I normally don’t write about drinks because they’re not my specialty. But I figured, just this once, I will touch on the subject of cocktails. I enjoy a good cocktail every now and again. My liqueur of choice is most definitely gin: Bombay Saphire, Hendricks, Damrack, Genevieve. If it’s reminiscent of juniper and makes my mouth tingle with a piney goodness, I will drink it. I usually rely on the oldy but goody, a plain old gin and tonic. If I’m feeling up to the task of staying out past my bedtime, I’ll opt for a filthy martini. I do occasionally try the new concoctions, but more often than not, I’m true to my gin.
Just last weekend my sister, her boss and coworker were in town. They rang me up once they had finished their dinner and we arranged to meet at Angel Share. I have to confess, I love this bar. I love the understated yet completely hip feel of the bar. It’s a bit of a hideaway only accessible through an izakaya. I walked into the dark, cavey room and found my sister slurping down lychee margaritas while my requested yuzu shochu cocktail waited for my lip’s attendance. After a few rounds of good drinks, good company and good window views, we headed down the street to PDT (please don’t tell). I had been a few times over the past couple of months and had never been entirely impressed by the drinks, but figured my visiting guests would enjoy the spectacle of the hidden door entrance. We popped into the telephone booth inside Crif Dogs and waited for the hostess to pick up. She opened the door to a half empty room and snarled that reservations were mandatory. I looked at my watch, remembered that it was a Monday, calculated the number of empty seats I had just seen, and led my mini entourage for the evening out the door. Sometimes a bit of pretension is to be expected, but I wasn’t in the mood for it on a slow Monday night.
Bars like PDT and Angel Share thrive off the feeling of exclusivity. Angel Share attains this sense because it is tucked inside a Japanese pub setting; once inside the bar, the coziness of the small room, booths and attentive waiters make the experience rewarding. It’s as if everyone in the lounge had been on a huge cocktail treasure hunt and we all rejoiced knowing we had found the ultimate bar hiding within a restaurant. Yipee!! Angel Share succeeds. PDT too, can at times, succeed, but their drinks aren’t as tasty as Jim Meehan’s finer work both at Pegu Club and Gramercy Tavern. But the drinks are adventurous, the entrance is nifty, and after a few cocktails, and a few more, a satisfying hotdog or nachos will quell the desire to move on to bigger and better.
Now, I will not say that Apothèke is bigger nor better…but it is bigger and better! I will begin this short review with the outrightly stated fact that I am totally biased. I am completely swayed by this bar’s location. Remember how you’ve always heard that a restaurant’s success relies on location, location, location?? Same is true of a drinking joint. As you may already know, I am obsessed with Chinatown. I possibly know it better than the many Chinese who play Mahjong in the parks or the ladies who cruise the street looking for the cheapest yet tastiest sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaf. I know my Chinatown and am proud of my restaurant findings. Just recently I had a friend tell me of a bar he had visited located off “that street shaped like an elbow.” I immediately racked my brain and assumed he had to be talking about Doyers St. So the following day, I meandered my way through that part of the city, yet didn’t see any buildings or signage that indicated a bar. A bit frustrated, because I was sure I couldn’t be wrong (it happens once or twice a year), I stomped off to eat some soup noodle to ease my bruised Sherlock Holmesque ego. I must find this bar, I muttered to myself through a mouthful of chewy noodles.
I put the matter on the back burner and realized I had more prescient issues at hand. I am leaving the country in a few days and there are many drinks to be had with friends before then. My friend Geoff called me up and suggested dinner. I agreed, though my appetite was fluctuating around zero due to the massive Thanksgiving feast I had forced into my body the day before. We tossed around a few ideas, suggesting Koreatown, Tailor, or possibly Lupa…until he decisively announced that Chinatown was the destination for the evening. I didn’t argue, and wouldn’t you know? All of a sudden I was hungry!
We ordered too much food at New Yeah Shanghai but managed to lick the plates clean. Geoff is Shanghainese (I call him Chinese, but he prefers to be specific) and always receives the golden treatment when we go out to eat in C-town. Why do you think I keep him around? We had one Tsing-tao brought to the table as a friendship offering from our young Chinese waiter to my young Chinese friend. I think they spilled water on me. None too important for I had delicous dumplings, eggplant and young bok-choy to distract me from the waiter who was lounging near our table and making eyes at Geoff. We gobbled down our food and decided to hit the road and wander the streets for a bit. I told Geoff about the bar I had heard of yet failed to find, so we set off in earnst to find this elusive Apothèke.
We walked up and down Doyers St. three times, poking our heads into each doorway and sleuthely placing our ears to walls. We didn’t see a damn thing. We saw no tipsy people stumbling out of buildings; no tunes were heard other than the wailing Chinese lyrics drifting over our heads from an apartment. Was the tale of this bar real, or just a cruel fantasyland created by my sweet (possibly deceitful) friend? We stopped in front of Doyer’s Vietnamese Restaurant and hugged the heat lamps in front of the abandoned Chinese restaurant adjacent to it. Geoff paused and then looked at me and questioned, “Why would there be heat lamps in front of this abandoned restaurant?” We looked at each other and smiled knowingly. I pulled open the door of Gold Flower Restaurant and felt as if I had found the secret garden! Inside was an open room, dark and loungey, lit with candles and oil chandeliers. People murmured in groups, both huddled around tables and reclining on sofas. I pulled the door shut as if we had just stumbled upon something secret and illegal… and we hadn’t been invited to the party. We stood back and questioned if we could just walk in. No password, no handshake, no invite? I opened the door prepared to be stopped by a man and a flashlight, held my breath, and walked straight to the back of the room. I only exhaled when I reached the bar. No one had shone a light on us and told us we didn’t belong. So we stayed. And looked at the menu, looked at the bar, and looked at each other and smiled with a sense of accomplishment.
We read over the cocktail list, or Prescription suggestions. There were drinks for all ailments, and the house infused alcohols could supposedly cure anything from fatigue to lust. My eyes kept landing on delicious sounding drinks, yet they were all based in vodka. I said to the chemist behind the bar that gin was my choice of poison…or aphrodisiac or pain killer. Whatever the prescription, as long as it was gin, I would have it. He theatrically made me a cilantro and muddled cucumber concoction, vaguely familiar in a salsa verde sense, yet delicious. Geoff had a fermented watermelon rind drink that was fruity and yummy. He’s Asian, so he could only have two sips…so in reality I had two drinks that night. We watched the bartenders light house-made absinthe on fire. Pyrotechnics seem to be a theme here. The flamboyance behind the bar is theatre for the drinkers’ eyes. The backdrop of old-timey bottles and infused liqueurs suspending spices and fruit lends a Hollywood feel to the set. It’s as if being a spectator in a Bond movie, where the martinis are not only shaken and stirred, but set on fire as well! I will say that the price of the drinks is a deterrent for me–each drink costs $15. I take the frugal woman’s stance that for the price of two drinks, I could have a pretty fantastic dinner. I don’t like to spend loads of money on cocktails, but I will say that for the experience and thrill of it all, Apothèke delivers. If you enjoy the sense of exclusivity, or are just up for a bar hunt, head to this new bar for some heat and leave the hotdogs at PDT for the amateurs.
Apothèke is located at 9 Doyers street, just to the left of the Vietnamese restaurant.