In Drinking Stories, Bridget Callahan and Sarah Sphar go to a bar, have a few drinks and talk about them. For this installment, they sip some spirits with holiday spirit.
Sarah: Before last year, I had never tried eggnog before. In spite of being the world's biggest fan of pretty much anything dairy, it never appealed to me. I think it was the word, "eggnog." My parents may have had it sometimes, I don't really remember. I never dreamed of going near it. The first time I ever had eggnog was at the Velvet Tango Room, a version with cayenne pepper and tequila. My first thought was, why did no one ever tell me this tastes like melted ice cream? Also, you can put booze in it?
Bridget: There are two things that eggnog brings to mind. First, there is the iconic paper carton you bring home from the grocery store, its contents like melted custard, causing the lip of the carton to become soggy and making the drink feel heavier than it is. Second is the holiday party version of the same store-bought stuff, mixed with so much rum that the liquor actually forms a skin on top of the drink.
The eggnog at Velvet Tango Room is nothing like either of those. There's been a lot written about owner Paulius Nasvytis' version – it's about as famous as a drink can be in this city. It comes out to you in a large wine glass, the top dusted with nutmeg, with tall, thin black drink straws sticking out like antennae. It looks like something that's going to be very good. When you start drinking it, the table will fall silent. You will alternate between wanting to drink it as fast as you can, and being scared that you are going to finish it too quickly. It's creamy without being heavy, it has taste and substance like dessert, but never once did I get that sticky sweet feeling of custard coating my mouth. It was the most perfect eggnog I've ever had. I am obviously not the first one to say this, but I'll gladly add my voice to that chorus.
Sarah: I did have a kind of soda-fountain feeling, the two of us sitting there in our dresses on high stools drinking milkshakes. Actually drinking a milkshake from a wine glass would have been pretty exciting to me when I was little. I can remember a few times around Christmas when I would get to have 7Up from a wine glass and pretend it was Champagne. I guess that's a little Valley of the Dolls for a nine-year-old, but it made me feel very grown-up and fancy, so I was delighted to see those tall stemmed glasses come out from behind the bar.
The real value here is that every drink is a work of art, but you don't taste the complications of the recipe.
Bridget: After eggnog, it doesn't make sense to switch to mixed drinks. I wonder if some part of me from harder partying days remembers how I use to fail at Irish car bombs, having the Baileys curdle before I could get the whole drink down. Post-eggnog, the bartender recommended Tango Coffee. It had really good coffee and three different types of alcohol, but what I'm going to remember the most is those towering curls of amazing whipped cream with cinnamon. I was running late for actual tango classes, and as soon as I started drinking this, I slightly resented having to go anywhere else ever again.
Sarah: It had Baileys, Kahlua and brandy. She brewed the coffee right before she served the drinks, and it was perfect. That's what I want coffee to taste like every time I drink it. I don't want to drink sad office coffee with powdered creamer ever again. When you left I sat and sipped mine for a while, and it was extremely nice to just sit there and enjoy it and not talk to anyone. It's so busy right now, there's so much input and stimulation, that it was delightful to sit in a dimly lit place and hear myself think.
Bridget: The real value here is that every drink is a work of art, but you don't taste the complications of the recipe. The flavors always come out clean and sincere. If, like me, you were intimidated by the legendary snazziness of this place, I cannot stress enough what you are missing because of a fear you shouldn't have. This is the perfect place to come on a Monday night and have a warm conversation with a friend you don't see that much, and drink something amazing. Yes, it is expensive. But those two drinks were more than worth the tradeoff of four mediocre drinks I could have had elsewhere. Also, I'd like to add, if you've never taken a date here, you're an idiot.
Get the Velvet Tango Room eggnog recipe here.