Charlie Palmer at the Knick in the heart of New York changed up its menu for autumn. There are new nightly specials and fresh takes on past recipes, but the restaurant really lit a flame under its new cocktail menu.
This time of year, out across the New York countryside, you might get a pleasant waft of smoke as locals clear brush and burn fallen leaves. It might not occur to you to add that aroma to a cocktail, but the restaurant’s bar is serving smoked drinks that combine that strong, earthy aroma to unique drink recipes developed at the Knickerbocker Hotel’s fourth floor bar.
If the diner at Charlie Palmer is brave enough to get away from the traditional evening drink and play with fire, the staff puts new equipment to work. A snifter fits upside down into a special smoker filled with hickory chips. Once the glass cups a full goblet of smoke, the bartender removes the glass, sealing the mouth with a coaster and holding a cloud inside the glass. The cocktail (in my case a Smoky Apple Sour, a nice choice for autumn) is mixed alongside the smoke-filled glass — the coaster lifted just long enough for the bartender to pour in the blend.
The cocktail arrives in your hands with the coaster still atop the glass, holding in the smoke to mingle with the alcohol — lending a warmth and body to the taste of the drink via your olfactory system.
And, in this age of personalization and endless preference, the customer gets to decide how much smoke he or she wants with each sip. If the customer digs the full sensory experience, he or she can pull and replace the coaster with each swallow. If it’s preferable to let the smoke do its work and then leave the scene, the coaster disappears and the drink goes down as normal.
I can say this much about that first smoked cocktail at the Knick: If I hadn’t had to drive back to my outlying hotel from Midtown, I would’ve kept riding the smoke for a couple more rounds.