The Manhattan Cocktail Classic Gala is a celebration of one of civilization's simplest creations -- varying combinations of alcohol, ice, sugar, and juice -- transformed through stirring, shaking, and sometimes finger twirling, into the mighty cocktail. Year after year the gala continues to be one of New York City's most exciting and wildly anticipated events, and is my favorite event of the year -- a night of revelry, debauchery, and more cocktails than one can possibly count.
The Main Hall - Photo by Filip Wolak
The Gala is the kickoff event for the week long Manhattan Cocktail Classic -- five days of events, lectures, decadent soirees, lavish dinner parties, tiki safaris, mixology classes, city tours, bar crawls, boozy brunches, tasting rooms, and of course, lots and lots of drinking. It's an opportunity for guests to try new spirits, imbibe in hand crafted cocktails, and connect with brands they otherwise would not try. I have discovered some of my now favorite tipples in past years, and this year was just the same.
The grandiose doors to the New York Public Library swung open at 9 p.m. sharp and the line howled with excitement -- the crowd anxious to see what curiosities were planned for this year's bash. A band greeted guests as they walked into the awe-inspiring central hall of the library -- the ceiling of which was illuminated with thousands of stars, creating the effect of lifting the roof of the library up into the night sky. Metallic paper cranes hung from archways, shimmering.
We started our ascent up the library stairs, the beginning of our journey through the labyrinthine building, peppered with bars, troupes of dancers, human statues, tables of nibbles and canapes, bands, barber shops, and more bars. An Appleton Estate Jamaican Rum Old Fashioned kicked off the night -- a sweet and buttery variation of the classic cocktail. This was hands down my favorite cocktail of the evening -- a glass of perfection.
We made our way to the third floor, where an entire room was dedicated to New York distillers and were excited to see the friendly faces of Bridget Firtle of Owney's Rum and Josh Morton of Barrow's Intense Ginger Liqueur -- two Brooklyn distillers making some damn fine spirits. It was a pleasure to see all the New York distillers together: Hillrock Estate Distilling, Greenhook Ginsmiths, Kings County Distilling, Industry City, New York Distilling Company, Prohibition Distillery, Sorel, Tuthilltown, and Atsby Vermouth, to name a few. We also loved the Dutch Spirits Stissing Mountain Punch, made with Dutch's Sugar Wash Moonshine, Aperol, Grapefruit Juice, and Sparkling Wine, served from a boozy backpack. Double win.
Then we went to the basement -- in one of the most magical rooms of the library -- where a glass domed space with a grand dance floor filled with costumed dancers and a live bandstand playing for imbibers. Live entertainment is such a special treat these days, and it seemed like each room was filled with musicians, dancers and exotic entertainers. My favorite was the couple on stilts who towered over guests, twirling on the dance floor to everyone's amazement.
Photo by Filip Wolak
Photo by Filip Wolak
I quickly had two delicious cocktails in my hands: first the Maker's Mark 46 cocktail, which was a variation on an old fashioned, made with a cider-infused Martinique Clement 10 year rum made by Michael Neff of Ward III, and the Prickly Heat Sour made with XXX Shine White Whiskey, Chipotle Sour, Prickly Pear Puree, Mandarine Napoleon, and Barritts Ginger Beer. Another impressive cocktail of the evening was the Malacca Flip from Spice Market, made with Tanqueray Malacca Gin, Hibiscus Syrup, Maraschino Liqueur, Sweet Vermouth, Lemon Juice, Mint, Egg White, and Orange Bitters. Sweet and Spicy!
Boozy Popsicles from Brewla were served from nostalgic cigarette trays, the Unsweetened Espresso pop was a refreshing treat. Tables of nibbles flanked the bandstand, sliders, pickled vegetables, and a decadent display of cocktail shrimp on ice.
Up the stairs again, where we found the Shellback Bar making two very delicious cocktails -- the Barbados Slim with spiced rum, East India Sherry, Lime Juice, Ginger Beer, and Angostura Bitters; and the Olive Blossom, made with Silver Rum, St. Germain, Pink Grapefruit Juice, Simple Syrup and Lavender Bitters, topped with an Edible Orchid. I'm normally not one for the girly drinks, but I loved this cocktail. Sweet and light, it would taste amazing on a yacht.
Around the corner we found the Johnnie Walker Bar -- brightly illuminated with two handsome gents workin the crowd. These guys were great -- joking with patrons whilst pouring two smashing drinks: the Shotgun Wedding made with Johnnie Walker Black, Pimms, and Gonzalez Byass Nectar Pedro Ximenez Sherry, and the Post Modern, made with Johnnie Walker Red, Honey, Lemon, Pacharan (a Spanish liqueur made with sloe berries and aniseed), and an Absinthe Rinse.
Then, we went up to the New Amsterdam Bar for the gentleman in our party to have a close shave and a shoeshine. The ladies chatted and sipped on The Close Shave cocktail with New Amsterdam Vodka and St Germain topped with Prosecco and Rosemary.
We meandered from bar to bar, nibbling on Lo Mein served in small chinese take out containers, stepping into lavish reading rooms that were filled with revelers dancing to the selections of Mr Herbert Holler, and then back down to the Campari bar in the main hall for a Gary Regan finger-stirred Negroni and cans of carbonated Negronis.
Shakin' - Photo by Filip Wolak
Photo by Filip Wolak
I was thrilled to see that some of the kinks of previous years had been worked out -- bars did not run out of drink, nor glassware, although I did miss seeing many of the "startenders" that have defined mixology and helped bring it to its current popularity.
One of the most amazing things about the Gala is that in the few mere hours of the party there is so much to see, and so much more that isn't seen. The next day I was told of wagons of snacks and dips being wheeled through the halls of the library, nibbling patrons trailing behind.
At the end of the night, the crowds poured themselves onto the steps of the library, ladies sitting and resting their feet. Couples posed for photos in front of the iconic building, cementing themselves in history, there, at one of the greatest parties in New York.
Angostura's MCC in 60 seconds: