A well-balanced cocktail is a work of magic. A handful of quality ingredients, combined with a sometimes subtle and sometimes vigorous agitation, transform into something significantly larger than the sum of their parts.
While slurping oysters at the Chesterfield, the subject of this week's review, I asked my tablemates whether they had a defining cocktail moment -- an instant where at first sip, flavors, mood and tone all came together to form the perfect drink, and an experience profound enough to leave a lasting memory.
I think I've had a few. There was a martini at the Columbia Room, a secret bar inside a bar with some of the finest drink-mixing I've ever encountered. The drink was almost half vermouth and left a floral trace in its wake. It was the best martini I've ever tasted.
I had another defining cocktail in New York at a place called Angel's Share. A most serious cocktail den, the rules of conduct here were strict. I drank a fizzy number, and ate the sisho leaf used as a garnish, whole.
Another at the table recalled his favorite drink -- he was fuzzy on the name but knew every ingredient: bourbon, passion fruit, habanero -- his eyes danced a little when he told us about the drink. He'd ordered it a year or so ago at Bolsa, which is an interesting coincidence, because that's where the bartender who was making our drinks at the Chesterfield that might made his name.
Lucky Campbell, this downtown cocktail den's owner and chief booze agitator, is an exemplary cocktail maker. I only wish he were easier to talk to. When things get busy at the Chesterfield it's hard to get face time with the guy. His drinks do some storytelling of their own, though, and his old-fashioned, paired with dates stuffed with blue cheese and wrapped with bacon, left an impression that will be with me for a while.
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