The Bartender Conspiracies: NJ Bars Switching Out Booze For Rubbing Alcohol

Thank God, it’s real booze! Last week, bars – including a lucky 13 TGI Friday restaurant in the great state of New Jersey – were caught substituting real rubbing alcohol and caramel coloring for real brands of scotch. These busts must have similar agencies in other states clamoring to find out if their own licensed premises are playing games.

In my experience, this isn’t happening much around town. I do believe that some places are putting cheap vodka into empty expensive vodka bottles for their comps. Promoters may be getting the cheap swill in bottles that are more impressive. A "beggers (or promoters) can’t be choosers" attitude does pop up from time to time. This is, of course, a no-no.

As I go from joint to joint, I sometimes see a bartender taking the last drops from one bottle and pouring it into a less empty bottle of the same brand. This practice, called "marrying," is also a no-no, but most bar staffs don’t know that. Some think that bending down and staying out of sight makes it O.K.

I have seen a bartender pour a last gasp of one scotch into a more expensive scotch bottle. I asked him about it and he told me “nobody ever says anything.” I, as you guys know, only drink a couple or three times a year…whenever I have sex… but when I do, I drink Irish. I can always tell the difference between brands. Although all of them will get you there, a patron has a right to get what he or she orders. Especially when they are paying a premium price for what is supposedly a “premium” liquor. How do they get away with it? I guess this time they didn’t.

Luckily, nobody got hurt during the rubbing alcohol switch, which says a great deal about the stomachs and experiences of the patrons of the great state of New Jersey. Rubbing alcohol does the trick, but can also cause great harm to things like eyes.

How a scotch drinker could not tell the difference between this swill and the real stuff is strangeness… Is the faker an incredible mixologist? Are only really drunk patrons served this booze, alluding to a conspiracy that includes both management and bar staff? Why fake scotch when vodka seems easier and is sold at an exponentially greater rate? Was vodka also done but missed by authorities?

These questions are making me dizzy. I’m going to go get a drink. I’ll sip it for taste and hold it up to the light first.

A Drink With A View: NYC’s Best Bars On The Water

A drink with a view? Yes, please. When you can find a place in New York to sip a beer outside, gaze at the skyline on the rivers, and not pay $4,000+ rent for it – you hold on to that seat for dear life. Here are NYC’s best bars on the water.

The Frying Pan: this former lightship, now anchored by Chelsea Piers at Pier 66a, is a true "dive" bar, having spent years shipwrecked at the bottom of Chesapeake Bay. Resting right on the Hudson River, Frying Pan grants you crisp beers and cocktails, and some One World Trade Center, Empire State, and Hoboken eye-candy. 

Watermark Bar: new and just-opened, this bar on Pier 15 at South Street Seaport comes equipped with frothy strawberry margaritas, Vermont-cheddar bacon cheeseburgers, and a view of the crystalline-lit Brooklyn Bridge and East River. It’s a backdrop for falling in love, so enter with caution.

STK Rooftop: Do you like lobster rolls and Hudson River sunset views? At the Meatpacking’s most in-demand rooftop at the top of its sexy steakhouse, you get watermelon cucumber cocktails, and a view of the Hudson, the majestic Standard Hotel, and the cobblestone, stiletto-ridden streets below. 

Boat Basin Café: This circular bar on the Upper West Side is like a Shakespearean theatre-in the-round, offering stone, vaulted walls and ceilings, a fountain, and a far-off look at the George Washington Bridge on the stone terrace.

Beekman Beer GardenOh, for heaven’s sake. A bar in South Street Seaport with an actual floor of sand, white couches, ping-pong, and an up-close view of the Brooklyn Bridge? Let’s stay the night.

Know every inch of this city by visiting BlackBook’s NY City Guides, & follow Bonnie on Twitter here

Ke$ha Takes Over Atlantic City This Weekend For Opening Of Haven

Do I know what you’re doing this Memorial Day Weekend? No. But do I know what Ke$ha is doing? Yes. The star who proclaimed 21 times that "we’re gonna die young" in her hit song will be hosting and performing for the opening of Haven Nightclub – the new dance club inside the Golden Nugget that brings the slot machines and roulette tables under the stars to its own outdoor veranda, complete with fire pits and lounges. For the first time ever in Atlantic City, nightlife shakes hands with gaming and "takes it outside."

