NEW YORK – Paradise found! Just off 5th Avenue, across the road from the Museum of Modern Art and next door to Christie’s auction house, you’ll find one of the most magnificent Manhattan bars down a long, black, marble hallway. This isn’t just one of the best bars in NYC – it’s one of the finest to be found anywhere on earth.
What makes The Bar at the Baccarat so sublime? For one thing, it’s located in the only Baccarat Hotel in the world. Baccarat has retail stores in cities throughout the world and yet there is only one Baccarat Hotel, which opened in Manhattan in 2015. The 5-star hotel also includes residences in the 50-story building, which features a stunning, 55-foot-long swimming pool and the first La Mer spa in the United States.
The largest chandelier, worth an estimated $1 million, features rare red crystals and is a feast for the eyes.
Next, let’s get to what made the 253-year-old company famous in the first place: its crystal. Baccarat’s gleaming crystal can be found throughout The Bar and the hotel. In the bar, there are three stunning crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling in the black-and-white tiled, Art Deco-style room. The largest chandelier, worth an estimated $1 million, features rare red crystals and is a feast for the eyes. On each and every mirrored table in the bar, you’ll find Baccarat crystal votives twinkling in the afternoon or evening light. The whole place positively sparkles with gorgeously refracted light.
Behind the magnificent 60-foot bar, we find the crystal Baccarat glasses on display in all their glory. However, these are by no means merely for show; most of the drinks in The Bar are served in Baccarat crystal – you can genuinely feel the difference when you hold one of these glasses in your hand. They’re heavier, and glimmer with diamond-like brilliance when the light hits them just right. This is the result of truly masterful craftsmanship; if you want to appreciate what goes into making a single Baccarat glass, consider a single champagne flute. Each one takes approximately 40 hours to make, and the standards for perfection couldn’t be higher. If there’s the slightest flaw in the glass, Baccarat discards the unfinished product rather than putting its trademark signature on the bottom.
There’s clearly a sense of pride here, bordering on obsession. The Bar employs several, full-time, glass attendants to maintain its crystal. Wearing white gloves, each attendant carefully dries each crystal glass by hand to make sure the glasses are clean and have no chips or scratches. After all, perfection requires hard work, and few bars set the standard quite as high as they do at The Baccarat.
Character and Distinction
When you’re in The Bar in the Baccarat, it’s easy to forget you’re in New York. Indeed, it’s tempting to imagine you’re having a drink in an elegant, upscale Right Bank bar near Place Vendome or perhaps on Rue De Rivoli.
Unique paintings, sketches and playful black-and-white photographs adorn the bar’s dark-red walls, providing character by the bucketload. The result is that The Bar feels sophisticated yet casual, like an eccentric fashion photographer’s lavish, Paris apartment.
As for the drinks, well, with crystal glasses this special, the drinks had better be phenomenal. And phenomenal they most certainly are! The Bar at Baccarat makes some of the most innovative, extravagant cocktails in the city, and much of that innovation can be traced back to Matthieu Yamoum, the Hotel’s esteemed Food & Beverage Manager.
Raised in the Champagne region of France (where else?), Yamoum personifies everything that’s great about the understated elegance of The Bar at the Baccarat. Like the other staff members who work there, Yamoum provides impeccable service without being stuffy or pretentious. He knows how to be a world-class host, how to anticipate your every whim and make The Bar feel like your home.
A Journey to the Heights of Sophistication
The day my wife and I visited The Bar at the Baccarat, Yamoum got things off to the best possible start. We were each presented with a glass of Rémy Martin Louis XIII Cognac ($205 for 1 ounce) stored in a stunning, Baccarat crystal decanter. Using a wine thief normally used to extract wine from a wooden barrel, Yamoum carefully poured one ounce of Louis XIII Cognac into our stemmed Baccarat crystal wine glass, in a method befitting this magnificent spirit.
Baccarat is deeply involved with the history of Rémy Martin. Indeed, four generations of cellar masters at Rémy Martin spent more than 100 years creating Louis XIII Cognac, which was aged in oak barrels for a century. The Cognac was then placed in custom made crystal decanters, designed to heighten the incredible color and quality of the drink. Such loving care and attention shows. The Cognac tastes amazingly smooth, and superbly subtle without even the slightest bite or burn upon sipping – it flows down as easily as a gentle, passing breeze.
Usually what I do if I sell it for a couple – because it’s so unique – is serve one ounce and a half for each, so they can get the experience.
