For Richer and Poorer, 40 Riverside Boulevard and VIPs

Photo by Colin Miller via NYYIMBY

The talk of the town is of the building 40 Riverside Boulevard, which has separate entrances for its richer and poorer tenants. It’s all about tax breaks which demand 55 out of 219 abodes are for the unwashed masses. Everyone thinks this is the end of the world, and the developer, Extell Development Company, and The City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development are taking a lot of heat. The unwashed masses have to go through some back alley to get to their homes, feeling lucky all the time to be in such a great building in such a great neighborhood and just a knock on the wall away from the upper crust.

I’m not sure what the all the  screaming is about, as this is nothing new. Clubs have been doing this sort of thing for eons and no one who counts complains. At least that’s the thought process. Like 40 Riverside, clubs have door people that usher the well-heeled to tables and VIP areas, while the less washed are relegated to the bar areas and sometimes a dance floor. The truly unwashed are actually kept outside on the pavement. The less washed feel grateful to catch a glimpse of a model or even a celebrity. They count the bottles that cost more than their rent on nearby tables occupied by rich men and their arm candy. On occasion the poorer can meet the richer and more famous in common areas like dance floors or bathrooms. It is their opportunity to breathe the rarified air that travels with the beautiful people. If they can muster up something clever to say or look hot enough, who knows if they too can rub elbows with their dreams. 

Poor, hot girls get invited to hang with the bottle set all the time. It makes them feel upwardly mobile. We live in a world where good tables and reservations at restaurants and pricing are out of reach for most, but it is rare that the disparity is shoved up our butts like at 40 Riverside. I wouldn’t live there if I were rich or if I were poor. I’d live in a place where classes and fashion and gender and new ideas from the young and the old, richer and poorer mingle with ease. Clubs that have VIP rooms or segregate the haves from the have less are invariably dull affairs. Still, I say shame on the Department of Housing Preservation and Development who are mandated to mix it up. This is a colossal and disgusting fail.  

Tao Team Opens Arlington Club, Hotel Chantelle is Starting Rumors…

Typically, the period between Labor Day and Halloween is slow in the club world. People are paying down credit card debt accumulated in a summer of WHEEE! Things like the Jewish holidays, flu season, back-to-school, and a dearth of tourists add to the red ink. The change of weather and the loss of daylight as we wind down to the Winter Solstice near Christmas are all negative factors. The season theoretically begins in earnest on Halloween. Sandy literally put a damp on those concepts, but building for an inevitable future is happening all around.

On a small renovation job, an electrician told me that getting even the most commonplace electrical supplies is becoming problematic as the post-Sandy rebuild is taking everything. I can only imagine what getting permits and inspections will be like from an over-tasked buildings department. Still, I hear of a Frank Roberts’ "mostly-a-restaurant project down in lower Little Italy.” I hear of a redux of GoldBar. Marquee nightclub, for a decade the "in" spot for the going-out crowd, is in renovations that will bring it up to speed with its Las Vegas incarnation.

Meanwhile, that Tao team is inviting peeps to the Thursday opening of their Arlington Club on Lexington between 73 and 74th Street.  St. Jerome’s has, of course, been sold to The Bowery Electric crew. That has left the St. Jerome’s "crowd" looking for a new home, and Hotel Chantelle grabbing for that gusto. Chantelle started its weekly Tuesday  “Rumors” party last night, going forward with famously ex-ex-St. Jerome’s honcho DJ Luc Carl joining DJ Ian El Dorado.

There’s all sorts of things happening over at Bantam where absolutely nothing to speak of has been happening. A re-thinking is occurring. Construction at EVR on 39th street between 5th and 6th is almost over – or is that ovr? I was there the other day checking out the progress and was very impressed.

On a final note: Friday I will be DJing the late set over at The Hanky Panky Club, up the side entrance of Webster Hall. It is a Sandy-related benefit called “Rock-N-Rebuild.” Acts/bands like Hits, Roma, Wild Yaks, The Netherlands, Outernational, and Kendra Morris will interrupt sets by Djs iDeath, Gavin Russom and, thankfully, Steve Lewis er …me. This shindig starts at 8pm. It’s hosted by man-about-town Terry Casey and the lovely Flutura Bardhi. Please help where you can. While people are ordering $1000 bottles of booze, many are still without basic necessities.

