It’s Almost Time To Celebrate What Most Americans Think is Mexican Independence Day

Cinco de Mayo is this coming Sunday. How lucky for every Mexican-themed restaurant, bar, and booze producer that the holiday falls on a weekend this year. Patrón shots and jalapeño poppers for all! But for those of us who care about such things, that means even more people than usual will be raising a glass to Mexican independence, rather than what the holiday actually commemorates, which is the Mexican army’s victory over superior French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862–while the American Civil War raged north of the border. So if you, like me, go out of your way to correct people when they write St. Patty’s Day instead of St. Paddy’s Day, then you’re in for a busy weekend. But be sure to do your research. True, Mexico’s real independence day is on September 16 (somebody tell Corona’s marketing department), but Cinco de Mayo does serve as a celebration of Mexican heritage, so it’s not a completely made-up holiday. It’s just a misunderstood one that calls for your wisdom and Wikipedia entry-reading skills. But one thing that everybody understands is that the most respectful way to mark the courage and sacrifice of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín’s troops on that fateful spring day is by downing lots of sweet, Mexican-themed cocktails. Maybe people won’t be as likely to think you’re a jerk for correcting them if you do so while handing them a glass of one of these tasty concoctions. 

Here’s one from our friends at Hornitos Tequila. Really, I’ve met them. They’re nice. 

Hornitos Pomegranate Paloma

Ingredients: 2 parts Hornitos Plata Tequila to 1⁄2 part Lime Juice

1⁄2 part Pomegranate Juice

1⁄2 part Grapefruit Juice

1⁄2 part Agave Nectar Soda Water

Pour all ingredients except for the soda water into an ice-filled cocktail shaker.  Shake and strain into a tall glass filled with fresh ice. Top with soda and garnish with a mint sprig, if you’re the kind of person who keeps a mint plant by your kitchen window. A lime wheel will work for normal people. 

This next drink is from the capable crew of the Gerber Group’s new The LCL: Bar & Kitchen on 42nd Street in Mexico Manhattan.

Smoke & Heat

1 ½ ounces Vida Organic Mezcal

½ ounce Agave Nectar

½ ounce Fresh Lime Juice

½ ounce Pineapple Juice

½ ounce Egg White

Shake and strain into a coup. (The LCL peeps say: "This combination highlights the nuanced smokiness of tequila’s older cousin and fuses it with the acidity of pineapple and lime juices to produce the most sensational experience.")

The following drink uses Kappa Pisco, which comes from Chile. What does Chile have to do with Cinco de Mayo? I don’t know. The agave nectar probably comes from Mexico, at least: 

South American Margarita

1 ½ oz KAPPA Pisco

½ oz Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge

½ oz agave nectar

1 oz fresh lime juice

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake and strain over fresh ice into a rocks glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.

All these cocktails sound great, but today’s best tequilas should be consumed neat, with nary a salt shaker or lime slice in sight. My favorite tequilas of recent memory? Herradura Seleccion Suprema ($350) is amazing, if you can afford it. If not, George Clooney’s new tequila, Casamigos, is also excellent, and, at about $50, a lot easier to fit in your Cinco de Mayo budget. 

Happy Cinco, everybody! See you at the bar. 

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Listing for the LCLHonk if You’re Hornitos; Screw It, Let’s Drink Some Herradura Tequila; George Clooney’s New Tequila Is Actually Quite Delicious; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Williamsburg With the Ladies of Haim

Saturday night was Cinco de Mayo, and I made the long haul to Williamsburg from the confines of Bay Ridge; thanks to the MTA, it took an extra long time to get there. When I finally arrived at Glasslands Gallery, I managed to catch the tail end of Brooklyn-based power-trio Team Spirit. Energetic burly dudes, sweating their asses off while playing some gnarly guitar riffs? Yes please! I’m digging up some goods from them here, and I anticipate that they’re exactly what my summer will sound like. But I was eager to see headliners Haim—some favorites of ours at BlackBook. I mean it when I say that I’ve never seen chicks rock harder.

