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Behind the Gate December 25, 2013

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit

December 25, 2013

“Is Cyrano open na? The back room? :)”

That was the text from my friend after she saw a Facebook photo of other Cyrano friends in the newly renovated space (if she sounded excited, it’s because she still hasn’t sneaked away from capoeira class to see what’s new; also, the back room has sentimental value to her as this is where, under the influence of the Fat Bastard, she merrily introduced herself to Maegan Aguilar onstage in the middle of a live performance).

I texted back, asking her to visit soon. I hope she’ll be okay with the changes because, like a lot of her fellow Cyrano friends, she enjoyed the set-up of the old room. I also guess it’s time for me to make a full, official statement about the back room of Cyrano Wine Shop, which for years had been a hideaway in its own right for merrymakers wanting more privacy.

Yes, the place is open again. But no, it’s no longer our back room. We’ve leased it to a cool group of friends who’ve turned the place into The Curator. Remember this: it’s the only place in town that I trust for cocktails made the way I like them and for coffee drinks made the way that not everyone is lucky enough to try.

Just don’t call it a speakeasy. The owners have made it clear that they don’t like that description for their place (sorry but it’s an anachronistic term, a marketing name that keeps getting hijacked by trendy bars, luring the uneducated into paying for poorly made yet overpriced cocktails). They also don’t like it being called a dive bar, even though it was Playboy magazine that famously described a dive bar as a place “for down-and-outers and those who romanticize them, a rare place where high and low rub elbows – bums and poets, thieves and slumming celebrities.” That description actually comes close to expressing it. The Curator is the anti-hero’s drinking den, social status be damned.

It begins when you pass through the gate – a dark wooden slab that new customers often mistake for a wall panel…until it deceptively slides open to grant you access.

 

Walk past the wine racks. Dare you knock?

 

“You know what this place reminds me of,” I told Jeric after I slid the gate shut and settled into a chair at one of the long tables. Jeric is one of the owners and he’s the lead mixologist, his word being law at the bar where cocktails are concerned.

I sat in very subdued light admiring the nakedness of the concrete interior, which helps emphasize the bare honesty with which The Curator fashions its coffee beverages and cocktails. Again, it’s the opening and closing of the gate that begins the process of tickling your imagination.

“It’s like a secret bunker,” I continued, “like one of those caves tunneled under the trenches in World War I, where the officers would hang out, drink Champagne and Cognac, and be oblivious to what’s happening above in no man’s land.” I brought up the movie Blast From the Past for additional reference. I even said that in a zombie apocalypse, this place would make an awesome hideout for survivors taking a break from their war versus the undead outside these pseudo-impregnable walls.

He seemed to laugh and then agreed about the cave analogy, saying that he really likes the look. The design of the bar itself is so rustic, so simple, so restrained with its open structure of re-used wooden beams; in the context of the interior and carefully considered lighting scheme, it feels very warm and welcoming. No doubt it inspires Jeric when he’s behind the counter mixing drinks, much like an authoritarian sushi chef who advocates omakase service because he knows what’s best for you.

His coffee counterpart, Sly, is also thrilled with how the place looks. A consummate coffee geek, Sly has a reputation for training champion baristas and was the creative genius who turned Craft Coffee of Quezon City into a mecca for lovers of the bean. He’s now doing the same thing for The Curator, which serves artisanal coffee from morning till early evening before the baristas turn over operations to the bartenders.

Dave likes the look, too. Every bar needs a good cop and Dave definitely plays good cop among the owners who run the place (borrowing appropriately from the term “Soup Nazi” popularized in the 1990s hit comedy series Seinfeld, the “Coffee Nazi” is Sly and the “Cocktail Nazi” is Jeric). He’s the glue guy who maintains harmony between caffeine fixes and alcohol hits, either of which he can make for you.

 

 

Now, how many other other bars in the metropolis will you find where the owners toil behind the counter to personally make drinks for you? I think none. That’s why I have no respect for all those trendy places that jumped on the speakeasy bandwagon, all of them trying to cash in like so many soul-less fast food joints.

In contrast, listen to my story about how The Curator served me a Martini, courtesy of their other mixologist-in-residence, Tiffany, who not surprisingly is also a co-owner.

Don’t let her soft-spoken demeanor fool you. Tiff may be a kindergarten teacher by day but by night she’s one of the top guns of the local cocktail scene (she and Jeric are co-instructors for The Curator’s private classes). One night, as a test, I asked for a proper Martini. An apologetic Tiff informed me that they were out of Tanqueray. Would I trust her, she asked, if she were to make one using Bombay Sapphire instead? I was fully aware that Tiff’s proposal is considered heresy by Martini purists, who preach that Bombay is too mild and that only Tanqueray gives the right balance of flavor and aroma needed in this classic gin-based cocktail.

“Go for it,” I told Tiff. “I trust you.”

It was the best Martini I ever had. It was more feminine, I commented as I drank at my table, than any other Martini I’d encountered – so delicately floral, light yet fleshy, with just a whispered suggestion of sweetness and a hint of citrus…and perfectly stirred (by the way, never ask for it shaken when you’re at The Curator unless you want to be schooled for being as ignorant about a Martini as the fictional James Bond is). She explained that it comes out this way because she makes very sensitive adjustments to balance the flavors when using this brand of gin. Actually, she revealed to me with a smile, this is the taste she prefers when making a Martini for personal enjoyment.

Hats off to you, Tiff. Truthfully, every pretentious cocktail bar out there can learn a lot from what these folks at The Curator are skillfully doing right.

I suppose I could go on because I have more stories of praise to tell but I would only be accused of being biased. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

So I’ll just end this by saying that Cyrano friends have nothing to be sad about. We wine lovers may have lost our back room but we’ve all gained a great, complementary neighbor in return – a hideout for the anti-hero in all of us.

Don’t forget to knock on the gate.

 

 

The art of coffee at The Curator.

 

Eggnog for the happy holidays!

 

 

 

 

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