The Clifton Heights

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Hey, bourbon face! Are you as cray-cray in love with bourbon as this blotto besotted bourbonperson is? Do you eat, drink dream drink and sleep drink bourbon? Have you considered naming a pet and/or child Bourbon?

Then have I got a cocktail for you! Like me, you're probably always on the hunt for yet another way to enjoy your bourbon. After all, just because you can't spell "Manhattans" without "man" doesn't mean man should live on Manhattans alone! So here's what you're gonna do. You're gonna add pineapple juice to your Manhattan.

I'll wait a moment for you to finish going pppppppppppffffffffttttttttttttttttt... wuhhhhhh?

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A bourbon Manhattan with pineapple juice is what we at The Royale Food & Spirits (my old muddling ground) used to call The Clifton Heights. The Royale's cocktail menu named a drink for each of the city's 28 wards, and I liked Clifton Heights the drink so much, I even went in my car once and hunted down Clifton Heights, the tucked-away, little-known nabe. Just as it was described in its bit of verbiage on The Royale's original cocktail menu (beautifully penned by Tim O'Connell, truly the Gateway City's greatest nonprofessional cocktailian), Clifton Heights is leafy and reclusive; Clifton Heights the cocktail was  similarly the perfect potable for contemplation.

Now, when I say "we" at The Royale called it the Clifton Heights, who I'm really talking about is me and those puzzled patrons who listened politely as this wackadoo, way-over-enthused barmaid tried to sell them on the rounded, mellow wondrousness of this cocktail. I get it; it sounds weird at best, icky at worst. But please, do give it a try. I have loved this cocktail every time I've had it, and I've had it at home dozens of times (as well as at many bars where I've asked the bartender to mix it up for me).

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I know that you hear pineapple juice and you think of something very tart, perhaps too sugary, maybe even a silly-tiki-tini sort of thing. But the pineapple juice here does not overpower the other three ingredients. In fact, it's one of those cocktails that becomes more than the sum of its parts. If I'd had my first Clifton Heights while blindfolded, I would have done a very bad job of guessing what was in it. (The sign of a good recipe, no?)

If it helps make it sound more palatable, the Clifton Heights is really just an other-side-of-the-Rorschach-test cousin to The Algonquin, with bourbon instead of rye and sweet instead of dry vermouth.

So what are you waiting for? Order now!

The Clifton Heights

(Based on how I remember making it at The Royale Food & Spirits in St. Louis)

2 ounces Buffalo Trace

3/4 ounce Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

1 ounce pineapple juice, preferably freshly squeezed

Maraschino cherry, to garnish (optional)

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for about 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add garnish if so desired.

Tasting Notes

I've had a Clifton Heights made with both fresh pineapple juice and canned. Obviously fresh is always best, but the one-ounce measurement I suggest here will work with either.

If you look at the first pic in this post, you'll see lotsa little ice floes. I love ice-floes drinks! (That means ones where you shake 'em so hard, your ice cubes break down a bit and some floes are freed through the strainer and into the drink.) I think ice floes are so much fun and a good indicator that you've shaken your drink strenuously enough.

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The Mr. Smith

Many Royale customers, I'm sure, assume that the Mr. Smith cocktail is named after Royale proprietor Steven Smith -- or at least his father, who's also a part owner of the business and, truth be told, whose first name I can't remember because "Mr. Smith" was all I ever called him.

But none of that has anything to do with the Mr. Smith. The Mr. Smith is named after Jeff Smith, who might also be addressed as The Former Honorable Jeff Smith, Ph.D. Jeff was the subject of a documentary, Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?, about the time he popped his campaign cherry running for the congressional seat vacated by veteran Rep. Dick Gephardt, and how he narrowly lost the Democratic primary to Russ Carnahan, son of a famous Missouri politician, and how he was a short, Jewish, basketball-loving UNC grad.

Post-documentary, Jeff ran for a state senate seat, which he won. He then abdicated the seat a couple years later after pleading guilty to a cover-up concerning questionable campaign materials stemming from his congressional campaign. He went to federal prison for a year and a day.

