May 14 2010
My favourite cocktail in Manhattan is served at a hidden bar. Madam Geneva is accessed through a door at the back of the splashy Double Crown restaurant on the Bowery, the buffed-up street that used to look like Skid Row but is now lined with luxe restaurants and hotels.
It specialises in mother’s ruin and has dozens of rare gins on the back bar. But what draws me to drink there at least once a week is an odd-sounding cocktail: a glass of liquor over crushed ice, finished with a silver teaspoon balancing on top. The spoon is filled with homemade jam to be stirred into the slushy mixture – usually gin, but I ask the bartender’s advice if tequila or whisky will work better depending on the flavor.
The compotes rotate regularly but my current favourite is a toss-up between rhubarb-lemongrass and pineapple-vanilla bean, each swirled with a generous measure of ice-cold Beefeater. Each tastes like those fruit-infused vodkas should, but never quite do: the spiced, home-made compotes blend with the botanicals of the gin for a smooth and not-quite-sweet dangerously drinkable mix (and if no one’s watching, I dig around at the bottom of the glass for the last few chunks of fruit with that spoon, like a milkshake).
The idea of these so-called jam cocktails is so offbeat – and, at first, off-putting – that I quizzed the first bartender who made it for me as to the drink’s origins. He sheepishly confessed that it was inspired by his rural Irish grandmother, who would come home from church on Sunday and make her nip of gin less harsh with a dollop of jam. It was just my kind of confession.