Spring Menus Launch Downtown: Spring Rolls, Scallops, & Panna Cotta Await

While it does not…quite… feel like spring in NY (is there such a thing?), two restaurants are doing a very good job at playing along with Mother Nature by rolling out their new spring menus, characterized by light, cold, smooth bites and fruity, bitters-filled cocktails.

Feast  East Village’s whitewashed brick, dim, and woody restaurant – debuts their nine-course scallop seafood spread for the scallop fanatic in most/all of us, priced at just $49. Fried Nantucket bay scallops? Oh yeah. Citrus scallop ceviche and a seared smoked-scallop pot pie? You betcha. At Feast, there are no limits to the variety of those bivalve mollusks. And the culminating dessert: the vanilla yogurt panna cotta. Feast has also kicked-off their Sunday brunch, offering diners massive, flat, and sweet Swedish pancakes, shrimp and grits, and a big ol’ basket of bakery goodies to overstuff yourself on before the food arrives.

L’Amant – the West Village’s French-Southeast Asian, wallpapered cocktail nook – debuts baby crab spring rolls in a ginger soy sauce, alongside such bubbly spring cocktails as "The Big Gun" – with whiskey, pear brandy, bitters, and homemade cinnamon syrup – and "The Business Man" made with rye, byrhh, maraschino, and orange bitters. And to temper the buzz, their menu staple: the creamy, in-a-skillet truffle mac & cheese.

Ah, spring. Thanks for coming.

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Buy the Original Fern Bar Lamps for Only $700,000

Tomorrow, Christie’s, the venerable auction house founded in 1766 that seemingly must always be described as ‘venerable,’ is selling a collection of seven Tiffany leaded glass lamps, valued at $20,000 to $700,000. While the collection in and of itself is remarkable (when was the last time you bought a $700,000 lamp?), the story behind it is the real reason we’re here today: they hail from Henry Africa’s, the erstwhile San Francisco watering hole that The Washington Post described as "America’s prototype fern bar…a mellow hangout for patrons who sipped Chablis on its overstuffed couches," whose homey, cluttered rec room-style begat brass railing- and old-timey bicycle-appointed casual dining chains such as T.G.I. Friday’s and Bennigan’s.

The lot includes six standing table lamps and one chandelier, all circa 1910 and bearing the Tiffany & Co. stamp. They are, in the parlance of Christie’s, magnificent. Somehow more magnificent is the notion that an eccentric bar owner, Norman Jay Hobday—who, after closing Henry Africa’s in 1986, moved himself, his lamps and, eventually, his outsized orange cat named Higgins right into the second of his watering holes, Eddie Rickenbacker’s, where he held court from a La-Z-Boy recliner in his signature overalls—would trust such precious objects to the caprices of bar patrons.

Hobday, who later adopted the moniker Henry Africa, opened the drinkery in 1970 as an alternative to the area’s dive bars, catering to the young crowd of professionals who would, by the early ‘80s, be known  as "yuppies." There, he’d invent the lemon drop martini, popularizing the highly sippable, somewhat precious drinks—frozen daiquiris, fuzzy navels and the wine spritzer—that came to define the fern bar experience.

As the spokes on the nostalgia wheel turn toward the ‘70s—see the resurgence of tiki bars, "yacht rock," high-waisted short-shorts and, really, the whole of the American Apparel summer catalogue as evidence—it seems as if the notion of a fern bar revival is one that’s not yet caught on, much to the chagrin of those of us who grew up watching Three’s Company and yearn for a Regal Beagle to call our own.  In 2009, Norman Brinker, who brought the brass railing and hanging plant look of the fern bar to the masses when he created the casual dining chain Bennigan’s, died. (Apparently fern bars are huge for men named Norman.)

In 2011, Hobday passed on to the great fern bar in the sky; many wondered what would happen to his lamp collection, to say nothing of his collection of vintage motorcycles, which hung from the walls and ceiling of Eddie Rickenbacker’s and are now estimated to be worth $1 million. Those charged with disbursing his estate consigned the leaded glass lamps to Christie’s.

