PREFACE: So two years ago I spent some significant time in New York and to my astonishment could not find a well-made cocktail anywhere. Sure, a could find any number of those unbalanced concoctions that bartenders dream up in an effort to build liquor sales. But to find a decent French 75 or Floridita or Stinger was impossible. After being presented with the last of three failed attempts at a Sidecar (on one night, in one bar) I started carrying recipes in my wallet. I was thrilled to find (literally) Milk & Honey. Here is my account of the ENTIRE experience. I feel it deserves more than just a blurb.
Milk & Honey (www.mlkhny.com) is one of those "entrance by referral or appointment only" places. Recently a new colleague suggested I go and passed me the secret phone number with an e-mail note that read, " Here's the phone number for Milk & Honey. Just call them and they will make a reservation for you. It's a cool space. Let me know what you think of it. Part of the charm is that it's never too crowded, so please hand the number out discerningly. "
A week out I called the secret number and was told the number I really wanted to call was different. The nice man on the line gave the correct reservation number and I called it.
There were very elaborate "how to make a reservation" instructions on the outgoing message, which frankly lost me after 10 seconds...Something about only taking reservations for the first seating which, I assumed, was at opening at 9:00pm. The most I could get was to leave my name and number and a request for a reservation for the following Friday night.
Later that same day a woman named Liu called to advise they only take reservations for 9:00pm (that first seating) and only one day in advance. Reservations are given on a first-come-first-serve basis. I had to call back Thursday morning for a Friday night table. Since I would be on a plane, and three hours behind, I delegated that job to a friend.
By the time I arrived at JFK late Thursday afternoon, I had a message on my cell phone that I had a 9:00pm reservation at Milk & Honey Friday night. My companion for the evening and good friend Lionel had done some digging and found out that Milk & Honey is a bar...no food is served there, not even a nut. Dinner plans elsewhere were required.
At 9:00pm we arrived in what I would consider Chinatown, the lower-east side to be sure and walked a couple of blocks to stand outside a very nondescript door front mid-block. No neon, no signage, no light. There were barely street numbers (which I am not disclosing out of respect for the proprietress). We examined the intercom for some sign of life wondering if we simply needed to be buzzed in. We were in fact at the wrong door (confusing because there are tow doors with the same address).
Soon we had company. A trio of youngsters were loitering on the single step up and asked us, "Are you going to Milk & Honey?" I answered, "Yes, at nine o'clock." It would appear that they had the secret phone number (which I am also not sharing), but did not have a reservation. When they called, their efforts to gain access were thwarted and they walked away.
By now it was raining, big heavy cartoon raindrops. It was our turn to enter, but we had no idea how. It was clear no one was going to swing wide the door and park a sandwich board on the sidewalk announcing "Milk & Honey. This Way!!!" so we called the secret number. There was a door to the left we had not even seen. The instructions were, "Come inside." We pushed to door open and were plunged into darkness. Feeling around I discovered a velvet curtain and pulled it to the side to discover the lounge.
It is a narrow, candle-lit room with five booths and four barstools. Every seat is by reservation and at no time were people standing, waiting for a table to clear. That is the appeal. There was one hostess, one bartender and one busser and they got the job done. As for the drinks themselves. After clarifying once and for all that not only is there no food, but no wine offered, at Milk & Honey, even though I had enjoyed a glass of wine with dinner it was to be cocktails here. "Classic cocktails,"I was reminded by the hostess. I rejoiced. Lionel ordered the Sidecar (I think only for my benefit) and I ordered what I had always known as a Floridita.
Minutes later the hostess returned to our table with our cocktails. The Sidecar was presented in classic form, straight up in a chilled glass with an additional "shot" on the side (hence the name). When the hostess presented my drink she took the opportunity to educate me (which I appreciated) and said, 'Floridita, also known as a Hemingway Daiquiri." That was a surprise.
But the Hemingway Daiquiri was not the Floridita I know well, and it did not matter what she called it. My experience, to say nothing of the recipe in my wallet, said a Floridita was composed of light rum, vermouth, cassis, creme de cacao and freshly squeezed lime juice. This sipper was built on light rum, but was brighter and made my mouth feel like I had eaten grapefruit and which point I concluded there was grapefruit juice in the mix. The attune hostess registered my concern from across the room and circled back to my table.
After some pleasant discussion the bartender got into it. I told him what I believed to be in the Floridita of my dreams and for a brief moment I thought I had stumped this accomplished mixologist. But alas, no. It did not take him three minutes to discover an essential distinction in the naming of these drinks. I wanted a Floridita Cocktail, not a Floridita Daiquiri.
Lionel and I sat in the first booth for over an hour and enjoyed another round before heading out for a third (and perhaps one too many) stop that night.
NOTES: Visit the Web site for membership information and to acquaint yourself with The Rules of the house. Milk & Honey does not accept credit cards. Cash only. Drinks are about $12.00 each. The phone number published with this account is a dummy (to get by the required field).