When you're drinking at a place like Midnight Rambler, you have to make it count. I wandered into the speakeasy-style bar in the basement of the Joule Hotel after dinner with friends, knowing that I was the fool who would soon be parting with her money. It's hard to find a cocktail on the menu here for less than $10, but that absolutely won't stop you from going into a financial hole to try them all, even if you're not exactly sure you're even drinking.
The menu at Midnight Rambler seems remarkably small until you realize that they've left off most of the classic drinks, your Manhattans and Negronis, that every bartender working at a bar of this caliber could make in their sleep. Even though the cocktail offerings only fill a few pages, they are surprisingly diverse. There are fancified tiki drinks, delicate Champagne cocktails, and sophisticated digestifs. There is even a bowl of punch that costs one hundred whole dollars. And then there is the Hell Hound.
At first glance, this cocktail is innocuous. Pineapple and cilantro are excellent together, and a natural pairing with Mexican spirit du jour mezcal. But then you realize that the Hell Hound has both tequila and mezcal, and the latter has been infused with spicy and earthy chipotle peppers. Once mixed together, these flavors and the booze come together to form a particularly sophisticated punch in the face.
Don't let the juice fool you. This is still a markedly spirit-forward cocktail, and you should ask the bar to hold back on the pineapple to preserve that brilliant combination of smoky, sweet, and spicy. For such a bold cocktail, it has a smooth and subtle finish, especially when chased with a bite of the pineapple garnish. If you're still skeptical or new to the world of mezcal, this cocktail is perfect for the entry-level drinker.
If you're used to taking shots of silver Patron, mezcal is entirely unfamiliar. Its smoky flavor is more reminiscent of scotch than tequila, and many Mexicans would probably shudder at the idea of mixing it with juice or anything else. In Mexico, mezcal is consumed straight-up, so that the drinkers can appreciate the complex layers of flavor that come from a centuries-old process of crushing, smoking and fermenting piñas of agave.
In the Hell Hound, you can still experience the intense smokiness that the small artisans that produce good mezcal intended, with a little bit of fruitiness and herbaceousness that functions as a buffer between you and the burn. Which, you'll have to admit, sounds better than the fried larvae worm and salt dipped oranges that were the spirit's traditional chaser.
Oddly, after you've finished this cocktail, you'll find yourself craving the rich smokiness that mezcal lends to a glass. Tequila on its own may start to taste a little flat, and you might even find that you're able to appreciate the bold sweet-smokiness of scotch. You'll have to start spending more on cocktails -- Midnight Rambler sets a dangerous and expensive precedent -- but that just means that you're growing up as a drinker. You might actually be developing what they call "a palate" instead of just slurping down whatever swill any bartender slaps down in front of you. And that's a good thing, for your dating prospects if not for your bottom line.