Chefs are famous for being perfectionists and that includes cocktail chefs. First, bartenders started serving homemade infusions, soon followed by housemade bitters, tonic water and even sodas crafted in-house. The latest fixation among barkeeps is ice. They’re determined to serve your drink chilled not watered-down. Small, square cubes don’t always cut it. Different liquors work best with different sizes and shapes of ice. Hand cut, artisanal, non-melting – this is the verbiage being thrown around in new, and serious, cocktail establishments nowadways. There’s crushed ice for creating snow cone-style cocktails and swizzle stick ice cubes that run the length of your highball.
While it’s anticipated that Grant Achatz’s forthcoming Chicago bar Aviary will be the forerunner in ice cube culture with 14 shapes and varieties available come opening, Forty Four at The Royalton comes pretty close. This sleek, midtown Manhattan lounge features about five different ice offerings nightly. Take Forty Four’s Vieux Carre cocktail– a potent mix of rye whiskey, cognac, sweet vermouth, bitters and a wash of Benedictine poured over an enormous hand-cut rock. The whopping cube takes forever to melt, and by the time it does, you’ll likely be finished and ready to order another.
A second location of owner Kathryn Weatherup’s Park Slope bar, Weather Up Tribeca is setting the pace downtown with in-house harvested ice. This sliver of a bar, wedged between Bouley and Duane Park, features an ice-centric collection of cocktails that you can enjoy while watching ice being hand-cut at the corner station. There’s crushed, stick and cubed ice, each used in different and creative ways to enhance the cocktail experience. Oh, and that ice is produced from a machine that costs $6,000 and harvests water to produce the 300-pound blocks that the ice is then carved from. One of my favorite libations at Forty Four is the Kensington Fix, a gin-based drink piled with crushed ice; the slushee of my dreams. Momofuku Ssam Bar serves brown spirits on X-large rocks to avoid diluted drinks as does PDT, Little Branch, and Dutch Kills. There’s even luxury companies, like Neve, devoted to the fine art of ice. They carve ice into circles, rectangles, and better yet, freeze fresh fruit, like cherries or strawberries, or flower petals into the cubes.
If the professionals do it, why shouldn’t you experiment with ice at home, too? No need to wait until the next time to entertain. There’s lots of ice trays with unusual shapes – hearts, stars, boats to put in your gin and “titonic” – which can be bought for just a few dollars from Ikea and Urban Outfitters. The MoMA store carries a mold that makes ice balls (one at a time so for a party, you might want to pick up a few) and Williams Sonoma stocks an ice tray that molds 2-inch cubes. Tellingly, the Food Network will be airing a new show called “Ice Brigade” in the next few months, which will follow a group of “ice artists” who create icy displays for everything from weddings to serious bars. Be it at a restaurant, in the home, or broadcast on television, ice is skating into the foreground of the culinary (ice) rink.
Forty Four at the Royalton
Address: 44 W. 44th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves
Weather Up Tribeca
Address: 159 Duane Street, btwn. Hudson & West Broadway
Phone: no phone
Momofuku Ssam Bar
Address: 207 Second Ave., at 13th Street
RG Writer: Lauren Bloomberg Durkin