Yamoum realizes some people might not be able to spend $205 for a single drink. So he sometimes serves one ounce in two separate glasses for a couple so they can each enjoy the drink on their own. “Usually what I do if I sell it for a couple – because it’s so unique – is serve one ounce and a half for each, so they can get the experience,” he said.
Yamoum then served us one of the unique cocktails he helped create at The Bar at Baccarat. The drink is named “Vieux Carre de la Romanee Conti” ($250). The signature ingredient in the Vieux Carre de la Romanee Conti is 1993 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Marc de Bourgogne brandy. The winery which produces this fine spirit is located in Vosne-Romanée – a name which Burgundy aficionados will know well. That’s the name of the legendary village in Burgundy famous for growing some of the most prized Pinot Noir grapes in the world. Those grapes then become some of the world’s most expensive red wines, including Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
The 1993 Brandy used to make the mixed drink at the Baccarat has a strong, oaky, robust flavor, almost like a peaty single malt scotch aged in a sauterne cask. But it’s when the Brandy is combined with the other ingredients, that the magic truly happens. Yamoum obtained three bottles of the Brandy in order to this unique drink.
Although he recalls many successful outcomes from his experimentation behind the bar, mixing this Brandy with the Bonal Gentiane was Yamoum’s first eureka moment. “I liked it (Bonal Gentiane) in my Negroni, and I really wanted to use this one,” he said. It’s fair to say his customers wholeheartedly agree.
“I had some ingredients in my mind and but I had to figure out which ingredients balanced everything out, in order to make it easy drinking, fresh and original,” Yamoum said. He chose these ingredients since we wanted to showcase some of the world’s best, local liquors from across France. The recipe for making this extravagant cocktail is as follows:
1 ounce of Mar de Bourgogne Brandy
0.5 ounces of Blade & Bow Bourbon
0.5 ounces of Bonal Gentiane
0.5 ounces of Yellow Chartreuse VEP
0.25 ounces of L’abricot due Roulot
2 Peychaud Bitters
2 Angostura Bitters
After mixing the drink, serve with a large ice cube in a Large Harmonie Baccarat crystal glass. “Everything is different,” Yamoum said, referring to the ingredients in the Vieux Carre de la Romanee Conti. “I used a little bit of American Bourbon because we’re in the U.S. Everything else is French. The Bonal Gentiane is from the southwest of France, the Chartreuse from the Alps.”
“The L’abricot due Roulot – I love it,” Yamoum added. “It’s one of the best. Monsieur Roulot produces Burgundy wines and he’s very, very famous for his Chardonnay, mostly Chablis. Monsieur Roulot has apricot trees in his vineyard and he started making apricot liqueur – it’s out of this world. I really wanted to put all these things together and to have a story behind it.”
The result is an intense, woodsy cocktail with a slight herbal quality. This unique cocktail reminded me of a luxurious Manhattan, except instead of Bourbon, imagine that the bartender made your Manhattan with 30-year-old single malt Scotch and added the smoothest apricot liqueur you have ever tasted.
Elegant, Unique and Forward Thinking
While it’s fair to say that the top end of the cocktail menu here isn’t for everyone’s budget, you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy great drinks at The Bar at Baccarat. The bar makes a delicious Manhattan, and there’s also an extensive wine list. As in many world-class restaurants, Yamoum said he wants to change the cocktail menu at The Bar on a seasonal basis to reflect the freshest, most sought-after ingredients. The day I visited the bar, Yamoum enthusiastically talked about the next drink he was planning to create – a “Royal Sidecar” ($450) made with Cristal Champagne and served with gold leaf as a garnish. He also said The Bar planned to soon start serving Cristal by the glass – or should I say, Cristal by the crystal.
As Yamoum talked about his future plans for The Bar at Baccarat, I continued sipping my glass of Vieux Carre de la Romanee Conti. It’s almost impossible to put into words just how smooth, just how intense the flavors were in this extravagant drink. Then again, I had never tasted such ingredients mixed together in such a unique way. For that matter, it’s not often you have 24-year-old brandy from Vosne-Romanée in a mixed drink, or even on its own.
It’s these types of one-of-a-kind experiences and this unrivaled and exquisite attention to detail that make The Bar at the Baccarat Hotel so memorable, and so deeply special. Little wonder that for me, The Bar will always be paradise on West 53rd Street.
Baccarat Hotel, 28 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019
Open daily 4 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.