A Lesson in Wedding Planning, Courtesy of the Campari Party at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic

When people tell me they’re getting married, I have only one piece of advice to offer, a simple rule that will ensure the event is memorable for all the right reasons: No booze before the I do’s. By which I mean, don’t have an open bar until the vows are over. Passed hors d’oeuvres, soft drinks, sure. But give your guests cocktails and they’ll be talking through the vows, laughing and yammering on as you profess your love to your future spouse. You will hear them, and you will hate them for the rest of your life. I’ve seen it happen. "Do you take this woman … HYAW! HYAW! HYAW! … To have and to hold … OH MY GAWD LOOK AT THE FLOWERS … In sickness and in … LOOK WHO SYLVIA CAME WITH … until death do you … DID YOU GET A GOOD PARKING SPOT?" It’s terrible. Everything else about a wedding will fall into place if you keep the bar closed until you’re officially married. Anybody who didn’t already know  was given a taste of what happens when you ignore this rule last night at Manhattan’s Gallow Green, where Italian aperitif maker Campari hosted a faux-wedding between historical figures Davide Campari and Lina Cavalieri as part of the ongoing Manhattan Cocktail Classic.

If it weren’t for the mega-watt PA system at Gallow Green–a super-cool spot designed like an old railway station normally used for the red hot Sleep No More–I wouldn’t have heard a thing officiant (and noted bartender and author) Gaz Regan said. But this was an extreme case. The room was packed thanks to that Googa Mooga-killing rain shower, which forced the event from the roof to an indoor space below it, and the cocktails were flowing like mad from the start.

And these were serious cocktails prepared by serious bartenders. There was Theo Lieberman of Milk & Honey, Lauren Schell of Little Branch and Middle Branch, and Leo Robitschek of the NoMad, among others. I made a point to sample almost all of them, my favorite being Schell’s Parrot’s Grog (a labor-intensive drink involving Campari, rum, and some other stuff) before wandering over to the stage as the bride was being escorted to the altar.

It was quite a theatrical event, and even though I had to strain to hear the vows over the chirping women and bellowing men at the various bars, it felt like a real wedding. The story, which may or may not be apocryphal, goes that Davide, Campari-creator Gaspare Campari’s youngest son, fell in love with opera diva Lina Cavalieri and followed her across Europe to profess his feelings.

I was wondering if the two were metaphors, Davide represending Campari, of course, and Lina representing the other ingredients in a negroni, gin and sweet vermouth. Or if Campari and soda with lime could stand in for the ultimate three-way. But in this case, the backstory was clear enough. Good old fashioned Italian love. 

And I do love that Campari. Always have. It’s the classic Italian liqueur whose bright red color belies its bitterness (and has always had gorgeous advertisements). There’s something enticing about that bite, a refreshment beyond anything a sweet drink could offer. Campari and soda with lime is the perfect cocktail for a beachside bar or sidewalk cafe, preferable somewhere in Europe, with matching Campari umbrellas.

What I didn’t know is just how mixable Campari is in other cocktails. It adds some spine to cocktails that would never stand straight without it, even those that embody the trend of lighter, dryer drinks that’s supposedly going on now. It gives cocktails maturity, refinement, and class without being overbearing about it. 

And so I sipped my Parrot’s Grog and felt happy for the gorgeous young couple as they said their I do’s, seemingly oblivious to the unceasing din in the room, which was only partially softened by an irritated chorus of SHHHHHHHHHH’s. Drunk people won’t shut up for anything. Good thing this event was all in fun. And it was fun: great drinks from notable bartenders, cool music from DJ Kiss, a fascinating space, and a smattering of celebrities (I’m told Chrissy Teigen was there). 

I left before the mad rush to the terrifying, dark, creaky elevators, savoring the wonderfully bitter flavor of the Campari during my subway ride back to Brooklyn. Did the assembled crowd take away the same wedding-planning lesson that I did? I doubt it. The SHHHHHHHH! contingent already knew it, and the squawkers didn’t notice a thing.

Well, if you’ve got to serve something before your big moment, Campari’s a good choice, light enough for people to keep their wits about them, dry enough to sip slowly without guzzling. So, when’s the next fake wedding? I’ll be there. 

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Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Listing for Gallow Green; Offical Campari site; Official Manhattan Cocktail Classic site; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter

Nine Holiday Gifts For Your Hungry Loved Ones

Now that Black Friday, Gray Weekend, and Cyber Monday—that somehow bled into Cyborg Tuesday—are behind us, save for that last one, it’s time to spruce up that holiday shopping list with these nine awesome food-focused gifts. 

Tasting Room Wine Sampler: Don’t worry about picking out the perfect wine for your oenophiles. With these fun sets of six, two-ounce bottles, you can get a variety of sample packs like Emeril Lagasse’s favorite party wines, Michael Chiarello’s collection of Napa varietals, various pinot noirs to taste, and more. It’s a great way to compare vineyards and try new things. $22.95 to $39.95.

Beurre & Sel Cookies: James Beard Award winning Dorie Greenspan began making cookies with her son Josh as a hobby. Lucky for you they decided to grow the business and make artisan cookies to sell, which makes a sweet gift. Sample flavors like the cocoa cayenne, sesame sea salt, cranberry spice, and rosemary parmesan with the knowledge that all products are made with local butter and hand-harvested French sea salt. $10 to $14.

Vintage Tea Works: Tea is the new coffee, haven’t you heard? With this collection of wine inspired teas from this Ohio based company, you can pour your teetotalling (heh) guests a festive cup of Pu-erh Cabernet or White Tea Riesling. While they don’t necessarily taste just like a fine merlot or chardonnay, they sure smell like vino and come in sexy packaging worthy of a stocking. $15.99 to $18.99 per package. 