Despite their tony reputation, auction houses are actually oddly democratic—that is, if you can overlook the security guards who won’t hesitate to trail anyone who they feel, shall we say, doesn’t belong— in that the previews are free and open to the public. They are also rather strange places, what with their mix of collectors who can be an obsessive and divinely weird bunch, as well as the simply well-heeled, a combination which creates an atmosphere ripe for a Christopher Guest parody. The lamps were magnificent—Christie’s wasn’t fibbing about that. The table lamps were displayed on pedestals and fitted with dimmer switches so they could be viewed at both their brightest and lowest light settings, while Hobday’s lone chandelier hung from a hangman’s stand-esque structure. The colored glass shows much more vividly than it appears in photographs. The red eyes on the charming  ‘Dragonfly’ table lamp positively gleam, looking very much like a Luden’s Wild Cherry Throat Drop.

The auction catalogue offered some wonderful photos of the lamps as they appeared in Eddie Rickenbacker’s, and the ‘Wisteria‘ and ‘Laburnum‘ Table Lamps were situated under collegiate banners from Mount Holyoke and Wellesley Colleges.

The auction of Hobday’s lamps is part of what Christie’s has dubbed "Luxury Week," which, as Forbes quite correctly points out, feels like a gratuitous appellation. Isn’t every week Luxury Week at a place like Christie’s? It also turns out that Christie’s is auctioning a bigger lot of Tiffany leaded glass lamps as part of its Henry Africa’s Tiffany Lamp Auction. There are several examples of the dragonfly motif, including a ‘Drophead Firefly’ Table Lamp and the staggeringly fabulous ‘Dragonfly’ Table Lamp with ‘Crab’ Base, that are similar to the one owned by Mr. Hobday.

It will be curious to see if the fascinating history of Hobday’s lamp causes it to go for a higher price than the one with the less storied provenance. There was also a smaller version of Hobday’s prized ‘Wisteria’ lamp, delightfully dubbed the ‘Pony Wisteria‘, the wildly expensive-lamp version of the pony keg.

The Henry Africa’s auction will begin at 10a EST on Thursday, June 14.  Christie’s website offers a live auction feature, and is best watched with a lemon drop martini.

Midnight Mixologists: Camille Austin and Her Top Ten Miami Hot Spots

Camille Austin was so fantastic as a 2010 Midnight Mixologist, that we just had to ask her back this year. Here is the bartending beauty on Miami nightlife, her go-to ingredient, and that pompadour. Also, see below for her top ten favorite spots to grab a cocktail in Miami.

How did you get into mixology?
I’ve been into cocktails since my venue opened in Miami. All it takes is one person that’s passionate about their craft to bounce that same passion onto you.
 
What’s your favorite part of the job?
A great day at the bar is when I see a bunch of my regulars, we have great conversation, and they leave happy and tipsy.
 
How do you name the drinks you create?
Sometimes it comes easily, and sometimes it needs a little thought. It’s almost like you’re creating a character, and you need the perfect name to represent their unique personality.
 
How is your approach to mixology different from everybody else’s?
The great thing about the world is that we’re all similar in some ways, and different in others. Anyone who chooses to do this as a career has love for it. So in that respect, we all love what we do, and want to make people happy. It’s also great that the world is diverse. I can visit New York City, for example, hit 5 bars in one day, and have 5 unique cocktails, all equally great.
 
What was your inspiration for the cocktail you created for Stoli?
I’m very much into Eastern culture at the moment. I think you can really experience a culture by its cuisine, and this is definitely something I would be sipping on if I were sitting at a swanky rooftop bar in Shanghai.
 
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received as a mixologist?
People dig the pompadour! They ask me all the time if they can touch it, and I say, "Absolutely!"
 
What does it take to be a great mixologist? Is it a God-given gift, or something you can learn?
Tony Abou-Ganim, one of my favorite bartenders, says that you can train skills, but you can’t train personality. I like to remember that when I’m having a bad day, so I change my mood before I step into the bar. Aside from that, you just need a little passion, imagination, and eagerness to learn.
 
What’s the most important lesson about mixology you’ve learned in your years on the job?
To take pride in what you do. Never skimp on freshness or quality, and make friends with the chefs!
 
What makes your venue special?
My bar is just stunning. I’ve been there for over 2 years now, and there are still days when I walk in and think "Wow." Being there invokes a feeling of anticipation and a true engagement of all the senses. The gorgeous dècor, the mouthwatering aromas, and the sexy beats from our resident DJ Jean Marc leave you wanting more.
 
