By JIM WILLIS
Late on a winter afternoon with a bitterly cold wind howling down Broad Street in Red Bank, PieHole stopped in at Gotham. A few loyal readers mentioned to us the new bar’s vast whiskey selection, and it seemed like a good time and place to warm up with a Manhattan before heading home for dinner.
It was just at the early side of Happy Hour, and a half-dozen patrons, mostly well-dressed couples catching a pre-dinner cocktail, hung around at the bar, but otherwise there was not much of a crowd.
We grabbed a seat and spied at least three American rye whiskeys behind the bar: Michter’s, Bulleit and Dad’s Hat. Most area bars don’t stock even a single rye whiskey, and PieHole typically settles for Canadian Club when ordering a Manhattan, so this was a nice selection indeed.
It was far nicer than we realized. While waiting for the bartender to finish up with another customer, we counted dozens of American whiskeys, including several bottles of 10- and 15-year Pappy Van Winkle for the deep-pocketed, fleece-vested Masters of the Universe who might occasionally drift in. The Scotch and Irish are well represented behind the bar, too, and we were surprised to see a few Japanese whiskeys on the menu.
Bartender Arty Homes offered to make us our Manhattan (Bulleit, on the rocks) and explained that the wide selection is no accident.
“We wanted to be heavy on the whiskey, like a 1920’s speakeasy, with a good range of American bourbons and sour mashes,” he told PieHole.
Homes poured sweet vermouth and rye into a tall crystal glass generously filled with ice. Grabbing a long-handled spoon he stirs, he tells PieHole, “until it’s an easy stir – then you’ve gotten the right amount of water out of the ice.”
We declined a cherry, and he poured the cocktail over a heavy rocks glass filled with ice. “What about bitters?” we asked.
“I usually stay away from bitters. The Manhattan is good a drink on its own,” Homes said. “I respect aromatics, but it’s a classic drink, and I think the vermouth and rye can stand on their own.”
While we typically like to defer to a knowledgeable bartender, we think bitters mellow out the seam between the rye’s bite and the sweetness of the vermouth. So we stood our ground, and Homes happily suggested that Peychaud’s or Hella bitters would be a good choice. We opted for the latter, because we hadn’t tried them before.
The cocktail menu at Gotham is extensive and eclectic, and we could easily spend a few happy hours just running down the list. To follow up our Manhattan, we turned to the menu and ordered the Sazerac.
The Sazerac ($12) requires ingredients that we don’t typically stock in our home bar, and we welcomed the chance to let Homes make one for us.
Served “up” in an Old-Fashioned glass that’s first been coated with absinthe, the drink was a sweet but complex cocktail, and Homes’ rendition was enough to convince us we needed to pony up for this drink’s ingredients for our home bar.
Another menu cocktail was the Smoked Baked Apple Manhattan ($12). This cocktail has too many words in its name for us to order. However, a customer sitting next to us at the bar ordered one, and the assembly of the drink makes quite the scene.
Woodford Reserve, Antica, bitters and other ingredients are put into a pickling jar, which is set aside while Homes pulls out a hardwood smoking gun that, once lit, bellows aromatic smoke redolent of good barbecue into the pickling jar before the cocktail is served with clouds of smoke hovering over the rim of the glass.
A lot of good-sounding drinks remain for us to try on this menu. We’ll be back.
Homes tells PieHole that there is jazz at Gotham during the week.
“On Wednesday nights we do jazz downstairs at the piano, Thursday we have music upstairs,” he tells us. Good piano could be exactly the right sonic backdrop to dig deeper into the cocktail menu at Gotham.