Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Faux Coconuts; Real Good Bar

naval-pinupI was wearing my mink and satin, vintage, cocktail hat and Celest, one of her dramatically necklined, silk frocks. We were both in heels with lips painted red, appropriate for The Supper Club event we’d attended earlier that evening, but pretty out of place at a tiki bar. No matter. The vibe at the new Rusty Knot is so laid back and the fantastic bartenders so obliging we were transported from Black tie formality to beach bum fantasy with our first sips of Pina Colada and Mai Tai, respectively. Maybe the cheeky inappropriateness of sipping from a faux coconut while wearing a bustier makes the drink even smoother and sweeter, but the fact is this has got to be the best Pina Colada in Manhattan. And though there may not have been much of a demand for perfectly-made, high quality, frozen, fruity drinks on this particular Northeastern island of ours up to now, I predict that the standard-issue mojito is gonna get a run for its money once New Yorkers discover the tropical wonders available on the West Side Highway.

‘70’s era wood paneling and pool table are not typical indicators of a watering hole I’m likely to frequent. I’m not a snob; I understand the potential charm of a dive bar. The problem for me with most dive bars, however, is that you can’t get a decent drink. Since I’m not a Bud Lite enthusiast and I haven’t had a Stoli O and cranberry juice since college, I’m often hard-pressed to enjoy libations at a place with initials carved in the bar or mounds of chewing gum stuck to every surface (and then, there are the typical dive bar bathroom horrors…). But with a former Milk & Honey barman, and the delightful TJ (who I know from his previous posts at Mas and The Spotted Pig) behind the drink list at Rusty Knot, the offerings are unusual for NYC and terrifically good. Celest, who generally hates “sweet” as a descriptor of any cocktail, was smitten with her Mai Tai. TJ talked her into it and then talked to us all evening, as I perched on my barstool, stilettos long since discarded and my legs tucked under me, ‘elementary school assembly’ style. The place demands comfort and I obliged. TJ treated us to a round of tequila shots. The feisty barback, a young, punky Asian woman, talked to us in urgent, Red Bull-fueled tones as she cleaned and stocked. The jukebox music was cool, the pool balls clicked in the background, and the crowd seemed pretty hip without being overly hipster. We had a blast and stayed way past closing.

I doubt I’ll make it to a beach paradise this summer (too busy with Dinner Belle events), but I’m thrilled that I can play at Fantasy Island in the far West Village with TJ and company. And I’m curious to try out the food: Chef Joaquin Baca, formerly of Momofuku, supposedly puts a new spin on bar food with dishes like a pretzel-wrapped hotdog, peel-and-eat shrimp, and sweetbread meat pie.

I don’t think The Rusy Knot really qualifies as a dive bar (though they do serve wine out of a box), but it’s my kinda wonderful.

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