Greetings From Asbury Park Part 3: The Drink
1) The Absolut Cocktails at the Beach Bar
When we first (re)visited Asbury Park, two years ago, to see James at the Stone Pony, the then newly-opened Beach Bar was a revelation. With couches, tables, stools and, yes, four-poster beds lined up along the south deck of the Convention Center Pier, and an outdoor bar overlooking the Ocean itself, we couldn’t help but compare it to something in Ibiza. And though subsequent visits have revealed its limitations – namely, that cocktails are thrown together rather than mixed, that the wine list is cheap and rather nasty, and that the food is not its strong point either – it’s hard to beat the soothing sensation of sitting out by the ocean, past midnight, on a beautiful summer’s evening, listening to a lively Jamaican duo, DNA, covering everyone from Bob Marley to Lady Gaga, taking in the thriving local Latino lesbian scene, all the time sipping on the Tuesday night $5 Absolut specials that are far more vodka than they are anything else. And it says something for that holiday mood that I was able to down three Absolute Acai and cranberries when I would normally struggle to fit one – and still felt fit and raring to run when I got up the next morning. It might seem as if the Beach Bar is about to receive some competition, what with Aqua opening its own outdoor bar on the northern deck, but if so, it’s evidently friendly competition, as Aqua is currently supplying the Beach Bar with its food. If anything signifies Asbury’s turnaround, it’s this place.
2) Tequila cocktails at Watermark
Then again… it’s Watermark that has become the boardwalk’s high mark. An 8,000 square foot evening lounge/cocktail bar and, at weekends, a nightclub, with a second-floor outdoor deck of its own, Watermark is so chicly decorated it wouldn’t look out of place in Manhattan or Miami Beach; not only does it match Beach Bar for outdoor cushions and beds, but it has indoor sofas and a roaring fireplace, and intricate wooden décor that suggests that the investors had plenty money to burn. In fact, it would be all too easy for a place like this to end up as a triumph of style over substance, but one look at Watermark’s cocktail book (yes, book) and you realize that someone has put equal thought into the drinks. Better yet, the bartenders have been taught how to make them. When Posie and I showed up, a little later on our last night than we’d have liked, we decided to splurge on a couple of tequila drinks to round out our week. The wife went for a Tequila Maria, made with the bar’s own jalapeno-infused tequila, and when it proved too fiery for digest, the bartender happily poured it down the sink and made a milder one. I went for a drink that essentially combined your typical beer with a tequila chaser into a single glass, along with some additional ingredient I’ve subsequently forgotten, and then pushed myself by coming back for a Pilot Punch, which combines the house Jalapeno Tequila with Herradura Silver Tequila, Muddled Cucumber, Yellow Chartreuse, Fresh Lime and Club Soda. This remarkable drink reminded me why I fell in love with tequila all those years ago – and the rather dull head in the morning reminded me why I normally steer clear of it!
It’s not all cocktails at Watermark; the wine list by the glass is admirably deep and varied, with plenty glasses under $10, and beers can be had for as little as $5. In fact, even a drink like the imaginative and potent Pilot Punch was “only” $11 – and for the fact that we were alternately lounging outside, watching the moon rise over the ocean, and dashing back indoors to sit by the fire, it was worth every penny.
3) The Wine Flight at Langosta Lounge.
If you’re going to offer up a quartet of 3oz wines with your tapas menu, why not ensure that they’re served in test tube style glasses, poured directly from the bottle at the table, so that you can have a look at the label for yourself? It’s all about the ambience, right? Right. At Langosta Lounge on Tuesday evening, I went for the $12 white flight: a Txomin Etxaniz 2008 from Spain’s Getariako Txakolina region that was a little on the tart side (and apparently gives off a slight fizz, though perhaps my bottle was not fresh enough for me to notice as much), a Firestone Sauvignon Blanc 2007 from Santa Barbara County in California that was a little on the oaky side, a Pacific Rim Chenin Blanc 2007 from Columbia Valley in Washington State that was a little on the sweet side – and then the one wine I was already properly familiar with, a Mas de Gourgonnier 2009 rosé from France’s Les Baux de Provence that hit all the right notes. All greatly appreciated.
4) The $2 Landshark at Langosta.
It’s not the world’s most complex beer, but that’s part of its attraction: Landmark is the kind of lightweight Corona-type lager than you can throw back after a long run or a relaxing day on the beach without fear of it going to your head. But $2 a pint? On the boardwalk? All Thursday and Thursnight long? Langosta was just about giving the stuff away. We were happy to stop in en route to Watermark Thursday night, grab a pint (and an equally inexpensive $3 Sol as well) seize an outdoor table, the type of table that in many a beachside resort would require some sort of two-expensive-drink minimum. I keep wanting to find reason to diss Langosta; the worst I can say of it this past week is that I did not get to take advantage of the $5 margharita madness on Wednesday.
5) The Albarinho at Tim McLoone’s Supper Club.
And that’s because I was drinking fine Albarinho further down the boardwalk. Our first night, when we ate at McLoone’s Asbury Grille, we got through a bottle of thoroughly decent Grüner Veltliner before we knew what had hit us – call it the relief of being on holiday, finally. Returning for dinner upstairs a couple of nights later, I went for a glass of Spanish Albarinho. (Being on vacation, I didn’t note the producer, and it’s not on the online wine list either.) It was far from cheap – I can’t imagine it cost the restaurant much more per bottle, wholesale, than the $12 they charged me for a 7 oz pour, but at least it came in a seriously impressive glass, at least it was the right temperature, and at least it was beautiful, with that rounded, almost tropical feel that the Galician grape is increasingly becoming known for. I thoroughly appreciated having such a good wine on offer amidst the usual boardwalk fare of Chardonnays, Pinot Grigios and Sauvignon Blancs. I just wish I was still there sipping it.