Haim’s median age is a mere 23, and they’ve only released a three-song EP, which you can download here. Sisters Este, Danielle, and Alana (aka Baby Haim) played to a sold-out crowd of 300 fans. I looked around the room and noticed the crowd was predominately male. A bunch of dudes coming to see babes rock on a Saturday night? Enough said. Slaying it with their hits “Go Slow” and “Better Off,” it wasn’t long before a mosh pit erupted. It was a hodgepodge of good-looking people singing, clapping, and stomping, all in a show of love. Was it the power of the supermoon? With the celestial wonder at its full peak, Haim’s set ended with their infamous heart-pumping drum circle before exiting stage right. The crowd, filled with evident fans, chanted for an encore before eventually realizing that the ladies weren’t returning. It does, however, go to show that this sister trio is a powerhouse leaving you wanting more with every melody. I see only huge things for these girls and you can bet we’ll be there reporting their rise.           

Right before midnight, the streets filled with a whole mess of humans liquored up on Jose Cuervo ready to get into whatever the universe had in store for them (which was probably more tequila). Me? I prepped myself for the long trek back to the depths of south Brooklyn, feverishly trying to figure out how I was going to start a kick-ass girl band. Anyone?

Bang, Bang: I Shot Tequila

Tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo, which can be summed up in a few words: Mexico, tacos, and tequila. Now, if you do this right you can still celebrate Mexican heritage—no, not Mexican independence, that day is on September 16—without the Jose Cuervo hangover we know so well. Instead, strap on you finest sombrero and sip good tequila in style, starting with a trip to La Biblioteca, where they are serving the limited edition Hijos de Villa Blanc, a nine-month aged reposado that comes in cleverly designed gun-shaped bottle. Shooters anyone?

You can only get this special from 5 to 10pm on May 5 (as well as $15 for bottomless guacamole and $5 basic margaritas), but there are 400 other reasons to fall in love with tequila here. That’s right, this sleek bar actually is a library—of tequila. Plus, with long leather couches, low lit community tables, and bottles of booze tagged and behind cages, the space feels like a research room too. Even when it’s not Cinco de Mayo they also do weekly $15 tastings from various distilleries, including the upcoming Corralejo, Don Julio, and Chinaca meet-and-greets.

Swank aside, Cinco de Mayo doesn’t have to be a big night on the town. If you aren’t into tromping to the city to battle it out with the other Mexican pride revelers, I recommend having your own do-it-yourself tasting. One of my favorite distilleries is Herradura, which has been producing top notch, 100-percent agave tequila since 1870. This tequila is made in the lowland of Jalisco, one of the few places in Mexico where the tipple can legally be made, a rule similar to the one that makes Cognac or Champagne a regional name. The company produces three main tequilas: Blanco, reposado, and anejo.

To do the tasting, round up some shooters (should be available in most decent liquor stores) and pour a dram of each. All the tequilas get aged in American oak barrels and the blanco is the youngest, spending only 45 days in the barrel. Like wine, you first want to sniff the tequila, lightly though since it’s pure alcohol, and take note of the hue. The blanco is almost clear and you should get a faint nose of vanilla and orange. Herradura’s reposado gets aged for 11 months and comes out much darker with a slight peppery flavor and chocolate taste at the end. The anejo is the richest and darkest of the trio as it’s in the barrel for 49 months and leans towards a more sweet, smoky essence.

No matter what you taste while imbibing, the real goal is to like what you drink. So, there you have it, two unique ways to celebrate Mexican heritage that doesn’t involve anything named Casa Bonita (it exists, I have been there) or involve buckets of frozen margaritas. Of course, if that’s what you want that’s fine too, just don’t cry about waking up coated in tortilla chip crumbs and nacho cheese with the worst headache of your life come Sunday morning.

