don't shake. Then, with a potato peeler, I carve a zest from a fresh lemon, twist it to release the lemon oil, and drop it in the glass, and serve an olive on the size. The customer usually orders two but we dissuade them against drinking a third. We want them to come back."
Micelotta contends Dukes is a, "very classic bar and we avoid fancy, trendy drinks. We serve Manhattans, Rob Roys, Bellinis, Sidecars, Negronis and we can't refuse a Cosmopolitan. But if someone orders a Mohito, we send them to Cuba." All cocktails, not just martinis, are $28 apiece including service at the current exchange rate. For wine lovers, he pours a French chardonnay and Chablis and an Italian pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc at $19 a glass including service. A flute of Pol Roger champagne is a hefty $28. Just two bottled beers are available, an Italian lager called Peroni and Becks, at, yikes, $11 a piece. No warmish English draughts? "We don't have beer on tap," he smiles. "We send them over to the Red Lion pub," His personable assistant bar manager, Giovanni Bertini, concurs with that policy.
Tony Micelotta is not much of a name dropper but he did tell me Paul McCartney has dropped by for a drink. "He ordered a margarita with a splash of orange juice and we spoke Italian. He was very gracious and excused himself for not having a martini."
Dukes Hotel Bar, 35 St. James's Place, London
(from the United States: 011-44-20-7491-4840; www.dukeshotel.com)
Action in Atlanta: Young Gladiators Favor the Tavern on Phipps, Corporate Lions and Lionesses Prowl Ritz-Carlton Buckhead
Call it a tale of two taverns, the Battle for Buckhead, dueling drinkmeisters, but in Atlanta, where entrepreneurial adrenaline rampages through the city, a pair of pubs cater to the young gladiators of commerce and corporate lions and lionesses. Both roll out fluffy red carpets for out-of-towners and are on opposite sides of the same street, extremely convenient if you want to take a walk on the wild side and on the mild side in the same evening.
I did and started off at the airy Tavern on Phipps that shares a Buckhead shopping center with Saks Fifth Avenue. This is a serious mingles saloon with an outdoor patio (plus a big, busy restaurant) pouring a heady mix of capitalism and testosterone. Brian, an investment banker sitting at the bar that's packed by 5:30 p.m. on a Friday night, says, "My pal met his wife here and I'm still looking but there's a lot of 'talent' here."
Meantime, a bartender named Brett moonlights as CEO of his trash hauling business with the regal name of Monarch Waste Consultants. He's giving me his Web address along with my $9.50 Jack Daniels Manhattan. On this night, the bar hums with talk of deals and business plans.
The Tavern's star mixologist with 13 years under his apron, Ramon Arocha, hails from Margarita Island (true) in Venezuela. "This is a neighborhood bar and when I see a regular coming through the door, his drink is right there when they sit down," Arocha says. Can't vouch for that but I can say his supporting cast, a quartet of stunning, statuesque servers who glide effortlessly through the SRO throngs, filled drink trays held high on their fingertips, intoxicate the likes of Smith Barney financial consultant named Andre who favors Absolut and tonic on the rocks. "This is a great place for making business contacts," he smiles. "Here, bartenders know your drink before you order." A good wine choice: the Copper Ridge chardonnay at $4.50 a glass.
The headliner, though, at the Tavern on Phipps is Patrick Kelly, voted Atlanta's Bartender of the Year in 2005. Kelly, who I found short on personality and long on attitude, is a "flair" barman with real talent. Kelly tosses and juggles bottles of hooch, builds a tower of wine glasses atop the bar, artfully fills them with a skillful pour, then unleashes a blizzard of white bar napkins that looks like an indoor snowfall - especially if you've had a few drinks. Nice show.
Across the street, at the Lobby Lounge of the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, Chris King, bartender in residence here for 15 years, wouldn't dream of tossing a bottle of Wild Turkey or McCallan Scotch in the air and catching it behind his back. Personable, professional and with zero attitude, King, tuxedoed with a black bow tie, treats you like a guest in his warm and lushly furnished home, with its huge black marble fireplace, overstuffed sofas and easy chairs.
The difference: You get a bill with your drink order. That tart Grey Goose apple vodka martini with its six-ounce pour costs $15. The glass of Sonoma Cutrer Russian River chardonnay is $18. For beer lovers, the bottle of Stella Artois or Pilsner Urquell will nick you $7. King and his colleagues, Jose and Dale, have thoughtfully compiled a detailed menu of all libations and snacks with prices which are steeper than the Tavern at Phipps but the sheer luxury of it all at the Ritz is worth it.
"The Ritz bar is the business and social epicenter of Atlanta," says George Olmstead, founding partner of Blackshaw Olmstead Lynch & Koenig, a retained executive search firm in the high rise next door. Olmstead, a Dewars and water man, will meet candidates here to "see how they walk into a room, how they conduct themselves in social conversation in a space with enough foot traffic that you don't feel conspicuous but not so loud you can't hear the other person."
For businesspeople wooing new clients, he says, "Everyone is always glad to meet you at the Ritz bar. It's better than a private club. More democratic; besides, clubs don't like you to talk business."
LeAnne, a New York-based employee benefits consultant who commutes regularly to Atlanta, often drops by solo to unwind with a Mohito, listen to the singer and piano player. "Sometimes, I'll curl up on the sofa with my magazines right here in the lounge and order dinner," she says. "It's my mental health break."
King says the Lobby Lounge is a magnet for executives and entertainers. "Big-time business guys will cap a deal with XO cognacs but if it's a mega deal, they'll bring out the Remy Martin Louis XIII (in a Baccarat crystal decanter) at $150 a snifter. Then there was the time when Elton John. "struck a deal on a couple of cocktail napkins" and when the Rolling Stones riffed with the full dance band that plays the bar every Friday and Saturday night. Muses King: "We go from afternoon tea to cool, sophisticated night club in just a few hours."
Tavern at Phipps, 3500 Peachtree Road, Atlanta
Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, 3434 Peachtree Road, Atlanta
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|Title Annotation:||two bars evaluated|
|Article Type:||Brief article|
|Date:||May 30, 2006|
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