Welcome to the secret sanctum of the city’s greatest cocktail slingers. May your entertaining be forever improved.
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Hidden on the fifth floor of a building on 25th Street in Chelsea is one of New York’s great secret institutions, Cocktail Kingdom, a temple to all things cocktail, including a vast selection of bartending tools and quite possibly the largest library of cocktail books in the world. Picture one of those wizard-supply stores in Harry Potter, but filled with all the wisdom and widgets of serious mixology.
Not that you have to be a mixologist to go there; Cocktail Kingdom is open to the public, and the staff stands ready to answer pretty much any of your burning cocktail questions. Every couple of months, they’ll also push the bookcases aside and open up the room for classes and events. (Check their Facebook page for updates.)
Cocktail Kingdom began as a dual venture when Don Lee, then the beverage director at PDT, met book publisher Greg Boehm, and the two decided to collaborate on a line of bartending tools. “The problem with a lot of the tools you find today is that they’re either the kind that you get for $2 at some restaurant supply store on the Bowery, or they’re the fancy, silver antique kind that are really intended for show. And neither is really functional,” says Lee.
The pair approached the problem with the rigor of scientists, consulting countless bartenders and studying cocktail history. They figured out that nine centimeters was the exact size a strainer must be, for instance, by studying and testing the collection of hundreds of strainers that Boehm keeps in his office (which is its own kind of museum).
Aside from the perfectly calibrated tools, Cocktail Kingdom carries a treasure trove of rare and hard-to-find supplies, from exotic bitters and discontinued spirits to Martinique-style swizzle sticks and high-tech, premium Japanese barware, including a bar spoon with an interchangeable fork and muddler.
Then there’s the library. This small, seemingly ordinary room houses most mixology books ever published, starting with the first mention of a cocktail in the 1600s. There are about 20 first-edition copies of Jerry Thomas’s The Bartender’s Guide from 1862, the first known cocktail recipe book; there are signed copies of the Art Deco classic The Savoy Cocktail Book, which was published simultaneously in the U.S. and in the U.K. at the end of Prohibition. And on and on.
In order to do research in the library, you have to call or e-mail ahead to schedule an appointment. Only one person is allowed in at a time, and bags must be left outside. That said, thanks to Boehm’s publishing gig at Muddle Puddle Inc., Cocktail Kingdom also sells more affordable reproductions of the owners’ favorite historical books, so you can take home an identical copy of that 1862 Jerry Thomas for your own collection.