“My favorite hotel bar in the world? Whichever one I happen to be in,” English writer Geoff Dyer once wrote. “The key thing about a hotel bar, any hotel bar, is that it doesn’t matter where it is.” A hotel bar’s appeal is its anonymity, the author and seasoned international traveler suggested.
At The Lounge at the Foundry Hotel & Banquets, Buffalo’s newest hotel and banquet facility, that’s not entirely true. The Foundry was built in an old industrial space on Elmwood Avenue and its interior reflects those roots. Think exposed piping, brick walls and Jackson Pollock-style canvas art. The fixtures are modern and skew toward hip 20-somethings, and the facility’s website touts “craft cocktails” as part of its bar menu, a feature not seen at traditional hotel bars and lounges.
Those craft cocktails include house specialties like the “Lockhouse Paloma,” a tequila and vodka concoction made with the Lockhouse Distillery spirit manufactured practically across the street, the “Foundry New Fashioned” and the “Foundry Manhattan.”
That Manhattan piqued our curiosity for its inclusion of Maraschino liqueur, a distillation of Marasca cherries made in Croatia. A classic Manhattan is made with rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters, although real purists would insist on Abbott’s bitters (if they can find them; the original recipe went out of production almost 100 years ago). The Foundry takes a few liberties with that recipe, using Old Forester Bourbon instead of rye, The Bitter Truth orange bitters instead of Angostura and adding a healthy dose of Maraschino.
Let’s clear up one misconception straight off: Maraschino cherries are not the bright red orbs we find at most bars and restaurants. True maraschino cherries are a deep, almost wine-red and soaked in pure Maraschino, giving them a heady, fruity taste. They are strongly alcoholic and pregnant with cherry flavor, but nowhere near the neon brightness most Americans have encountered. Those cherries have been bleached and flavored with sugar water and sometimes grenadine, completely foregoing that booze that bears their name. So when you see Maraschino liqueur on a menu, don’t expect a sweet sipper.
The Foundry Manhattan certainly was not. It also was not, in the strictest sense of the word, a Manhattan. We can quibble over what makes a perfect martini, Manhattan, gimlet or any other classic, and many do. There have been tomes written by great bartenders on the subject, but at its core, a Manhattan must taste like vermouth and rye or whiskey. This concoction tasted, more than anything, like a glass of Maraschino.
That is not necessarily a bad thing. As the dispenser-made ice melted and the spirits had time to meld, the citrus from the orange bitters emerged and the Maraschino mellowed down into the whiskey, bringing out its cherry undertones and spice from the whiskey base. The vermouth didn’t show up at all, which is a shame. One of the best hallmarks of a Manhattan is its rich, velvety feel from the fortified wine. If you don’t think of it as a Manhattan, the Foundry’s version is not a bad drink. It could benefit from playing with the proportions, since Maraschino is such a strong flavor. A dash less and more vermouth would balance out the ethanol taste in the liqueur and allow that richness to come through.
Dyer ends his ode to “The Seductive Allure of the Hotel Bar,” with “the essence of the hotel bar is that it doesn’t matter which one you are in—or where.”
He may change his tune if he ever visited Buffalo’s hotel bars. From the Hotel Lafayette’s truly stellar Tony Rials mixing cocktails in its Art Deco lounge, to almost perfect martinis served at leather chaise lounges at Statler City and now, a craft cocktail showing at Buffalo’s newest industrial conversion, Buffalo’s hotel bars distinguish themselves. Unlike Dyer, Buffalonians are known for finding a home wherever they are. At these hotel bars and lounges, we can settle in right where we belong.
“Foundry Manhattan,” $8; The Lounge at The Foundry Hotel and Banquets, 1738 Elmwood Ave.,; 874-5400; www.foundrysuites.com.
Lizz Schumer is a Buffalo writer and editor who covers cocktails, food and whimsy for a variety of publications. She is the author of "Buffalo Steel" and can be found @eschumer or www.facebook.com/authorlizzschumer.