Cocktail of the Week: The Old Cuban (Champagne Mojito), Bemelmen’s Bar, New York City
It doesn’t come cheap at a lovely $21. Nothing is a bargain in these parts on the Upper East Side of Manhattan at the corner of East 76th St. and Madison Ave. This would be where you find one of the grande dames of the New York hotel scene, the Carlyle Hotel.
Stately and grand, such special surroundings demand for an extraordinary bar with accompanying extraordinary cocktails. Bemelmen’s Bar along the Madison side of the Carlyle is truly a destination bar. It’s not a craft cocktail bar nor is it a locals bar or pub where everybody knows your name. It’s about one of the great decors in the world of bars, with dreamy murals and painted lamps designed by Ludwig Bemelmens, the creator of the children’s book series Madeline. It’s his only public commission. The murals themselves are worth the price of admission, something you’d find a bit north at the Met. Add the black granite bar and the 24 karat gold leaf ceiling, and you have opulent surroundings on par with the Harry’s Bar in Venice and Hemingway Bar in the Paris Ritz’s of the fine drinking world.
Luckily, Bemelmen’s crafts what I consider quite possibly the perfect cocktail (it better be…). It’s far from the most exciting creation. Instead, every note is pitch perfect, the drink complex while maintaining a refreshing edge. The Old Cuban is indeed a mojito with champagne, served up handsomely in a martini glass. None of that dainty flute action here. Hemingway would be quite proud. The champagne is joined by muddled mint, Bacardi 8 rum, fresh lime juice, and angostura bitters for a cocktail that is refreshing, deeply flavored, and the perfect sipper in such spectacular surroundings. Indeed, mojitos can be bold drinks that don’t get watered down on the rocks with a hint of mint. You taste every ingredient vividly here.
They don’t need premier cocktails in these dazzling surroundings at Bemelmen’s. Fortunately, the drinks are every bit on par with the atmosphere to make this truly New York’s special occasion watering hole (especially if Woody Allen’s jazz group is performing that evening).