If you're an STLer, you can probably recite this whole saga backwards and front. If you're not, I tell you all this because the documentary's worth a rental and because all the shit that came after it is just so unbelievable.

I served Jeff at The Royale a good handful of times. He would come in pretty-late-to-late, drink a bit more than modestly, and was loud in a way that was vibrant rather than obnoxious. He's one of those people who will somehow scam a smile out of you  -- whether or not you're in a good mood, whether or not you know him, whether or not you'd already decided that you don't like the guy (which was sometimes the position I took as he was, after all, a Tar Heel). Only after you found yourself smiling at his presence and demeanor would it occur to you that the guy has never bothered to remember your name. A politician!

But hey, fair's fair, so let me say: The Mr. Smith, which I believe Jeff verily invented himself, or at least he contributed heavily to its creation -- is a nifty sipper, an improbable collusion of four disparate tastes that taste mighty fine together, just the sort of aisle-bridging stuff I'm sure Jeff was into.

The Mr. Smith

(Adapted from The Royale)

2 ounces Hendrick's  Gin

About 3 ounces ginger beer

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

A dash of mint-infused simple syrup

Build this drink in a highball glass: syrup first, then gin, juice and beer. Stir briskly. Optional garnish with mint sprig.

Tasting Notes:

We didn't use Hendrick's for this at The Royale, I think we used Bombay Sapphire. I just thought the Hendrick's quixotic taste would add a little something.

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The Holly Hills

As both a maker of cocktails and a plier of the written word, I am wholly offended by garish concoctions (cocktastrophes, perhaps?) that look like this and, insult on top of insult, co-opt the nomenclature of "daquiri":

And so, welcome to reason #I-lost-track of why I so thoroughly enjoyed pitching drinks at The Royale, where the Holly Hills daquiri looks like this:

The Holly Hills

(Adapted from The Royale)

2 ounces Rhum Barbancourt

1 ounce fresh lime juice

About a teaspoon of simple syrup

A dash or so of grenadine or maraschino cherry juice

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker, shake thoroughly, and strain into a (preferably chilled) cocktail or martini glass. Optional garnish with lime wedge.

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The Subcontinental

Guest post by St. Louis-based attorney and old friend of mine Tim O'Connell, who worked at daily newspapers, and a few taverns, before being admitted to the bar.

Blogtender's Note: Those readers who've been to The Royale (psst, it's Royale Week here at the blog) know that if there's one thing people like about The Royale (and there isn't; there are always several things people like about it) it's the Subcontinental, sometimes ordered as "that cucumber cocktail you guys make?" But it's got lots more depth -- in flavor complexities and, as you'll read here in a guest post by its inventor, in mixological history -- than that.

It began with tzatziki. I’d peeled, seeded, and grated the cucumbers and had dutifully squeezed the shreds with cheesecloth in preparation for adding them to some drained yogurt. It was a hot day. The cucumbers were cold, as was the green essence that collected in the bowl under the cheesecloth. The juice’s clean scent filled the room, and it was incredibly refreshing. It tasted of greenness and health.

I decided that cucumber juice might just be the perfect base for a new tonic, but I was concerned about the delicacy of its flavor. I knew from the start it had to be gin. Simple, blunt vodka would dull and dilute the cucumber. Gin’s botanical infusions would mingle nicely and might just carry the cucumber notes aloft.

After receiving a juice extractor as a gift, I began experimenting. It took just two tries. The first was gin, cucumber juice, Cointreau, lime. The second try added what brings the drink together: a touch of sugar. The sugar intensifies the natural flavor of the cucumber (think about your grandmother sprinkling sugar on strawberries and allowing them to rest in the refrigerator before serving).