What nightlife trend rubs you the wrong way?
Rose’s lime juice, soda guns, and shaking a martini or classic all-spirit cocktail.
 
What’s the secret to running a great bar?
Passion and attention to detail.
 
Who is your ideal customer?
Someone that’s open to try something new.
 
What do you love most about Miami at night?
I love Miami’s vibrant party scene. It has such a unique and uplifting energy. There’s heat and passion here.
 
What personal innovations have you brought to the nightlife game?
I’m excited that we’re starting to see a strong female element in the Miami cocktail scene. I love a classic all-male bar, but a male/female bar can be just as great because men and women complement each other nicely.
 
What’s your go-to ingredient to make a great cocktail?
At the moment, tea, ginger, and edible flowers.
 
Austin’s Top Ten Miami Spots for a Cocktail
  1. Hakkasan
  2. Purdy Lounge
  3. Arkadia
  4. Zuma
  5. Soho Beach House
  6. Haven
  7. Mynt Ultra Lounge
  8. The Florida Room
  9. Sra. Martinez
  10. The Living Room at the W

To read more interviews with Midnight Mixologists, click here.

Midnight Mixologists: Beate Kiser and her Top Ten NYC Hot Spots

Beate Kiser got into the nightlife game and landed her first bartending gig at an early age. Since her start, she’s risen to the top her field, where, after a four-year stint at her first gig, she landed at one of downtown Manhattan’s trendiest restaurants. She talked with BlackBook about her ideal customer, the best compliment she’s ever received, and her favorite part of the job. Also, see below for her top ten favorite spots to grab a cocktail in New York City.

How did you get into mixology?
It was something that just happened. I started bartending when I was young, and worked in bars for many years that didn’t focus too much on that. When I started working at a well-known bar four years ago, I was suddenly surrounded by people creating and trying out new things, so I just started to play with it and really fell in love with creating drinks.
 
What’s your favorite part of the job?
Seeing the look on people’s faces when they try something new that I created. When someone really likes the taste of something, they make the best facial expressions.
 
How do you name the drinks you create?
I just try to let the name be inspired by the drink itself. It can be a difficult process sometimes, trying to pick just the right name that fits and sounds like something you want to drink.
 
How is your approach to mixology different from everybody else’s?
I like to make cocktails accessible to everyone. I don’t think it’s fun to make people feel alienated because they don’t know all the ingredients in a drink. That’s when people get intimidated and just end up ordering a vodka soda. I have been to many places with friends that get overwhelmed by a drink menu and then order something simple instead of trying something new. I don’t want my customers to feel that.
 
What was your inspiration for the cocktail you created for Stoli®?
Summertime.
 
What’s your idea of the absolute perfect setting in which to enjoy a cocktail?
I love a great outdoor setting, roof, or outdoor café. It’s perfect to sip on something refreshing and delicious outside on a warm summer night.
 
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received as a mixologist?
You are the best bartender in New York!
 
What does it take to be a great mixologist? Is it a God-given gift, or something you can learn?
I think anyone could do it if they just try. We all have taste buds and can learn how to appeal to them.
 
What makes your venue special?
There is no other place like it. When people come in, it’s almost like they are stepping into another world. You could get a little of every experience you want from a bar, restaurant, or lounge here. Have a great cocktail, or sit in a grand dining room for an amazing food experience, and on the weekends you can go upstairs and dance to great music. It really has everything.
 
What nightlife trend rubs you the wrong way?
Making people feel like they’re not "cool" enough to come into the bar or lounge.
 
What’s the secret to running a great bar?
Great customer service. People want to be treated well, and if they are they will return over and over again.
 
Who is your ideal customer?
Someone who likes to try new things and trusts when you tell them you’re going to love this, and if you don’t, I will find something that you do.
 
What do you love most about New York at night?
People who live in New York live for going out at night. We all have really tiny apartments that we don’t want to be cooped up in, we don’t have to drive, and anything you could ever want is either a 10-minute walk or taxi ride away. New York comes alive at night and I love how different of a city this place is from night to day.
 
Kiser’s Top Ten NYC Spots for a Cocktail
  1. Mayahuel
  2. Bar Veloce
  3. Stanton Social
  4. 200 Orchard
  5. Dos Caminos
  6. The Hurricane Club
  7. Bar Baresco
  8. 9th Ward
  9. d.b.a.