So it may not be beer or any other German libation that would go well with Bratwurst Day…but still, are you going to turn down a national boozy holiday? I think not! Especially not when it’s National Rum Day. Rum is a super interesting liquor to me because it was originally invented as a byproduct–rum was never meant as the final product at all! When European powers started colonizing the West Indies in the 17th century, they started refining sugar from the sugarcane crops there. A byproduct of refined sugar was molasses, the thick, gooey, sweet sludge that gives an earthier taste to baked goods. But if you distill and ferment the molasses, you get rum! The popularity of the drink, which could come clear or spiced, skyrocketed in North America, and by 1664 Great Britain built the first rum refinery in the original 13 colonies–right on Staten Island! So, you could say that the history of American rum started right here in New York City 😉
Nowadays, however, the best rums still come from the Caribbean, and the mark of a high-quality rum has been flipped since the 17th century: the darker the rum, and the more molasses-like flavor to the liquor, the better the quality of the drink. (Though there is something to be said for traditionally spiced rums, and the lower-grade yet delicious flavored rums. Nothing beats my bottle of Malibu!) Rum is enjoyed straight-up, especially the lighter, flavored ones, or in a large variety of cocktails, like the Bay Breeze, Mai-Tai, Planter’s Punch, Pina Colada, and the Mojito. You can even pay homage to the location of the first American distillery by making the Staten Island Ferry (Malibu coconut rum and pineapple juice)! You can use rum for the obvious purpose–to drink and get drunk–but it’s also a great ingredient in cooking. Rum as a base for marinades and sauces is common in Caribbean cuisine. The Caribbean is also famous for rum cakes, which are sponge cakes soaked in rum, to get both the deep spiced flavor of the liquor and the alcoholic content. I’ve had more than one rum cake over the holidays at my Haitian friends’ houses over the years, and let me tell you, they pack quite a punch!
Rum doesn’t have the kind of pedigree or history that similar popular liquors, like whiskey or cognac, have; it’s only been around for four hundred years, and came from the throw-away ingredients used to refine sugar in (was was then considered) a backwater region of the world. But you can still get a damn fine glass of rum or a expertly-made rum cocktail without feeling like you’re on Spring Break. The newly renovated Rum House opened last year, making everything old new again: the dilapidated Times Square bar was spruced up and cleaned, but the classic atmosphere was kept intact. Going along with their classic allure, the drinks and cocktails here are straightforward and stylish–you won’t find any brand-new mixology tenders behind this bar. But what you will find is top-shelf rums from all over the Caribbean and the United States, and super-refined rum cocktails that make you feel like a million bucks. (Here’s a hint: don’t even try to utter the word “Malibu” in this establishment.) Tonight, you can even catch a live jazz act or a pianist at the bar’s grand piano, giving a super-stylish accent to the bar, a callback to its heyday long ago. Its reopening and reinvigoration of the old classic days got a lot of bloggers and restaurant critics writing, and they all agree: if you want a top-notch glass of rum in Manhattan, the Rum House is your place.
The Rum House
228 W 47th St
“The crew from whiskey mecca Ward III took over this weathered Theater District hotel bar last year and gave it a facelift, upping the rum (and whiskey) ante considerably. You’ll find 30 to 40 different rums, including rarities like El Dorado 21 ($20 a pour) and Black Tot ($150). Edison lights and a jazz piano give old-timey cred and bartenders pour strong, balanced rum old fashioneds, Tortugas, dark and stormies and crafty originals.”–CBS New York
“Forget you’re a stone’s throw from Times Square while listening to live jazz acts (Wednesday–Saturday nights) and sipping dark-spirit–heavy tipples, such as a funky old-fashioned riff that showcases the rich, tropical complexity of Banks 5 Island Rum. Those who suffer the cruel fate of being in Times Square on a weekend morning can console themselves with a range of six Bloody Marys (11am–5pm).”–Time Out New York
“It’s not that the drinks at Rum House aren’t fine specimens, deftly executed. Quite the opposite. It’s just that they’re rather straightforward compared to the fanciful, even kooky, creations found in Tribeca. An Old Fashioned is made with white rum and gently muddled orange and cherry. A Diego Rivera, dry and bitter, has tequila, Meletti amaro, Bonal Gentiane, citrus and egg whites. The Barrymore, named for the theater visible across the street, is single-malt scotch, Ramazzotti (amaro) and Yellow Chartreuse: smoky and aromatic, as the bar itself once was.”–Metro Mix