Highland Park Releases Loki, a Scotch From Norse Mythology

Single malt scotch has a reputation as a serious whisky for distinguished, tweed-jacketed men who sip it from crystal tumblers while sitting in leather armchairs in the library of some manor house as a gray-whiskered hound sleeps on the carpet beneath an oil painting of a fox hunt. This reputation has not been thrust upon it. Scotch producers have carefully cultivated it, likely on the assumption that such a scene represents the reality of a few scotch drinkers, and the aspiration of many. Yet now it seems they feel a bit chained to it. The scotch industry would love to nab some younger drinkers, but that stuffy scene just doesn’t play with the modern twenty-something set. What to do? Well, if you’re Highland Park, you take a look at where you’re from and adjust accordingly. The Highland Park distillery happens to be the northernmost distillery in Scotland, located in Kirkwall, the capital of the Orkney Islands. After being occupied by a number of different tribes, the Orkney Islands were annexed by Norway in 875 and settled by the Norse, who used the islands as a base for Viking raids until the Scottish Crown took over in 1472. So while the Orkney Islands are a part of modern Scotland, the area maintains a cultural duality, with vestiges of its Nordic past found in its dialect and cultural traditions. Thus, Highland Park has the luxury of choice: it can position its whiskies as traditional Scottish products, or it can tap into its Nordic side. Given the intense competition among traditional scotch producers, it’s hardly surprising that they’ve decided to go Viking.

And that’s how I found myself at an event space called the Foundry in Long Island City, New York on Tuesday night, entering a darkened chamber bathed in red light and accentuated with Norse iconography. Highland Park was releasing the second expression of its Valhalla series, a collection of four whiskies inspired by Norse mythology. The series began last year with the great warrior Thor, a strong (52.1% ABV) malt with vanilla, blackberry, and cinnamon flavors. It was delicious. This year we were being introduced to Loki, a crafty shape shifter with a command of fire, and the event was designed to underscore its mythical underpinnings.

As a sharply-dressed crowd of New York journalists, bar owners, and other assorted whisky lovers filled the room, waiters circulated with trays of mini shepherd’s pies, and a concealed kitchen produced salmon three ways. Put your hand in this hole for raw salmon. This hole gets you a tasty bite of smoked salmon. The third gets you torched salmon. Hope you like salmon. Pre-mixed Blood and Sand cocktails were offered, but since I don’t fancy them, I hit each of a pair of bars serving Highland Park’s traditional 12- and 15-year-old whiskies neat. Next to each bar was a water station complete with waterfall, where an attendant would happily add a few drops of mineral water to your dram so you could watch it squirm. I reached for a flask. "Please let me pour for you, sir," pleaded the attendant. "It’s my only job here." My F&B needs properly sorted, I made my way back into the crowd to enjoy the theatricality of it all.

After a half hour or so attempting to mingle, my group–I was somehow lumped in with a couple dozen other "impulsive" souls–was summoned into an adjacent chamber by the god Loki, whose commanding voice over the PA system somewhat resembled that of one of the female publicists I greeted on the way in. No matter, this was the moment we were here for, the grand unveiling of the Loki the whisky. Smoke machines set a misty scene around the T-shaped table arrangement, into the center of which strolled Highland Park brand ambassador Martin Daraz, who introduced the spirit and led us all in a toast.

Finally, amid the smoke, red lights, music, and thunder (I’m pretty sure there was thunder), I took my first sip of Loki. And then another. I liked it immediately. Loki is a 15-year-old single malt that shares the DNA of its more traditional cousins, but goes off the rails a bit with a few out-there flavors. At 48.7% ABV, it’s another elevated-strength whisky, but it’s smooth enough to take a generous sip without having to put your fist through a wall to get it down. It smells of bitter orange and has a complex yet pleasing flavor, with notes of apple, lemon, grapefruit, and a faint wisp of smokey chocolate. The essence of vanilla lingered on my palate for several minutes.