La Biblioteca
622 3rd Avenue  New York, NY 10017
(212) 808-8110

Two Cinco de Mayo Cocktails from Gerber Group Bartender Michelle Romano

It’s Cinco de Mayo, the day Mexicans and Americans celebrate the victory of the Mexican Army over the French in the Battle of Puebla (May 5, 1862) with tequila shots and loutish behavior. Tequila shots are great, and loutish behavior is okay in certain circumstances, but I think we can do better. Fortunately, so does Gerber Group bartender and manager Michelle Romano (above), who was kind enough to invent two amazing cocktails for us that are worthy of the holiday. 

I dropped by Whiskey Blue Thursday afternoon for a tasting, and I’m glad I did, because it expanded my cocktail repertoire quite a bit. The idea was to just have one drinko for Cinco, but when Michelle told me it involved a jalapeno-infused tequila, I got scared. I like spicy food just fine, but spicy drinks – jalapeno tequila, black pepper vodka, etc. – don’t do it for me. I like the heat in my mouth, but not down my throat. So she took pity on the widdle baby and came up with a milder option as well. It’s called the Watermelon Cilantro Margarita, and it’s a good place to begin.  

Watermelon Cilantro Margarita

2 oz Excellia tequila
12 cilantro leaves
3/4 oz agave syrup
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
4 large chunks of fresh watermelon
 
In a cocktail shaker, muddle watermelon and cilantro with agave syrup. Add ice, lime juice and tequila. Shake vigorously and pour directly into highball glass.
 
This is a lovely and refreshing cocktail with a great smoothie-like texture. The cilantro and lime play nicely against the watermelon and you’re forced to drink it slowly because leaves keep getting stuck in the straw. Forced moderation is better than no moderation at all. A great drink. 
 
The second cocktail she made was the one I was afraid of, but I figured I’d give it a try, because Michelle knows what she’s doing behind the bar (more on that later). 
 
Jalapeno Cooler
2 oz Tanteo Jalapeno Tequila
12 cilantro leaves
1/2 oz agave syrup
4 large chunks of watermelon
 
In a building glass muddle watermelon and cilantro with agave syrup. Add ice and tequila. Shake vigorously and pour directly into a rocks glass.
 
With some trepidation, I took a sip. And then another. And another. Where was the heat? Ah, there it is, on the lips, on the tongue, and a bit in the cheeks. But nothing in the throat, nothing in the belly. It’s a spice that knows when to quit. Like I said, I’m fine with spicy food, but I’ve got nothing to prove. Give me a little bit of a kick, enough to wake me up a bit, but don’t start an inferno inside me. Michelle balanced the jalapeno perfectly agains the other ingredients. It’s still not something I’d go out of my way to order, but for those who like their cold drinks hot, it’s as good as they get. 
 
And as for Michelle, she’s one of the coolest bartenders in New York. I know this because she hosted us at Lilium when I sampled upscale St. Patrick’s Day cocktails with actor Jon Glaser. Not only were the cocktails amazing, but we all had a great time sitting around and shooting the breeze. To find out more about Michelle, let’s ask her.
 
Where were you born, where did you grow up, and what kinds of things were you into as a kid?
I’m originally from Mt. Shasta California, which is the very top of Cali near the Oregon border. I spent 25 years in Cali before I transplanted myself to the East Coast. I grew up climbing trees, catching lizards, and playing in the mud. I was a total tomboy and complete ham, loved to be the center of attention and had a wild imagination, but I guess that’s no different from me now. 
 
How did you get into bartending? What about it appealed to you, and when did you realize you had a knack for it?
I actually lied my way into my first bartending job. One day I just woke up and said "I want to be a bartender," so I Googled some drinks and shots, made myself flash cards with the recipes, and went to my favorite restaurant/club in town and asked them for a job. I told them I had bartended at another local bar in town (where the owner was willing to fake a reference for me). They hired me as a happy hour bartender and quickly realized that even though I knew what was in the drinks, I had no clue how to make them. But  what I lacked in knowhow I made up for in personality, and I had a great bar manager who was willing to show me the ropes. Shout out to Jeff Lennon! 
 