For the wild opening, Ke$ha is performing two concerts with rapper Pitbull at The Grand ballroom on Saturday and Sunday. And Australian-born DJ Havana Brown – who has DJed on tour with Lady Gaga and Rihanna – will also be performing on Friday and Saturday.

Get the inside-info on Haven, & follow Bonnie on Twitter here

As Certain As Death & Taxes: These Top 10 NYC Guarantees

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Nothing is certain except death and taxes,” and while I do quite admire the man (where would we be without bifocals?) – he’s wrong. In NYC, there are many other things we can be 100 percent certain of. I’ve gathered a list of this city’s top 10 occurrences that are bound to happen. And if they don’t happen, then you know the world is ending and you don’t need to buy a new laptop and summer clothes.

The Top 10 NYC Guarantees

1.    During a torrential downpour, you will wait for a cab for 15 minutes on a street corner, and the first cab driver you hail down will tell you he’s miraculously “not going” where you are.

2.    On a weekday evening, you will somehow find yourself in Times Square, and will be suddenly struck with intense feelings of despair about your life and disgust for plaid, knee-high, “tourist” socks.

3.     On every day of the week, there will be a line of pancake-craving, agitated NYers furiously texting, awaiting tables at Clinton St. Baking Company.

4.     You will wear all black.

5.     When you really need to get to where you’re going, when it’s really important that you make it on time, you will be on the subway that’s “delayed because of train traffic ahead of us.”

6.     When you’ve spent weekends inside watching movies on Netflix, you will vow to become “more cultured,” buy a ticket to a Broadway musical that’s based on a movie or band, think it’s awful, and go home and watch Netflix.

7.     You will end up sitting next to and talking to someone who is incredibly influential and successful, exchange emails, think your life has changed forever, and never hear back from them again.

8.     You will trip and fall in your heels on the cobblestone Meatpacking streets outside 1 Oak and Le Bain, and panic that people think you’re from New Jersey.

9.     For three months starting June 1st, the city will smell like hot piss.

10.   On a sunny Saturday while strolling Chelsea Piers, you will have a moment of blissful clarity and gratitude that you live here – until a guy/tranny on a bike  runs into you and yells “watch out, asshole.”

Follow Bonnie on Twitter here

Just An Ordinary Weekend At Atlantic City’s Borgata Hotel

I never thought I’d be attracted to a piece of meat. But at 3:25, on an afternoon at Atlantic City’s Borgata Hotel, it happened.

The meat was oversized, blown up on a screen that covered an entire wall of the Borgata’s Music Box theatre, where several hundred people watched the hamburger patty sizzle and sweat in a pan on the stove. Over the patty reigned Geoffrey Zakarian, otherwise known as “the guy who won The Next Iron Chef” or “the cute chef with the glasses.”

With his gift of gab (which he attributes to his mom: “She was bitingly sarcastic,” Zakarian says), the bespectacled chef serenades the crowd at his cooking demonstration with his Italian accents, self deprecation, and meat innuendos. After two hours of cooking a hamburger (“no sauces or spices, it’s all about the meat”), a ginger and golden raisin-inflected coleslaw, and a raspberry soufflé – the crowd was sold – and so were his cookbooks.

Zakarian is the culinary lifestyle consultant of The Water Club, the more luxury hotel branch inside the Borgata resort. And the term “lifestyle consultant” is really just a fancy name for someone who checks in and okays all the activities involving food and drink consumption.

And wowee, did a lot of that happen during my recent stay at the Club. The portions are three times the size of any entrée at most NY restaurants (yep, I’m looking at you, Izakaya’s peanut butter-chocolate-crispy sushi roll) and it’s the options themselves – choosing from the Borgata’s 12 restaurants – where a decisive appetite becomes more valuable than some chips at the poker table.

Lines like shoelaces – full of day-trippers and vacationers craving all-you-can-eat – loop around the corners of the Borgata Buffet, while dinners at Bobby Flay Steakhouse on a Friday and Saturday night necessitate reservations made days in advance. I dined at the resort’s Japanese restaurant Izakaya, and most notably the southern Italian restaurant Fornelletto, and let’s just say it’s inspired this strange dream about a plate of potato gnocchi with sage and brown butter, lifting into the heavens, on top of a dish of their heavenly vanilla ice cream.

