As you read this, even as you don’t, we are (doubtless) still in the grip of our most severe Winter since records began and the city remains clenched within its unyielding gelid fist. Even if this is not the case it’s still January and you could almost certainly use a little pick-me-up. I prescribe an intensive course of top-shelf depressants to banish those post-festive blues. At the very least one might succeed in pushing those blues out to early Spring. Best of all – with the savings you’ve made by eating in Chinese supermarkets all month you’ll have the means to treat yourself to a moderate, guiltless debauch. The Sidecar at The Westbury Hotel should be just the ticket.
I’m joined for the night by my old mucker Red Ben, a man uniquely qualified for this particular assignment. We shared more than a couple of drinks in our college days and although I had the pleasure of attending his nuptials in the Summer this still feels like something of a reunion. One of the most discerning and considered drinkers I have ever known, he addresses every glass with an interrogative rigour and has borne his gout with great courage and quiet dignity. He also mixes a better Martinez than you. The room is a very pleasant place to be on a Tuesday night, or indeed any night. It is beautifully lit, louche and enveloping. From the black marble floor to the dark inlaid wood finishes the place has been art-deco’d to within an inch of its glittering existence. It is a 1930s cocktail bar as designed by Baz Luhrmann. Nevertheless, it feels like an hotel bar in the best way and the room is humming when we make our entrance.
If you have any interest in what you drink you will want to follow our lead and take a seat at the handsome zinc bar. This is where it happens. This is where your attention should be. If you are over six feet tall you won’t have any legroom but you will care less as the night unfolds. We are two boozy moths to the flame of the glowing backbar. Daniel, our slick, white-jacketed bartender (please desist from using the term ‘mixologist’) glides silently over to us and pours us some champagne into two little crystal coupes, ‘for while we look over the menu’. It’s a classy move and it sets the tone. We had decided on an ordering strategy before we got here so our first order is for ‘our drinks’ – the drink that materialises in each of our brains when we hear the word ‘cocktail’. So that’s a Bulleit Rye Manhattan for Ben and a Grey Goose Martini, super dirty for Conor.
It is testament to Daniel’s abilities and experience that he simultaneously manages to produce the finest iteration of this drink that I’ve ever had in this country while making it clear that he doesn’t entirely approve of my order. He’s right, the dirty martini has always had something of the douchbag about it. It could be the state drink of Florida, America’s wang. Ben’s eyes narrow momentarily and he nods sagely at his Manhattan. It’s a very good start. Desperate for validation now I put myself in Daniel’s hands for my second. I’m rewarded with the best martini I’ve ever had, at any time, anywhere. A bespoke creation, he makes it on French G’Vine Gin and adulterates with Peychaud Bitters. It blushes almost imperceptibly in its glass. Before I taste Daniel inquires as to which hand I’ll be drinking with and proceeds to anoint my left with a strip of bruised orange zest, the better to perfume each sip. My turn to blush.
The drink is floral and aromatic and I drink it in near silence. Ben savours an Aperol Negroni. A change of bartender sees Cathal prepare us a Knob Creek Old-Fashioned and a Corpse Reviver, respectively. Both are excellent. Upon Daniel’s return he sets us up with an elegant, austere Vieux Carré and a modern Negroni made on Mezcal. There may or may not be a tear forming in Ben’s eye at this point. We prudently drink a couple of measures of Fernet-Branca to calm our constitutions before leaving.
Drinks of this quality come at a price and I’m not referring to my liver or mental health. The cost of these superb elixirs ranged between thirteen and eighteen euros. Each was worth the price. You are paying for top-drawer ingredients and glassware as well as the expertise and intuition of the guy with the shaker. If you want an eight euro Sex on the Beach take yourself off to TGI Friday’s. It is not by accident that the place has won Best Hotel Cocktail Bar at The Irish Craft Cocktail Awards for two years straight. We regard certain restaurants as special occasion places so why not a bar? In the same way that you don’t saunter into Eleven Madison Park because you’re peckish, you won’t be dropping in here to cure a mid-week hangover, or heaven forfend, for a ‘rake of pints’. It’s for special. Wear some adult shoes and run a comb through your hair. Chin-chin!
Words: Conor Stevens
Balfe St, Dublin 2.
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