The last time you were in New York City, it wasn’t your favorite time. The city was not like you remembered from the golden days of youth. Corner bodegas? No longer friendly neighborhood staples. Quirky but well-meaning neighbors who always pop in at the most comedic times? Nope, just angry tenants and parking wars. The subway? Forget it. In the new New York, the streets did not make you feel brand new; the big lights did not inspire you. You wandered the city’s grey desert in search of an oasis. You found one in a little speak-easy called Valerie.
Valerie snuck up on you on a side street somewhere between Times Square and Grand Central Station, its golden lights, tall ceilings, and crystal chandeliers beckoning from within. Valerie takes a page out of the book of old New York with its art deco walls and granite marble-top bar. There is space on the corner, not quite blocking the service station, where you can watch the clientele and the bartenders all at once. You pull up a chair as the cordial bartender, a young man sporting a thin mustache, presents the menus.
“We specialize in gin,” he adds.
You are susceptible to suggestion: you order a purple gin drink that smells sweetly of lavender and vanilla. One sip and you’re Fly-Me-to-the-Moon, you’re Top-of-the-Rock, you’re King Kong on the Empire State Building. The room is a blend of shapes and colors, shimmering golden brown, swirling chrome and bubbles. For one blissful moment you forget you are trapped in a cage inside of a hornet’s nest known as Queens. The bartender gestures to the tavern menu, and you order the confit duck wings.
He winks. “Excellent choice.”
Valerie: A hidden gem in Manhattan
In your mind it might have been a mirage. You wouldn’t experience that same sensation — the transportation through time, the dissociation from reality — until you moved to the Lake months later. Or was it years? Valerie was like a dream you kept trying to remember the next day.
Ultimately you escaped the city. You fled to the villages and towns you grew up in. You found a Lake roughly the size of Manhattan but with merely one one-thousandth of that island’s population. You ditched the cage and the hornet’s nest for a home and a community. And lucky you — the Lake had its own version of Valerie.
Left to right: Long Island Iced Tea, Old Fashioned, Pimm’s Cup
The art of a fine cocktail is not lost on you. New American dining is long over-due for a Renaissance, and with it the classic metropolitan tradition of Prohibition-era cocktails. Who could’ve foreseen its revival on the farms and rural frontiers of modern-day America? On a Saturday afternoon, you find yourself traveling to the northern point of the Lake to check out the restaurant everyone talks about. At opening, business is already healthy with at least three parties at the bar, one seated in the dining room, and a back-up group walking into the lobby. It’s your first time, so you wait politely for the hostess to return before helping yourself to a seat at the bar.
Just like Valerie, you pony up to the corner where you can see everything. But now you see the Lake sitting opposite from you, a vast blue nothingness fading into the moonlit hills. You order an Old Fashioned with Eagle Rare; your companion orders a Long Island Iced Tea. You toast each other with the most satisfying clink of the glasses. The bartender brings a porcelain tray of bread, hush puppy, butter, and pimento cheese. You are flying right now. You slowly become aware of other bargoers nearby, at least three of them ordering the same cucumber-garnished elixir in a row.
“It’s Pimm’s cups,” one of them offers. “They’re the bomb.”
You go for the second cocktail and inquire about the entrees. You want to give the burger a try, and your companion requests the Szechuan Beef. The bartender is visibly pleased. “That one’s amazing,” she says.
Good cocktails and good food? It’s a miracle to find a marriage of the two anymore. The meat is rich, juicy, and flavorful; the spices and garnishes paint a vista of flavors on the canvas of your tongue. For the beef, the rice is fluffy and warm and chock full of umami. To the burger’s credit, the “inside-out” potato bun concept adds layers of playfulness and texture to the traditional pub menu flight. You devour every last bite and think back to Valerie’s mustachioed bartender tapping the menu: “Excellent choice.”
Szechuan Beef + Burger with “Inside-Out” Grilled Potato Bun
The atmosphere shifts and you realize several bargoers have migrated to the dining room. The bartender asks about dessert. You’re full, but you’re here to try things. One Mexican Pots de Creme and a Dirty Vodka Martini coming right up.
Mexican Pots de Creme + Dirty Vodka Martini
And at the end of the night, you breathe a sigh of relief knowing your cozy home is just five minutes away. It took almost a year of searching, but you finally found your Valerie again. You don’t need to make it in New York, New York. You’re making it in Lakeville, New York.