R.I.P. The Campbell Apartment

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.

WHISKEY signing: Virginia Distillery Company

June 4, 2016
noon-2 pm

299 Eades Ln
Lovingston, Virginia 22949

What better way to gear up for the launch of our whisky tours than to have Michael Dietsch, author and spirits writer for Serious Eats on site June 4th from 12PM to 2PM for a special reading and book signing of his new book, “Whiskey: A Spirited Story with 75 Classic and Original Cocktails”. “Whiskey” covers the history as well as the differences of various brown spirits– specifically bourbon and Scottish single malt. The book also details a variety of delicious cocktail applications for that spirit we all know and love. We’ll be doing a special cocktail demo so you can learn from the best! Join us in our Visitors Center to learn more about whisky, see craft cocktail making in action, and pick up a signed copy of Michael’s book.

Shrubs on ABC’s Shark Tank

This is interesting.

ABC has a reality program called Shark Tank. I’ve never seen it. Apparently, the idea is that, if you have an idea for a business, you can pitch it to the show, and if the producers feel it has merit, they’ll bring you on and you can pitch the idea to a team of “sharks,” or hard-hitting business tycoons who will decide whether to fund your company.

The season premiere is this Friday, September 25, and it features the McClary Bros. line of drinking vinegars. I’ve had their shrubs, and I’m excited to see that shrubs will get some prime-time attention.

I also have a mercenary motivation for this post. I want people to search online for “Shark Tank” and “drinking vinegars” or “shrubs” or “McClary” and find this page. I want them to click this link: Buy My Books. And then I want them to buy my book. It’s a simple idea, really. Can you blame me?

Not at Tales this year

A few people have asked, so …

Yes, it would have been great to sign copies of SHRUBS down there this year. A few things stood in the way:

  • Money — we don’t have much right now.
  • Time off — Jen has taken a bunch of time off so I could do other travel this year. She doesn’t have enough time accrued at the moment to allow her to stay home with the kids right now.
  • Second manuscript — This is the biggy. My second ms is due September 1. I’ve set a personal deadline of August 1, just so I have the month to redraft things, move stuff around as needed, and make any edits I think are necessary before my editor sees it.

If all goes as planned, my second book will be out about a month before next year’s TOTC, and therefore it might make a lot of sense to go down to sign both books for people. We’ll see how 2016 shakes out when it gets here.

Weekend recap

I spent my weekend on the road, taking the Acela from Penn Station up to Boston on Saturday.

I stayed with friends Friday and Saturday. On Saturday afternoon, I demoed shrubmaking and signed books at the Boston Shaker in Somerville. The weather was nice, and so there was a good amount of foot traffic past the store. We served shrub cocktails using Privateer rum and moved a fair amount of books. Successful day.

I ended the day at The Hawthorne, attached to the Commonwealth Hotel near the Fenway, and owned by Jackson Cannon, formerly of the Commonwealth’s other bar, Eastern Standard. The Hawthorne is a lovely place, very calming and comfortable, and with a stellar list of cocktails, beers, and wines.

Sunday, I took the Amtrak to Providence. I made my way up to Stock about an hour before the demo was to begin, and I walked that stretch of Hope Street for a few minutes. I used to live in Stock’s neighborhood, and so it felt a little like Old Home Week. The weather, again, was conducive to foot traffic, and we had a lot of people stop by.

At both the Shaker and Stock, I was delighted to sell copies of the book to people who had never previously tasted shrubs. Talking to these folks and then signing books for them were quite fun, and it’s really gratifying to know that the book is reaching new audiences for shrubs.

Here’s a tip I probably shouldn’t share, regarding taking the Amtrak from Penn. At present, Amtrak does a really stupid thing to its riders at Penn and a few other stations. When a Northeast Regional or an Acela Express arrives at Penn, Amtrak announces the track number and then makes everyone line up to go down to the platform level to board the train. So what always happens is, Amtrak announces the track, and a giant knot of people surges toward the escalator down to the platform. I avoid this mess these days by asking for a red-cap, a porter who helps with baggage and gets passengers down to the platform level before the official announcement. So by the time the knot of people has surged down the escalator, I’m seated and ready to roll.