Williams-Sonoma Cookware: For that little chef in your life, splurge for Williams-Sonoma’s new cookware set. Each pot and pan is Thermo-Clad, non-stick stainless steel, and absolutely seamless, which means a cleaner utensil and even cooking time. The whole 10-piece set runs a whopping $800, but you can also buy it piecemeal for around $100. 

Campari: Sure, you can buy this iconic herbal liquor anytime of year, but what makes this holiday bottle special is reinterpretation of Leonetto Cappiello’s classic “Spiritello” poster. Campari used this poster for advertising in 1921, and for a limited time you can get this unique bottle. Not that you really need an excuse to stock up. $28.

Fat Toad Farm’s Salted Bourbon Caramel Sauce: Technically called cajeta, a Mexican caramel made with goats milk, this sweet treat gets an American twist with a dose of Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Each lot is handmade in small batches with fresh goat’s milk from the herd of French Alpine dairy goats on the Fat Toad Farm in Vermont. I recommend going for the box set so you can gift one jar and keep the other for yourself. $31.95.

The Edible Selby: If I didn’t convince you with this interview to go out and get the Edible Selby cookbook, photo essay, and all around great coffee table tome by photographer Todd Selby, then you obviously are not a food nerd. Nevertheless, for the culinary geek in your life, this would make a great addition to any food porn collection. $20.24 at Amazon.com

Gift Certificate for Joe the Art of Coffee: This West Village coffee house has been a staple since 2003, but not all of us are lucky enough to live near by. This is why a gift certificate is the answer for any coffee freak. You can use it to get their freshly roasted beans shipped to you, whittle it away on store visits, or take a barista class. Prices vary.

Corkcicle: Okay, I didn’t pick this just because it’s one of “Oprah’s favorite things,” I chose the Corkcicle because it’s ingenious. It’s a cork, with a long plastic stem filled with water attached to it. You put it in the freezer and when you have an open bottle of white on the dinner table you can just pop it in and it keeps the vino cold. No longer will you feel like you have to chug that bottle of Riesling. $24.95

Finally, gift yourself before the mess of holiday parties and endless piles of cookies. Until December 3, the popular BluePrint juice cleanse is 20 percent off with the code THANKSDRINKING. After that, you won’t feel too guilty having that fifth cup of eggnog. 

PDT’s Jim Meehan Talks About His James Beard Award Win

This year the James Beard Foundation debuted the Outstanding Bar Program Award, an honor sponsored by Campari that is given to a bar that “displays and encourages excellence in cocktail, spirit, and/or beer service through a well-presented drink list, knowledgeable staff, and efforts to educate customers about beverages.” The winner of the inaugural award was PDT. We chatted with the humble owner of PDT, Jim Meehan, after he won the prize.

How did it feel to win?
It’s a crazy feeling, but it feels spectacular. This is something that we have paid very close attention to for a long time. It’s amazing that bars are now a part of the awards. I kind of left last night wondering if they were going to ask for it back.

Campari had a big part in the creation of this category. Do you like the spirit?
Campari is one of the ingredients that ends up in many cocktails and we use it a lot. Last night one of the bartenders made a good Campari drink with Plymouth gin, spiced honey syrup, and champagne.

Why do you think you won?
For five years we have taken care of our industry. We have always been a bar that is a little something extra, and, when chefs stop by we always take care of them.

You run you bar very well. What is your inspiration?
I came from Gramercy Tavern and Pegu Club. Audrey [Saunders, owner of Pegu Club] came from a five-star hotel and she taught us all how to offer hotel service in a cocktail bar.There were a lot of Gramercy people awarded last night too, and at that place it’s like a finishing school for service.Our own form of hospitality, the way we run the bar, is the way a restaurant runs its dining room—meaning, there is no standing and there is enough staff to serve you. My team for five years now has bought into this concept of running a bar like this. It’s very gratifying to get this award from this industry’s most celebrated and respected chefs.

What other bars do you think should win this award?
All the bars nominated deserve this award. Pegu Club is where I learned so much. Bar Agricole has an amazing wine program and their cocktails are elegant and well presented. Plus, it’s a certified green restaurant and I am surprised it didn’t win. Also, for Grant Achatz to open up a bar [The Aviary in Chicago] is such a huge thing for the bar industry. Last but not least, Toby Maloney who was our head bartender at Pegu Club and the first to head out and open up the Violet Hour in Chicago. It was bittersweet to walk away with the award because I am close with all the nominees and they all deserved it.

Now that you won, what are your plans today?
My plan is to try and reply to all my text messages and emails from people all across the country that reached out to say congratulations. Then I have a meeting at a bar and tonight I am having dinner with my brother and our wives at wd-50 for the launch of their new menu. All in all I am kind of speechless and really happy, but, in my experience you got to try to live up to the award. It’s important not to let it go to your head, so, it’s back to work. 

Photo by Kent Miller

Links: Victoria Beckham’s Mentor, Jerry Hall for Chanel, Jessica Alba Recurved

● Wondering why Victoria Beckham’s dresses look so much like Roland Mouret’s work? Because he “mentored” her, setting her up with his pattern cutter and fabric sources. [British Vogue] ● Autograph Magazine (yes, there’s a magazine dedicated to autographs) has released their annual list of best and worst celebrity autographers. The best, Jay Leno! The worst, John C. Reilly! [Autograph Magazine] ● Jerry Hall is rumored to be the new face of Chanel for their upcoming handbag campaign. The campaign will be modeled after Colette’s novel Cheri. [WWD]

● In Taiwan, Hello Kitty has sponsored a maternity ward. The reason? They believe the cartoon cat will “ease the stress of childbirth.” [Yahoo] ● See what the wonders of Photoshop did for Jessica Alba in those new Campari ads. [SkinnyVCurvy]