But people don’t come to Atlantic City for the food. They come for the party. And on – oh, just an ordinary weekend in Atlantic City – two celebrity DJs were spinning at the Borgata’s mur.mur nightclub and MIXXSamantha Ronson (aka Lindsay Lohan’s ex) and Steve Aoki. So when you pair these two rockstars with the Zakarian visit, the Borgata suddenly becomes an oceanside celeb hub.

But for me, the star of the show was definitely the Immersion Spa, where I headed for some much-needed recovery. A masseuse named Elyssia somehow managed to restore my late-night pancake and vodka-stuffed self into a viable, blissed-out human being. The whirlpool also helped.

Now, I’m not going to tell you to go to the Borgata and stay at, more specifically, The Water Club. I’m all about showing, not telling, of course. But when you are, in fact, looking for a weekend that includes a view of the ocean, celebrities, and really good gnocchi, may you consider the Borgata. It’s the AC experience.

Get all the info on the Borgata’s Water Club hotel here, and follow Bonnie on Twitter.

A Damn Good Reason to Go to Princeton: Dining at Elements

Normally I wouldn’t advocate jaunting across the Hudson River on a train or dealing with Holland Tunnel traffic just to have dinner, but on a recent Friday night I found myself doing just that—and it was totally worth it.

My friend had rented a blue Mini Cooper, and as she navigated around end-of-the-week traffic, I tried to read the map off her iPhone. Almost two hours later, and after passing a set for a new Justin Timberlake movie, we made it to Elements. Chef Scott Anderson and partner Stephen Distler opened the restaurant in October of 2008 with the premise that Elements would draw from many resources from the surrounding area. From there, they wanted to serve intricate dishes that strike the senses and give diners a sampling of all facets of taste. Anderson calls it “interpretative American cuisine;” I call it an experience worth spending hours on.

Though, from the outside of the restaurant, I had yet to be impressed as it looked like any place built in the 1970s or 1980s you might find in New Jersey, or Connecticut, or anywhere that isn’t a major metropolis. But, we weren’t there for the setting; we were there for Anderson’s multi-course chef’s tasting menu. They sat us in backroom, across from the open kitchen. There, we could see the handsome chef and his minions hastily plating food, pulling pans out of ovens, and chatting as they prepped each dish. The beauty of owning your own restaurant is that you don’t have to follow anyone’s rules, and as it is, Anderson doesn’t even follow a solid menu. On any given night, you can find dishes inspired by what he got at the market, what fish was best, and what local product was at its peak. You will not get the same dish twice, so in that, each experience remains priceless.

The richness of that knowledge started simple, with a dish of Big Eye tuna with fermented celery and lemon juice, served in a glass on top of a cut stone. After that amuse quickly vanished, a stream of unique items were presented to us in true fine dining fashion, each a surprise, and each as tasty as the last. We had potato custard with caviar, Dungeness crab with ginger lily, and duck tartare with seared foie gras.

At one point, the chef-de-cuisine, Mike Ryancame out to show us the whole woodcock that they would be serving us later. This was one of the exceptions to Anderson’s hunt for local and market-driven products, it was explained, the woodcock had come all the way from Scotland because you can’t hunt the birds and serve them in the states.  The end product, which looked nothing like the feathered bird sported before, was a mix of gamey meat and earthy mushrooms that got tied together with an herbaceous note.

After nine courses, I had tried a handful of dishes that completely surprised me, like the innovative sunchoke ceviche with tuna cream and a tomatillo broth. These flavor profiles, textures, and overall composition played beautifully, and showed me you don’t have to be in L.A. or New York to get a meal worthy of the trek and time it took to get there. Though, I recommend taking the train instead of driving, that way you can do a wine pairing with the meal and avoid the craziness that is the Holland Tunnel at any hour. 

Atlantic City, After Sandy

Tomorrow many of us give thanks for our families, our health, and the food at the table; but while we feast in comfort, areas of New York and New Jersey have yet to bounce back after Hurricane Sandy. One place that does have something to be thankful for is Atlantic City and many of the businesses there, which, miraculously, didn’t suffer as much damage as you might think.

