If heaven were a cocktail party, the closest most of us will ever get is the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. That is, if the Classic's gala, which kicked off the five-day long celebration of the art and history of the cocktail Friday night -- is any indication.
Spanning all four floors of the New York Public Library, the gala brought in a bevy of liquor sponsors and performed the miracle (every bit as impressive as that water to wine bit) of hand-mixing elaborate appropriately garnished cocktails for hundreds of young, thirsty festively (at times outrageously so) dressed cocktail lovers, all while Dixieland jazz bands paraded, ladies in painted-on black dresses donning red stewardess hats from Campari served Negronis, and men in bell-hop costumes passed cinnamon-decked shots of Appleton rum on cigar trays.
Behind the Maker's Mark bar, which was making to order a version of the absinthe-laced Sazerac and Gold Rushes, burlesque performers shimmied and teased the crowd with giant feather fans. On the third floor the festively dressed crowd took their Bombay Sapphire martinis into the entrance to the Rose Reading Room where an entire pig carcass was being picked clean and a jug band set the tone.
Downstairs, Belvedere turned the Trustees' Room into something out of a Murray Hill girl's notion of a MPD dance party (one of the night's only awkward notes) and the ground floor became a big band performance space thanks to Bulleit Bourbon and Don Julio. Mustacheod men -- the celebrities of New York's cocktail scene made their rounds and astonishingly, the combination of high balls and high heels did not send anyone sliding down the steep marble staircases.
The Classic continues through Tuesday with events equally fun and educational (okay, mostly fun) throughout the city. The kings and queens from the cocktail scene will give an insider's peek at the likes of Little Branch, PDT, Employees Only and Death and Company for the "Stories from Behind the Bar" series. And then, there are the events dedicated to the celebration and appreciation of a single spirit. "Death in the Afternoon," an absinthe tasting held in the garden of the Huckleberry Bar in Williamsburg features small domestic distilleries of the Green Fairy like the hard-to-a-hold-of Delaware Phoenix, which is made in upstate New York by one-woman-team Cheryl Lins, who uses herbs that she grows and harvests from the wild area in the Deleware river valley.
The Astor Center serves as the events home base and with sessions like "the positive impact of domestic spirits on U.S. agriculture and "vermouth: misunderstood," hopes you will come out of the week knowing more about cocktails than you did before. And then you can go back to drinking your vodka tonics (although you probably won't want to).
All tickets are $50 and include access and one drink ticket at the festival's headquarters at the Astor Center.