Posts Tagged ‘Idlewild Books’

After spending the weekend surrounded by the gorges and driving through the castskills, I realized how much I missed the skyline of the city. Tonight I was looking out the window at work after everyone had left and couldn’t stop enjoying the beauty of the art deco Chrysler Building and its luminous symmetrical lights. Here are some of the places I want to visit this winter sipping negronis and reading.

Shaken and Stirred

A Deep Sip for Deep Thinkers

Published: October 3, 2008

A Negroni demands your full, upright attention. It will not tolerate mindless swigging, the way all those sweet summertime drinks do, which is just one reason no one has ever ordered one at a swim-up bar at a resort pool. Each sip telegraphs a terse forget-me-not message to the tongue, a pinprick of bitterness demanding respect and contemplation.

There is cheer in it, but grown-up, melancholy cheer, which makes the Negroni an ideal drink for end times — the end of summer, for instance, or the end of American prosperity. The perfect drink when the sky is falling — or merely the leaves.Last week I visited I Sodi, a Tuscan restaurant tucked into a skinny minimalist space on Christopher Street in the West Village that Rita Sodi (a former Calvin Klein executive) and a partner, Josh Dworkis, opened in March.

Negronis are the specialty at I Sodi: there are four on the cocktail menu, three of them subtle variations on the classically fixed theme — that being equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, as in the restaurant’s Negroni Classico.

“In my old job, bartending at Union Square Cafe, I would always play around with Negronis,” said Hakan Westergren, I Sodi’s manager and chief Negroni officer. “There are so many kinds of vermouth, so many kinds of gin.”

Mr. Westergren understands that a proper Negroni is as perfectly and tripodically balanced as, say, a water molecule. Add another atom of oxygen to that H2O formula, and the result is hydrogen peroxide — hardly as refreshing. So it goes with the Negroni. To mess with it is to risk messing it up altogether. Caution signs should be posted behind the bar.

I Sodi’s Carousel Negroni veers the furthest from the traditional formula credited to Count Camillo Negroni, who allegedly invented the drink, in 1919, by asking a bartender to beef up an Americano cocktail by adding a shot of gin.

The Carousel Negroni is a jammy, ginless mixture of three Italian liqueurs and sweet vermouth — more bitter-orange, as in marmalade, than bitter.

Two variations hew closer to the purist line, one by substituting an artichoke-based liqueur, Cynar, for the Campari, which gives the drink a boskier flavor, the other by injecting a bit more perfuminess into the formula via Hendrick’s gin, a Scottish gin infused with rose petals and cucumber, and Punt e Mes, a dry, woodsy vermouth.

The latter, which Mr. Westergren calls the Punt-e-groni, is so gorgeously bitter that it almost stings the tongue. Drinking it is like being slapped by an ex-lover. It is such a deep ruby red that vampires would be drawn to it.

Is it possible that, simply by tweaking the spirits, adding a little more herbiness here and a touch less sweetness there, Mr. Westergren has actually improved upon the original formula?

It’s worth contemplating. Not that this drink will let you do otherwise.

Punt-e-groni Adapted from I Sodi

1 3/4 ounces Hendrick’s gin

1 1/4 ounces Carpano Punt e Mes vermouth

1 ounce Campari

1 orange slice, for garnish

Combine the ingredients with ice in a rocks glass and stir. Garnish with the orange slice and serve.

Yield: 1 serving


Manhattan: Idlewild Books

Published October 5, 2008

A guidebook will certainly tell you where to visit, stay and eat in another country, giving you tips on the hottest new restaurants and hotels. But what if you want to know what that place might have appeared like to, say, a 19th-century novelist visiting for the first time?

That’s where Idlewild Books, a three-month-old store just off Union Square, comes in. There, in a cozy mezzanine-level space, the classic travel texts of guidebooks, maps and phrasebooks are grouped with literary fiction, memoirs, romance novels, spy thrillers — books that, at first glance, might not be what the average traveler would think about packing in her suitcase.

But as you thumb your way through the shelves, a certain logic begins to emerge. In the India section, “A Suitable Boy” by Vikram Seth shares shelf space with “A Passage to India” by E. M. Forster, “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert and “The Complete Illustrated Kama Sutra.”

In the Colombia section, “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez sits next to Piers Paul Read’s “Alive,” about the survivors of a plane crash in the Andes. The China section features Qiu Xiaolong’s “Death of a Red Heroine,” based in 1990s Shanghai.

“Every time I was preparing for a trip, I just didn’t understand why a travel book store wasn’t put together this way,” says the owner, David Del Vecchio, who was inspired to create Idlewild while working as a press officer for the United Nations. (The store is named for the previous incarnation of what is now Kennedy International Airport.) Throughout the store, contemporary works from around the world like Yan Lianke’s “Serve the People!” (a book currently banned in China about a love affair during the Cultural Revolution) are readily available in translation, or in some cases, their original languages.

Mr. Del Vecchio says that mysteries and thrillers are also good at conveying a sense of a city’s culture and street life. “They have a really strong sense of place,” he says. “The characters might not be as three-dimensional as they are in literary fiction, but you learn so much about the streets, the neighborhoods and the culture of a place.”

Idlewild Books , 12 West 19th Street, New York; (212) 414-8888; www.idlewildbooks.com.


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