The impending closure of the Campbell Apartment, in New York’s Grand Central Terminal, has me feeling feelings and thinking thoughts.
Jen and I had our first drink at the Campbell … well, I don’t recall for sure. Maybe we first went there when she still lived in Boston, or maybe after she moved to Long Island City. But it was part of our “dating life,” a place I took her to impress her with my sophisticated urbanity and wit.
The Campbell is where I started to appreciate the art of the cocktail. My friend Adam from the Boston Shaker teaches a lot of cocktail classes, and he sees people coming to cocktails from one of three paths: culinary, historical, or scientific. There are people who see the cocktail as the start of a great meal; there are those who are drawn to the Jerry Thomas aspects of it; and there are those who are fascinated by the chemistry of mixing drinks.
Though now, after 10+ years of writing about cocktails I’ve learned to appreciate all three elements, Jen and I first approached the cocktail from the culinary perspective, and just a touch from the historical, and the Campbell was a wonderful venue for both approaches.
The Campbell Apartment was also a great place to take a date, and the memories we have of our early relationship there are priceless to us. The dress code made you feel grown up and most people took it seriously enough to make you up your game a little. In fact, one thing that annoys me about the Post article I linked to is how it portrays the dress code:
“Right now, the image that people have of it very often is it’s a place to go before special occasions,” Gerber explains.
“So if you’re going to a black-tie event at the Hyatt in Grand Central, you go in [to the Campbell Apartment] for a drink. That’s OK, you can be in a tuxedo,” Gerber says.
The dress code at the Campbell was business casual. Here’s what the website says:
Proper Attire Required
Absolutely no Athletic Shoes, T‑shirts, Sweatshirts, Baseball Caps, Shorts or Torn Jeans
I see nothing there about a fucking tuxedo. And think about where the Campbell is located — in Grand Central in Midtown Manhattan, a place of law firms and doctors’ offices. The MetLife building is due north. Few lawyers, doctors, or insurance officers wear sweats and torn jeans to work.
So you’d go after work in your business-casual attire and fit right in. Sure, if you wanted to go home first and change into something swankier before going out on the town, that would work too, but to paint that as a requirement is crap.
Anyway. Moving on.
As I said, the Campbell is where I really started to appreciate the art of the cocktail, but after a while, moving on is exactly what we did. After all, we started seeing each other in 2003. Jen moved shortly after that to Long Island City, a short ride on the 7 train from Grand Central. So when we started seeing each other, the Campbell was a perfect place to meet after work. Back then, you could smoke on the balcony, so I’d get off the D train at 42nd, get a cigar at Nat Sherman, and then poke around Posman’s (also sadly evicted from Grand Central) before meeting Jen in the lobby outside the Campbell.
We’d get a couple of drinks and I’d have a smoke, and then we’d head off to dinner or go back to the overpriced market stalls at GCT and grab stuff to make a simple dinner at one of our apartments.
But back to the moving on. We were regulars there, probably around 2003-2004. Anyone who knows the cocktail scene in NYC knows what else was happening at that time. Milk & Honey opened in 2000, though Jen and I never went there together. Flatiron Lounge opened in 2003; Employees Only in 2004; and Pegu Club in 2005. I don’t know when we first started going to Flatiron, but I remember being there one night when the bartender told me that Pegu was about to open, so we were there almost at the start.
And then we moved to Bushwick, when the Williamsburg scene was getting hot. We ate at Diner and Marlow & Sons quite often, and it was so easy to start (and end) those nights with drinks at nearby Dressler, at a time when Jim Ryan and Mark Buettler were regularly behind the bar. We made regular pilgrimages to Red Hook to stock our home bar at LeNell’s. I met Gary Regan there, and talked about old Gaz with Jim, right after Jim went north for Cocktails in the Country.
Everything about who I am now — my writing, my wife, my kids — all of it has its roots in that time of our lives. We haven’t been back to the Campbell in too damn many years, and we certainly won’t be able to get back before it closes. And after a few years of drinking at Pegu and Death & Co and Dressler, the Campbell’s drinks just weren’t what we wanted anymore anyway — too large, too sweet. But that doesn’t matter.
I owe a lot to the Campbell, and if it weren’t 8:30am, I’d raise a glass, toast its memory, and lament its demise. New York real estate is a face-hugging alien of a bitch, and I regret what it’s doing to the city I love.