What exactly are you doing now? What is your title and basic responsibilities?
I currently work for two Gerber Group properties. At Lilium in the W Union Square, I’m the head bartender, team leader for all the staff and back up managerial support for the GM.  At Whiskey Blue I’m a full time manager where I do a lot of everything. Back of the house stuff like invoicing and payroll, as well as managing the floor and interacting with customers to enhance the guest experience.
 
What’s an average day like for you, if there is such a thing as an average day?
Lately every day has been something different. I just recently transferred to Whiskey Blue so I’m still getting my footing and the craziest things seem to happen when I’m running a shift. I’m constantly on call for both properties between staff, corporate, or other managers. My phone and email never stop, but I like it. I work well under pressure.
 
Any crazy stories you can share? Celebs-gone-wild, that kind of thing?
Honestly I have no celebrity dirt, but I wish I did! Gerber has such a good reputation among the celebrity circle so we have a regular flow of celebrities in our New York properties and everyone I’ve met has been really cool. I think the best moment for me was when I had first moved to NYC and met Chris Noth. I was of course a huge Sex and the City fan and my friend Sally always calls me her Carrie Bradshaw. Now I’m not one to get star struck, after living in LA you get pretty used to seeing famous people wandering around. But I’ll be honest when Chris sat at my bar for the first time it felt like the perfect New York moment. It took every ounce of my composure not to run up and hug him and call him Mr. Big!!
 
What spirits and mixers do you enjoy working with?
My favorite part of New York has always been the use of so many fresh ingredients and infusions. I’m really into gin these days. It’s become an obsession of mine to get non gin drinkers to enjoy a gin cocktail I craft. I Haven’t had someone dislike something I’ve made as of yet, knock on wood. I don’t want to give away my secrets but herbal gin infusions are where my head is right now.
 
What trends are you seeing in mixology these days? What is the Gerber Group of bars mixing up?
I’ve noticed that many bars are doing a play on flavors, mixing the sweet with the salty or savory. Like doing a sweet martini with a white pepper rim. Gerber Group has a new spirit favorite called Caliche Rum, which is new to the market. We actually just added two amazing Caliche cocktails to our cocktail lists company-wide. What I really like about it is that its a silver rum but it has some 30 year old rum mixed into each batch, giving it a lot more character than most silver rums you taste. 
 
What do you drink when you’re kicking back? What’s your favorite cocktail, wine, beer, etc.?
Well I love any beer I can put fruit in, and I even put fruit in some beers you wouldn’t think need it. like Stella with lime. I’m weird. If I’m drinking a martini its gin-based. I typically scope out the fresh ingredients the bar has and have them make me something I invent on the spot. Which I’m sure the bartenders just love! But if all else fails I’ll always go back to Hendrick’s with a splash of St. Germaine and a splash of grapefruit. Can’t go wrong there.
 
Any advice for aspiring bartenders out there? How do you make it to a high-end bar like a Gerber bar?
At the end of the day anyone can make a Jack and Coke. You have to have a personality if you want to get anywhere in the business. Too often I see bartenders who don’t smile, who look like they hate their jobs or hate people in general, and I think to myself "why are you even doing this? The money? Your tips can’t be very good with that attitude." Gerber hires personalities, not just bartenders. The reason I’ve gotten so far in this company in such a short period of time is because I’m a genuine, likeable person who enjoys what I do and works damn hard at it. 
 
Finally, what do you like to do when you’re not working? Any hobbies or leisure activities that keep you balanced? Photography, travel, etc?
I’m a jet setter. Last year I visited Spain twice and also Italy. This year I went to Costa Rica and am deciding where to head next. Every time I come back from a trip I feel renewed and reinvigorated towards life. I picked up photography a year ago and have fallen completely in love with it, and I’m actually quite good if I do say so myself. Those two things keep me balanced. Knowing that the world can look completely different through a camera lens drives me to see things other than how they appear on the surface and helps me to stay open to all the possibilities around me. 
 
