Island spirits: What’s stirring on the Rock

SUSAN CAREY DEMPSEY PHOTO
The colorful Aviation cocktail at SALT.

After a summer that took a while to launch, with a cold, rainy spring that overstayed its welcome, we have reached the 4th of July week, when weekends stretch into weeks of vacation time and relaxation begins to sink in. What better way to segue from a sunny beach day to a soft summer evening than a visit to one of our local establishments to wind down? We live in a resort town, after all, so why not savor their best hospitality? Pull up a barstool for yourself, and one for a friend. Feeling like you have all the time in the world, let an expert prepare you a libation that takes some careful curating – or shaking, or stirring.

Part of the luxuriant experience of enjoying a cocktail is simply doing nothing, while you watch the bartender concoct something cold, fruity, icy, sparkling, with any number of ingredients to create the perfect alchemy just for you. At SALT, bartender Sean combined Montauk citrus gin, maraschino liqueur, lemon juice, butterfly pea and elderflower syrup. The latter is a magical ingredient, he explained, that interacts with the alcohol to impart a beautiful purplish shade to the cocktail. Like a chemistry lesson, really. Garnished with a curl of lemon peel, it’s a treat for the visual sense as well as the palate.

The most popular drinks at SALT and other Island places are variations on the margarita. Hey, if we’re hot, we might as well be in Mexico. The basic ingredients are tequila and lime juice. The Paloma version at SALT is poured into a glass that’s been dipped into Mike’s hot honey and salt. The jalapeno margarita combines a peppery tequila with the lime juice, agave and a splash of orange juice. Olé!

If you find yourself at the Ram’s Head Inn, you may pick up a Spiked Lavender Lemonade and stroll down the sloping lawn to one of the Adirondack chairs, the better to laze away the afternoon in. Watch the boats sail by, skippered by people who don’t know how to relax as well as you. Or go full Gatsby, with a cold martini. Just don’t try to order a Gibson anywhere on this island; I have yet to find a bar that carries the necessary cocktail onions. Best to bring your own.

For a beautiful view to sip your cocktail by, come up to the bar at the Pridwin, where you’ll enjoy a Citrus Blast: house-infused citrus vodka with Chambord, fresh citrus juice and agave. Or you and your date could be served an Absolut Elyx Caipiroska: muddled limes, pineapple, strawberries, blueberries (sounds like a full day’s recommended servings of fruit) and raw sugar with Absolut Elyx Vodka topped with Prosecco. For two, it comes in a copper pineapple. There were also copper straws early on, but the bartender said they disappeared pretty quickly.

For your designated driver, the Pridwin pours a non-alcoholic mangorita: mango puree, lime juice and citrus mix with a splash of agave, or a No-jito, muddling lime, lemon and mint with iced tea. If you haven’t got a designated driver, I’m happy to provide the number for Shelter Island taxi: (631) 749-4252. We want you to end your day safely at home. Also, the police happen to be familiar with our local watering spots and are quite adept at intercepting the overserved.

The other spot with a beautiful view at day’s end is Sunset Beach, which is the name of the chichi bar/hotel/restaurant, not the beach, which is officially known as Crescent. Some of us who go back a ways will still call it Louis’ Beach, now and forever.

Settle in at the Sunset bar, in a couch or chair, and make sure you have a good view of the bay. Start sipping your Frozé, made with rosé, rum and strawberry – sort of a spiked slushee – as the sun sinks into the horizon for a glorious show. 

If you’re with a crowd, you might order a pitcher of margaritas, mojitas, sangria or Pimm’s Cups. And for $600, you can be served something called Le Grande Flamingo, in a vessel that is a, um, giant flamingo. I would have sampled this combination of Elyx vodka, watermelon juice and house ginger beer as a service to our readers, but getting the paper to reimburse my research would have been a tough sell.

Happy fourth – and cheers!

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