"Take an ultra-rich central location, add a generous portion of Prada and mix with half a dozen metrosexuals. Let it all settle on the 23rd floor and wrap with a 360-degree view of the city. Time your arrival for sundown, and then sprinkle with the bright lights of Fifth Avenue"
What's the mission this week?
We're in search of tiptop Martinis in a magnificent Manhattan location.
Fabulous, but finding booze in New York is easy, the place is awash with bars.
That's right and the town has fallen in love again with its old playmate, the Martini, so it's not difficult to get a stiff drink. There's also a fresh bunch of mixologists fuelling a cocktail revival so that every other bar has a fancy list of ``tini'' variations. The problem for out-of-towners (that's you and me, buddy) is finding some real New York magic among all this hard liquor and razzmatazz.
Well, what are we waiting for? I'd love to go on a cocktail crawl.
Steady on, US measures are large so sampling Martinis is a "three strikes and you're out" sport. As Dorothy Parker once quipped, three Martinis had her under the table and four under the host .
OK, if we are on rations, I need to know how to judge a dry Martini?
Cold and colder still is the key to enjoying the natural viscosity of the alcohol so the mix should be served in chilled glasses, at teeth-chattering temperatures. Shaken or stirred? It doesn't really matter as long as the ice doesn't melt and dilute the alcohol. The Martini should be garnished with fresh lemon zest or an olive if you're feeling peckish. But the true test is in the very first sip – the shiver of Martini should hit a bull's-eye in your brain, sending out a feel-good glow as the alcohol glad-hands its way through your body. The art of delivering this buzz is in using high-quality ingredients and getting the correct balance between the gin and the extra-dry vermouth.
So what is the recommended ratio?
It's a question that has led to endless bar-stool debates. Rather like skirt hems, the measures fluctuate to match the economics and fashions of the day. When the Martini was born in the late 19th century , it was a one-to-one mix with a dash of orange bitter. It quickly progressed to a two-to-one ratio that continued through the Prohibition years, when vermouth and lemon twists were used to hide the taste of bathtub gin. The trauma of the Second World War pushed the ratio up to four parts gin to one part vermouth, and then Hemingway trumped everyone with his mind-numbing 15-to-one Montgomery. Nowadays top bars seem to have settled on a six to one classic, although some purists still champion the "Naked" Martini that uses only a few drops of vermouth with a large quantity of high-octane alcohol.
Wow, all that gin!
Yes, except things have changed in that department, too, and New York's popular Martinis are now made with vodka. It is a fashion that started in the 1950s and was taken up by James Bond with his famous requests for Vodkatinis. Strong brands and clever marketing have made vodka even more hip and the Martini revival has provided a neat way of ordering Jeffrey Bernard's favourite fuel disguised as a sophisticated pre-dinner drink.
Wow, all that vodka! So where is the best place to drink them?
It depends on how long you're staying.
The longer you hang around in New York, the more likely you are to champion your own neighbourhood bar. The local joints are certainly the real thing with their easy backchat, friendly flirting and barmen who are willing to listen to the customers' life stories.
But I'm only here for the weekend. I don't want to be a silent extra in Cheers.
Exactly, when you're on a special stateside visit you need to feel like a movie star. Preferably one from a high-budget romantic comedy featuring Tom Hanks or, better still, George Clooney.
That's right. So where are you taking me to, Mr Hollywood?
I could suggest chinking glasses in any of New York's high-end hotel bars. There are plenty of names to choose from – the Four Seasons , the Algonquin , the Carlyle , the Regency , for starters. They're all comfortable, they all serve reassuringly expensive Martinis, and they all feature interesting art to muse on while you reach for the bar snacks. Best of all, they employ knowledgeable bar staff. Indeed, during the dark days of 1970s disco, when soft drinks ruled, it was the hotel bars that kept the art of the cocktail alive.
So which is it to be?
Well, there is one hotel bar that that has written the recipe for the unforgettable Manhattan Martini experience: Take an ultra-rich central location, add a generous portion of Prada and mix with half a dozen metrosexuals. Let it all settle on the 23rd floor and wrap with a 360-degree view of the city. Time your arrival for sundown, and then sprinkle with the bright lights of Fifth Avenue.
The name of this cocktail hotspot?
The Pen-Top Bar in the Peninsula Hotel. Its simple secret is that it has a large terrace and moderately elevated views of the city. So, unlike the Rainbow Rooms on the 65th floor of the Rockefeller Center, where you are so high up that New York looks like a theory, here you feel that you're in the heart of the architectural action. You are surrounded by a quarry of art deco classics, the mirrored glitz of the Trump Tower and the sheer bulk of its sky-scraping pals. But you can look down to street level and still spot Tiffany's and the other sparkling outlets along in the wealthiest shopping street in the world.
My kind of vista.
Yes, and it's even better at night when you can watch the swish of white headlights streaking down Fifth Avenue from Central Park. Then take a sip of your cocktail and turn on your bar stool to see red rear lights trail southwards to Greenwich Village. Plus Pen-Top has a another treat that makes it stand out from other hotel bars.
You can indulge in the terribly last-century sin of smoking. In April 2003, New York kissed goodbye to the pleasure of having a puff in a public bar. The law has caused a drop in business in many New York establishments, where cigars and single malts were the favoured double act. The Pen-Top has managed to get round this rule with a large heated outdoor terrace, where guys still suck on their log-sized cigars while musing on their Wall Street winnings.
Sounds like the start of a movie.
Exactly, and perched on your bar stool you are perfectly placed to enjoy that other great Manhattan speciality, the flirtini.
Which is what?
Don't worry, you'll soon find out. I've just spotted Mr Clooney on his way to the bar. Two more Martinis, please, shaken or stirred; just make them snappy.
Five great hotel bars:
Fifth Avenue Facts: