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.
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]