The last item on the bar menu at Gibson + Luce costs $150. It’s not a cocktail. In fact, it’s neither edible nor drinkable. It’s called “Stay For The Night” and it’s accommodation at the Life Hotel directly above. If you’re enjoying your drinks and don’t want to go home—and the hotel has a vacancy—you can order a room right there at the bar come night’s end. Three people have done this since the speakeasy opened at the start of the year (probably because the drinks are so good and the room so cozy). But while that’s quite funny, it’s far from the only lovable component to the subterranean watering hole. If you’re tired of the words “signature drinks” or “craft cocktails” you’ll find a menu here that confounds and delights. It’s simply so good. And there’s no greater compliment in a world of bar menus that nowadays just features retreads or concoctions with clashing ingredients.
“We wanted to create a menu that was playful and fun for the speakeasy concept,” bar manager Alex Huve shares, “but that also reflected the history of the building. From there, I played around with lesser known spirits and found ways to create unexpected versions of somewhat familiar cocktails and flavors.” A quick run down of the building’s past helps bring this to focus. The 98-key hotel once housed Life magazine. And while it was produced on site, its editors lived there too. This period of time overlapped with Prohibition, and excavation revealed that there was most likely a speakeasy exactly where Gibson + Luce is today. Upstairs. oo two rooms are the same. A lobby restaurant offers smart but playful fare (which is also available downstairs). It’s been about a year now that the Life Hotel has welcomed guests and it’s only getting better.
The cocktail menu also fits into the intellectual but celebratory categorization. “Most of the time I start with a specific spirit and then build upon it from there,” Huve continues about his process. “For example, with the Banana Spliff, I knew I wanted to use Johnny Smoking Gun Whiskey and from there it was all about creating the balance of a good cocktail based upon that spirit.” This was a drink where he built the recipe in his head before ever assembling. “I just knew it would work,” he says. “I had everyone else try it before I even took a sip—I just knew there would be a wonderful balance here.” We are in agreement. Another of our favorites is also one of Huve’s personal victories. “The Moveable Feast, which is one of my personal favorites, took the longest to finalize,” he says. “It’s a cocktail that’s all about balance and it took forever to get that cocktail just right.” The six selections below were drawn from the ten or so we tasted and each has specific merit that truly gripped our taste buds.
Sturdy enough to start off a drinking session, the Banana Spliff also doubles as a dessert, treating the senses to something sweet but complex.
2 oz Johnny Smoking Gun Whiskey
.5 oz Giffard Banane du Brésil
.5 oz Antica Torino Vermouth
1 dash Aztec chocolate bitter
1 dash angostura bitter
Serve over a 2 oz ice cube in a glass smoked with burned rosemary
This is Gibson + Luce’s variation on the “Vieux Carré,” taking its name from Hemingway’s tale of an American expatriate in Paris. According to Huve, “this cocktail mashes up French and American tradition in a classic.”
1 oz Calvados Domaine de Montreuil
1 oz Michters Rye Whiskey
.75 oz Carpano Antica
2 dash Peychaud’s Bitters
2 dash Angostura Bitters
.25 oz Monk’s Secret
Stir, garnish with a lemon ribbon.
For anyone seeking an introduction to Japanese whisky, the Room Upstairs balances complexity with ease. Sweetness acts as a guide but citrus makes the point.
2 oz Akashi Japanese Whiskey,
.25 oz Sweet Dram
.50 oz lemon Juice
.50 oz Amara Blood Orange Liquor
2 Sisho leaves
2 bar spoons Mandarine Tea Marmalade
Shake, garnish with Shiso leaves.
For this cocktail, Wolffer Pink Gin, distilled from rosé wine, makes for the base. In turn, concord grapes replace the onions. It’s quite delectable and makes reference to editor Charles Dana Gibson’s drawings.
2. oz Wolffer Pink Gin
.50 oz Contratto Bianco
.50 oz Miele Grappa
Serve up with skinned frozen concord grape
Huve refers to this as “a Manhattan with no Manhattan ingredients. A robust yet fruity big boy drink.” Fernet and Mezcal, perhaps shockingly, work so well together here.
2 oz Fidenzia Mezcal
.75 oz Rappa Giovanni Cherry Liquor
.25 oz Fernet Branca
Manhattan style—stir, serve up with grapefruit peel
Black Chicken for Two
A cocktail built for two, the Black Chicken is not shy on the booze. Delicious but powerful, it’s something worth sharing—and coveting.
3 oz Four Roses Single Batch
1.5 oz Carpano Antica
1.5 oz 10-year-old Taylor Tawny
1 oz Montenegro
.50 oz Cappelletti
Gibson + Luce is located at 19 West 31st Street.
Hero image by Noah Fecks, spliff by Dillon Burke