If we were to be strictly technical in our taxonomy, we must admit the Subcontinental is a mixed drink, not a cocktail. And its understated flavors and lightness are more in line with a tonic. But its verdant translucency and its perfect cucumber-slice garnish made it too pretty not to put in a cocktail glass. Still, the drink is equally handsome on the rocks. I’ve come to prefer making the drink in the warmer months, and so on the rocks it is most of the time.

Steve Smith’s Royale has been serving the Subcontinental since he opened the place. They never, ever, run out of the required fixings.

The Subcontinental

3 ounces cucumber juice

1 1/2 ounces Bombay Sapphire Gin

1/2 ounce Cointreau

1 bar spoon of lime juice (roughly the juice in 1/8 of a lime)

1/2 teaspoon sugar syrup (2 parts sugar to one part water, NOT “simple” syrup).

Shake all ingredients vigorously with ice, then strain into either a cocktail glass or over rocks. Garnish the lip of the glass with a slice of unpeeled cucumber.

Tasting Notes:

You may well have to adjust the amount of sugar and lime. Balance is everything in this drink, and there are two main variables: the intensity of the given cucumber and the acidity and pungency of the given lime. You want to taste the cucumber, as well as the botanicals in the gin. The lime should be barely perceptible (it’s very easy to turn this into a slightly cucumber-y gimlet, and that is not the idea). If the cucumber is not particularly prominent, add a bit of sugar to bring it out. I see no harm in sampling a spoonful from the shaker before pouring to ensure the mix is right.

I prefer Bombay Sapphire for its nuance. The more juniper-heavy brands can take over the drink. Some have commended Hendricks to my attention, and while it has a nice cucumber flavor of its own, I worry about it making the drink a bit too one-sided.

For cucumber juice, really, a juice extractor is required. It is best to peel the cucumbers first, as they are almost always coated in a food-grade wax as a preservative.

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The Mayor

There are two ways I feel like starting today's post:

Way #1: Hey, gang! Guess what? It's Royale Week at the blog! That means lots of tall tales, behind-the-bar secrets, and in-depth analysis of the cherished St. Louis public house that made me everything I am, bartender-wise, today. Oh, the places we'll go! The potions we'll get to know!

Way #2: Hey, guys. I am frigging beat right now. Yesterday I had a 12-hour drive from my college reunion in North Carolina to my parents' house in Fake Retirement Town, Florida (aka Cocoon-meets-The Truman Show-meets-Edward Scissorhands-Ville). I'm going on like three-and-a-half hours' sleep, and as much as I'd like to gin up my own enthusiasm for your reading pleasure (see: Way #1), it's like I'm too mentally stunted to even type good. I mean, well.

Luckily, what these two ways have in common is, the first installment of Royale Week is an easy-peasy, get-in-get-out, dos-ingredientos mixer that's curious and cute.

The Mayor has been on The Royale's cocktail menu since Day One -- which, best Royale proprietor Steve Smith and I can remember, was one day this week, six years ago; happy bday Royale! The Mayor is made by mixing arak and water; if you can, do the mixing in front of the drink's recipient (arak already in the glass, adding a slow, steady stream of water and stirring all the while) because water changes the (physical? chemical?) properties of arak, turning a clear liquid cloudy, white and opaque.

Some of you may know this as "the ouzo effect," and as I've mentioned before, arak is basically the Lebanese word for what the Greek call ouzo. There's a significant Lebanese cartel woven into the fabric of St. Louis politics. On The Royale's menu, this nebulous cadre of movers and shakers was quoted en masse for their oft-expressed sentiment re: arak. "It's bettah than ouzo!" I suppose such fervent loyalty towards a native land's liquor might be called the arak effect.

The Mayor

(Adapted from The Royale Food & Spirits)

2 ounces Arak Razzouk

About the same amount of water

Pour your arak into some sort of glass receptacle that offers good sight lines for all to see your ouzo-effect magic trick. (You'll see in the pics here that I used a Riedel stemless wineglass.) Slowly pour in the water with one hand while you swirl the glass (or stir a bar spoon in the glass) with the other. Amazement! Now add a big-ass ice cube.

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