Last night I dropped in on one of New York
City's grandest, most storied bars, the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis
Hotel. Back in 1932, the bar received its signature item, a 30-foot-wide, eight-foot-tall mural painted by Maxfield Parrish depicting the
merry old soul himself, surrounded by jesters and his court. If you've
never been, you should go.
But an aficionado doesn't come here solely for the mural. This is where cocktails are made in careful (albeit, very expensive) fashion. This claims to be the birthplace of the Bloody Mary (it was born as the Red Snapper) and the bartenders truly know their drinks. I remember my first visit, years ago, when I ordered a Tanqueray and tonic and was surprised to be served a highball glass with a generous portion of gin and a great amount of empty space. Then came a small bottle of tonic water. I could temper the drink with as much (or as little) tonic as I wanted. Last night, I went with Jorge Padrón and Cigar Aficionado's associate publisher Barry Abrams and had a wonderfully mixed Knob Creek Manhattan, served straight up. This is no place to order a beer. (And truth be told, I'm not even certain they carry beer.)
As much as I enjoyed the drink and the glorious surroundings, my evening was far from complete. For it evoked my earlier visits to the bar, and the cigars that I smoked while sitting in the view of the legendary King.
I fondly remember puffing away on a Juan Lopez Selección No. 1 while sipping that bracing gin and tonic so many years ago, and the Fuente Fuente OpusX I smoked with my wife in the same room on a visit many Christmas seasons ago. This was a bar where cigars were welcome. Today, of course, like all bars in New York City aside from the few cigar bars, cigars are as unwelcome at the old King Cole Bar as a visitor wearing a tank-top and torn jeans.
I enjoyed my cocktail, the company and setting was superb, but something was missing. And that's a little bit sad.
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