“Thankfully we were not structurally affected,” said chef Alain Allegretti, a partner at Azure by Allegretti in Atlantic City. “Besides being closed for a total of 12 days, the only problem we had was contaminated water.” John Meadow, a principal/founder at LDV Hospitality, which owns and operates three restaurants at Revel Resorts, mirrored that sentiment and said, “The overall theme [of the hurricane] seems to be that it’s terribly devastating in the surrounding areas, but in Atlantic City you couldn’t see any effect. We lost food when we shut down, but Atlantic City proper is surprisingly in good shape.”

The worst damage to the area occurred in the residential area, ABC reported:

“The Atlantic City Boardwalk that was washed out by Hurricane Sandy is an area limited to the Boardwalk fronting the Absecon Inlet only,” Thomas R. Gilbert, District Commander of the Atlantic City Tourism District, told ABC News following our initial report on the damage. “That small section of the Boardwalk is located in South Inlet, a prominent residential section of Atlantic City.”

While everyone just assumed the glitzy, seaside gambling town was washed away, and earlier reports said as much, actually, it’s not too bad. Yes, since most people don’t know that, they haven’t had much business since Hurricane Sandy. 

“People think it’s under water, but that’s not the case,” said Meadow. “Business has been significantly hurt by virtue of this general fear factor.”

Meadow isn’t callous to his neighbor’s plight, he said, “You don’t think about having good steaks, good wine, and whole fish when your neighbor just lost his house.” However, he mentioned the majority of their customers that first week were people who had just lost everything and needed a little escape from the wreckage.  

Now, he and other Atlantic City business owners are urging others to take break from reality and head to the one part of the New Jersey shore that survived the storm. In the end, it appears a little debauchery pays off.

Halloween Confusingly Postponed Across Mid-Atlantic Region

It’s been a rough couple Halloweens for many kids in the northeast, where the holiday was similarly disrupted by a freak snowstorm last year. It looked bad as soon as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie tweeted, in the teeth of the hurricane, that he’d sign an executive order postponing observance—and indeed, this morning, he did just that, setting it for November 5. After All Saints’ Day? The ghosts are not gonna like this one bit.

And now different towns are picking different dates as they see fit. Montclair, N.J., for example, is asking trick-or-treaters to go about their sugar-seeking business from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, November 3. TRICK-OR-TREATING IN THE DAYTIME? SURELY YOU JEST. Although I guess it will also cut down on malicious mischief and vandalism—which also seems largely pointless, given the property damage already inflicted up and down the coast.

And you know who really suffers? The candy companies. All they wanted was to stuff children so full of their products that they got sick. So do them a favor today: whether you’re expecting your doorbell to ring or not, pick up some economy-size bags of fun-size chocolate bars, sit in the dark and diligently consume the lot. A sexy costume isn’t required, but it might help get you in the mood.

Follow Miles Klee on Twitter.


New York Islanders Will Move To Brooklyn

The New York Islanders, which I understand to be some sort of hockey team, are announcing today their plan to abandon the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island to the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, because they hate our troops and love British banks. No, just kidding, I’m sure they have a good reason. Everyone wants to make it out of the suburbs, right?

The Islanders would be joining the Barclays Center’s only current franchise—the Brooklyn (formerly New Jersey) Nets—to create some manner of all-powerful hipster sports conglomerate. But I don’t think the stadium’s owner, Bruce Ratner, should stop there. He needs to keep poaching teams! For example, you never hear about the Pittsburgh Pirates anymore; bring them to Barclays and rename them the Brooklyn Buccaneers. And are the New York Giants still playing in the Meadowlands? They should play in Barclays as the Brooklyn Big Guys!

May as well move all of New York’s big concerts and speeches to Barclays as well. The easiest solution would be to airlift Madison Square Garden over the East River and drop it on top of Barclays as a second floor. Then put Gracie Mansion on top of that and make Mayor Bloomberg live there. Then, for skyline purposes, cap the whole structure off with the Statue of Liberty (to be renamed the Statue of Flatbush Avenue). Oh, and put a Shake Shack or Five Guys in her crown. I don’t want to have to go back to Manhattan for a quality burger.  

Follow Miles Klee on Twitter.