[Photo: Eric Fischer]

Industry Insiders: Jaime Salas, Tequila Guru

Every day is Cinco de Mayo for tequila expert and California native Jaime Salas. We asked the Milagro tequila ambassador for tips on how to honor Cinco de Mayo like a pro, just as he was rushing out to pick up rhubarb for later on tonight (it was, of course, tequila related).

Point of Origin: I come from a big tequila family. My mom’s family is from Jalisco, and I started collecting tequila on family trips to Mexico. And then, through a friend of a friend, I got the opportunity to be a brand ambassador for Don Julio and I thought, ‘you mean I get paid to travel around and talk about tequila?’ and that’s how I got into this. I was always a fan of the whole Milagro portfolio, so I was very happy when this opportunity presented itself. This is technically my third tequila ambassadorship.

On his vast tequila collection: I started collecting tequilas years ago, and I have more than three hundred bottles. Most of them are back in California. Here in New York I’ve got about 60 bottles. Tomorrow for Cinco de Mayo I’m not sure what I’m going to open, but I will definitely be having Milagro Silver which is my favorite ‘blanco’ tequila. My sipper tequila is Milagro Select Barrel Reserve Reposado. It’s won a lot of accolades.

On the perfect margarita recipes:

Margarita Evolved 2oz Milagro Silver .75oz Milagro Agave nectar 1 oz Lime juice Served in a Rocks glass Garnished with a lime wheel El Pepino 1.5oz Milagro Reposado .75oz Bols Triple Sec 1oz lime juice .75oz simple syrup 3 slices cucumber 6 cilantro leaves .25oz eggwhites Served in a cocktail glass Garnished with a thin cucumber slice

On his busy Cinco de Mayo plans: I’m doing a pre Cinco event tonight at Los Feliz in the Lower East Side, and tomorrow evening from 6:30 – 8:30 I’m going to be at the Astor Center for the Agave Fest and the Margarita Evolved Seminar. Then I’m heading to Santos Party House for the Mex and the City Cinco de Gallo VIP Session.

On tequila faux pas: There’s no need to numb or coat the palate with quality tequila. Putting ice or water in tequila by chilling it is a don’t. Limes, lemons and salt to coat the palate might be good to take care of the burn of lesser tequilas, but not what you want to do with a flavorful, good tequila.

On the places he digs in New York: I love the Sicilian Margarita at the new NYC hotspot, Kenmare. It’s really a hybrid margarita – Milagro Silver is combined with Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur and a touch of Campari. It’s delicious. In my opinion the best non-margarita Milagro cocktail can be found at the Ace Hotel lobby bar. I love La Esquina for their Chapulines Tostadas and Milagro house margaritas. Yerba Buena, although Pan Latin with a Mexican influence, has great food and an expansive tequila collection. I always like going to Toloache for their ‘alta cocina’ approach to great Mexican food and cocktails. Mayahuel is my favorite restaurant for all things agave and small plates. It’s named for the Tara Reid Lindsay Lohan Goddess of Tequila.

Swine Flu Panic Ruining Cinco de Mayo Parties

imageThis swine flu panic has got to stop. Word on the street is that boozy Cinco de Mayo celebrations are getting shut down all over the place. The big May 5 extravaganza in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park (it’s called “Corona” — I mean, come on!) was canceled out of “prudence,” as were parties in Atlanta, Milwaukee, Dallas, and Chicago.

Even in the town of Corona, CA (again with the Corona), the festivities were shut down because a local high school student was suspected of contracting the dreaded flu. As you would expect, such shenanigans have been cut out of the deal all over Mexico. Historically, Cinco de Mayo commemorates the unlikely victory of the Mexican army over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Given that precedent, wouldn’t it be appropriate to celebrate the impending victory of modern medicine over the swine flu? I’d cheer to that.