And so we made our way to the balcony of this magnificent space to spend the remainder of the evening relaxing with our whisky as visions of Vikings danced through our heads. Music played and laughter echoed off the brick walls as I chatted with strangers and ate savory and sweet hors d’oeuvres out of order. At one point I swear I saw a man in a Druid’s cloak wandering around, but then it was dark, and there was whisky.

Evaluated on its own, Highland Park Loki is an excellent whisky, bold and flavorful, but smooth enough to not overpower the senses. It’s fun to drink. If there ever was a whisky that’s truly the "water of life," it’s Loki. But will its market positioning amid the pantheon of Norse mythology help it gain traction with the hip set? Maybe. The party certainly was fun, and the historical connection seems to make sense, moreso than, say, a German tequila. Who knows, maybe over the next few years more distilleries from northern Scotland will identify with Viking regalia as a point of differentiation. There certainly seems to be a lot more latitude for creativity on that side. Marketing-wise, it’s all but a blank slate, waiting to be filled with a dramatic scene.

All too soon, it was time to leave Valhalla and return to Park Slope, a soft landing if there ever was one. I took the warming glow of the whisky with me all the way to my couch, where I plopped down and turned on the TV. Fumbling with the remote, I landed on a show that was all too perfect: Vikings.

Highland Park knows what it’s doing.

Highland Park Loki has a suggested retail price of $249, and is available at select whisky retailers. Check the website for more information. If you’re in New York and want to sample different scotches, drop by Highlands, St. Andrews, or the Brandy Library.

[Related Content: A Sample of This Season’s Most Scholarly Scotch; BlackBook New York Nightlife Guide; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]

Make Friends Fast With a Big Bowl of Voli Vodka

For several years now, I’ve kept a well-stocked candy dish on my desk at work in an attempt to get people to like me. It’s been a moderately successful strategy. My candy-loving coworkers drop by for their afternoon fix, and some feel obliged to say hi and make with the chitchat. But now that the generous people at Voli Spirits have sent me a case of 120 mini bottles of their reduced-calorie vodka, I think my likability factor just increased exponentially.

I’ve consumed a fair amount of vodka in my day, so I was happy to give Voli a try. And I think it’s quite tasty.

Bear in mind that I really don’t give a rat’s ass about its low-calorie status. I’ve never seen vodka as a culprit in my expanding waistline. But it seems Voli achieves its calorie reduction through lowering the alcohol content to 30% from vodka’s traditional 40%, and I’m fine with that. Dry martinis, which are my main vodka delivery vehicle, tend to get me housed so quickly that I welcome the additional hour or so of partying the weaker potion will allow me.

I tried the unflavored Voli first, at room temperature, in a pretty champagne flute. It has a nice bite, muted astringency, soft mouthfeel, mild sweetness, and faintest notes of grain. As for the reduced alcohol content, it’s noticeable, but not much different than any vodka tastes after your ice cube has melted. I’d compare it to Smirnoff, and I mean that as a compliment, since Smirnoff won the New York Times vodka taste test back in 2005. It’s a fine pour, and would make a totally respectable martini.

What I’m drinking now is the raspberry cocoa fusion, (there’s also espresso vanilla, lemon, and orange vanilla) and it’s yummy too. I’m not much of a flavored vodka guy – I like my drinks dry and bitter like my soul – but I think this one is pretty well executed, with natural flavors that actually taste like raspberry and cocoa. It would be good with club soda, or even cola or ginger ale. Can I just come out and say that I bet women would be fond of this? Because that seems a safe bet, and a likely reason for its very existence.

And as for the vodka bowl, which now sits proudly next to the Kit Kats and Lifesavers, it has already attracted plenty of attention, with people snapping Twitpics and stuffing their pockets for later. Yes, just because I share my intoxicating goodies with people doesn’t mean their affection for me is sincere or enduring. I get that. But it makes them act that much nicer to me, and in this life, that’s good enough.