2013 Manhattan Cocktail Classic Gala

The Dreamland Orchestra, courtesy Hanna Lee Communications
The Dreamland Orchestra, courtesy Hanna Lee Communications

On May 17th the opening Gala for the 2013 Manhattan Cocktail Classic filled every corner of the New York Public Library with glitz and glamour. Beneath it all was something that was previously missing - the backing of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. Most people tend to keep politics and the Spirits industry separate, but in this case, the connection between the two is so fortuitous for everyone involved with the Gala that it cannot be ignored.

To be brief, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo surprised everyone by swinging open the legislative doors and allowing 24 New York State Distilleries to join the MCC Gala. The key words in that last sentence "State Distilleries."  The addition of these NYS distilleries allowed all the attendees to experience some new spirits, rock out in an additional tasting room and most importantly – open up a much needed revenue stream for the local distilleries.

Founder and Executive Director of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, Lesley Townsend Duval, has been quoted as saying, “This past year was really rough for so many businesses in New York State, especially those affected by Hurricane Sandy. Supporting local enterprise is top of mind for all of us right now, and as such, we’re ecstatic to have the opportunity to celebrate locally-produced spirits in an unprecedented way.” A complete list of the NYS Distilleries that were featured at the MCC Gala can be found here: http://www.governor.ny.gov/press/04302013Manhattan-Cocktail-Classic

Putting politics aside we move forward to why this Gala was an event not to be missed.

Starting with the venue itself, The New York Public Library.

Gary "Gaz" Regan finger stirring a Negroni, courtesy M Booth and Associates
Gary "Gaz" Regan finger stirring a Negroni, courtesy M Booth and Associates

The 2013 MCC Gala was not about jamming 1000 hipsters into a tiny reading room for drams poured by doe eyed models. This was a black tie showcase event for over 3000 invited and ticketed guests. An event so grand that it turned the usually stogy halls of the NYPL into a lavish playground of food, spirits and bawdy behavior. Every corner and almost every room of the NYPL was transformed into an intoxication vignette for the contributing brands and bars.

This was the season of Negronis! The library’s main hall (Astor Hall) was bathed in live music, dancing stilt walkers and golden origami birds. The first cocktail up was the Negronis stirred by the legendary Gary "Gaz" Regan and Negronis in a can at the Campari Bar. Being a fan of Gaz and his trademark "finger stirred Negronis," I was hesitant about trying a canned cocktail. After popping the top and taking a sip its surprising freshness and taste had me back for seconds. True cocktail lovers will always want fresh Negronis but what was in that sexy red and white can might change an opinion or two.

Campari Negroni in a Can, courtesy M Booth and Associates
Campari Negroni in a Can, courtesy M Booth and Associates

Finger-Stirred Negroni


Cinzano Rosso Vermouth

Tanqueray Gin

Gaz’s finger NOT optional

In the lower level (The Bartos Fourm), Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra brought back Jazz Age for the crowd. The true star of that section was the other Michael in attendance, Mr. Michael Neff from Ward III and Rum House. His pour of choice was Makers 46 and I was more than happy to accept three fingers worth and enjoy The Dreamland Follies dancers as they kicked up and danced their hearts out.

New Amsterdam Gin Martini, courtesy Hanna Lee Communications
New Amsterdam Gin Martini, courtesy Hanna Lee Communications

New Amsterdam Spirits created a Mad Men style hide away complete with barbers, shoe shine lads and cocktails. My only regret about that room was that I was in need of neither a shave nor a shine. But I did enjoy a spot on New Amsterdam Gin Martini.

The New Amsterdam Gin Martini

2 oz. New Amsterdam Gin

Dry Vermouth

Lemon twist

Beautiful bartender optional

No matter where one turned or what floor you were on there was always something inviting and alluring - Delicious foods served on vintage adored human tables, mini cocktail labs or double jointed burlesque performers. This Gala was crafted to amaze longtime industry players and first timers

The Periodicals Room, courtesy Hanna Lee Communications
The Periodicals Room, courtesy Hanna Lee Communications

The Periodicals Room at the NYPL is usually reserved for calm reading and quiet research. However, good folks at Castle Brands brought a quiet glow of cocktail fueled intimacy and relaxation to this otherwise stoic room. This was one of the only places to sit in the whole venue. Especially relaxing with a Jefferson's Bourbon Improved Boulevardier.

The Improved Boulevardier

1 1/2 oz Jefferson's Bourbon

1 oz Campari

1 oz Carpano Antica

2 dashes Luxardo Maraschino

Dash Angostura Bitters

Dash absinthe

Garnish: orange zest

Michael Neff, courtesy Hanna Lee Communications
Michael Neff, courtesy Hanna Lee Communications

No one in attendance can say the hit every bar (there were over 20 on the main floor alone) and enjoyed every one of the 87 cocktails served at the Gala. But there were a few that have to be mentioned, ones that stood out because of their delicious complexity of flavors and craftsmanship.

Kentucky Kiss

Michter's Sour Mash

Trinidadian rum




Elderflower liqueur

Shaken to the point of perfection. This gem took the best of Trinidad and Louisville and created magical, refreshing cocktail.

The Cunning Little Vixen

2 oz. Atsby Armadillo Cake Vermouth

.75 oz. Tuthilltown Spirits Hudson Baby Bourbon

2 tablespoons of fresh blackberry puree

sparkling water (in this case, made from good ol' NY City tap)

A sweet little number where the Vermouth did most of the work, it’s impressive and sweet at the same time.

Courtesy Hanna Lee Communications
Courtesy Hanna Lee Communications

Icelandic Pavot (apologies for no exact measurements on this one)

Lillet Rose





In a building with only two rooms with air conditioning anything that reminds me of the cool green fields of Iceland stands out in my book.

There were other cocktails that made my taste buds jump but sadly they are blurred in the joyous memories of that night. That’s the only downside to a night so bountiful with top tier spirits.