“The resurrection of the Rum House, on West 47th Street, tilts more toward homage, and it’s the newcomer with the most traditional, Old World ambience. The long, curving, copper-topped bar is the kind that invites committed drinking, and off to the side sits a piano, though not the same one used by the old Rum House, which was a Broadway fixture that had gathered too much dust, in every possible sense.”–The New York Times
“The red-walled and wood-paneled drinking den is accented with nightly piano playing by a stomping, suspendered gentleman (bowler hat included), while the space has been elevated beyond its former existence as a simple, pre-theater hotel bar to a classic cocktail lounge swathed in leather banquets and lit by glowing candles, soothing away the knowledge that Times Square is just around the corner. The cocktails also don’t disappoint: Classic and strong, they may not be as exotic as those as Ward III but are comparable in craftsmanship. The intrigue is found in subtle details, like the burnt orange zest in the smoky Scotch-based Barrymore.”–New York Magazine
“Bar’s still as copper-topped as a Duracell, old nautical chandelier wheel still dangles lanterns. Piano nights continue, although now at an upright, with occasional DJ augmentations. Cocktail list is firmly in the 21st century, with upscale takes on Dark and Stormys and Rum Old Fashioneds. Tortuga travels up from Tribeca, blends rum with muddled citrus and ginger, finished with a cinnamon spark.”–Black Book Magazine
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Abel was our bartender for most of the time, and to be honest, is one of the main reasons we kept going back. The man is a true artist of mixology. Besides the flair for drinks on the menu, a number of times we through ingredients and flavors at him and he delivered masterpieces off the top of his head. He asked what types of drinks we liked and concocted his own creations, as well as kept us greatly entertained all week.”–Mike C.
“Even though it seems counterintuitive to walk into the hell of Times Square for a drink, the Rum House is a surprising haven. You enter into a dark, wood-paneled bar, leaving the din of midtown behind. If you’re lucky, there’s someone playing the piano just below the volume required to hear your friend speak. You get a table, you peruse the menu of complex cocktails–can you believe you’re on 47th street?”–Pamela B.
But for non-lushes like me, even one crappy rum drink is going to get me drunk–especially if it’s on the good stuff. So when I think about rum, I think of rum cakes: super-sweet and super-boozy, they exemplify the deep molasses flavor found in a good, dark rum. When you’re uptown and looking for a great rum cake, you’ve got to head to Krik Krak, one of the only Haitian restaurants in Manhattan (a shame, considering the huge number of Haitians that actually live in Manhattan). They make their rum cakes fresh every day, and make sure to keep a delicious balance so you can really taste the rum in each bite, but not so much that it’s overbearing and you feel like you just had a shot via sponge cake. While you’re there, make a whole dinner out of the affair, especially if you’ve never tried authentic Haitian food before: deep-fried pork, stewed chicken, rice and beans and fried plantains…so delicious. Krik Krak (yes, named after the Edwidge Danticat novel) may never have had the critical acclaim that the Rum House received, but the upside is, you’ll probably be spending the same amount of money for one rum cocktail at the Rum House as you will your entire meal at Krik Krak – and that includes the rum cake!
844 Amsterdam Ave (between 101st St & 102nd St)
“Unable to finish the meal, partly because I wanted room for something sweet, I asked for the dessert menu. Pamphil recommended the rum cake and mentioned having cremas; a milky alcoholic drink. Unable to resist, I ordered both. The cake was moist, dense and felt as if it was cooling off from being freshly baked in the oven. Its rum flavor was just enough to savor without being overbearing. The cremas was traditional; thick and sweet with an empowering rum flavor.”–Amour Creole
Some reviews from yelp.com:
“For dessert, I had the rum cake (loads of rum) and a Crema, which is a drink that consists of rum and coconut creme. It’s a great drink, but beware it’s fairly strong. The cake is incredibly moist and beams of rum and raisins, Maud doesn’t skimp on either.”–Joshua K.
“REALLY good food! It’s quite small, but my party of 3 was seated immediately. The service is not the fastest, but that’s more than made up for by the very genuine sensation that they are pleased to have you dining with them. We had the creole conch and goat, and chicken with mushroom sauce, and all were delicious – the Creole sauce is quite spicy, but so good that I couldn’t stop eating. Portions are European-sized, which I prefer. Rum cake for dessert was delicious! Will certainly be back!”–Hannah L.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!