Picture James Bond – not Daniel Craig, but Sean Connery – pulling up to the curb in his Aston Martin and climbing out in his Antony Sinclair Savile Row suit with ascot neatly tufted in his shirt. He would glance to each side before walking into Beekman Bar and Books on First Ave. and 50th Street.
Bond would take one look around and feel right at home. The bar has a traditional English country look with rich red wainscoting, whitewashed walls, overstuffed leather couches and chairs and bookcases of vintage books. He’d even find on the menu Ian Fleming’s favorite martini: two ounces of Gordon’s gin, half an ounce of Smirnoff Vodka, and a quarter ounce of Lillet Blac with a flamed lemon zest. Shaken not stirred, of course, just the way he preferred it.
After a drink, Bond could repair to a back room, sit in paneled comfort and smoke a cigar with his brandy. Beekman Bar and Books is one of a handful of licensed cigar bars in Manhattan, where it’s legal to smoke inside, although the room is separate from the main bar. In case patrons miss the obvious theme of English sophistication, several flat-screen televisions around the bar continuously play old James Bond movies.
A New Beginning
To some, the bar may be a familiar but distant memory. President and Chief Executive Raju Mirchandani and then partner Mark Grossich opened the bar as a high-quality establishment for adult professionals in 1990. But the two split and divided their properties. Grossich got Beekman and closed it in 1999.
Other businesses opened on this site for five years, and it was vacant for another two, so Mirchandani contacted the landlord. The landlord didn’t want to do a another bar because the crowds, the loitering and the noise were just too much of a headache. But the landlord recalled the previous Bar & Books and gave Mirchandani the lease. Managing partner Ben Scorah was called in to oversee the location.
Interior designer Martina Pestova recreated the bar. Pestova came to New York in her teens, and worked with restaurants as a design consultant before moving back to her native Prague. She operates two Bar and Books in that European city. They all have the same décor, same menus, same staff uniforms, same cigars and same signature monkey lights.
The bar reopened this month (December) and joins two other cigar bars the company operates in Manhattan: Hudson Bar and Books at 636 Hudson St. in the Meatpacking District and Lexington Bar and Books at 73rd St. on the Upper East Side. “All have a heavy focus on cigars, whiskey, great music and great people having a good time,” says Scorah, who began working in bars while a student at Leeds University in Manchester, England.
His resume includes stints in one of London’s finest whiskey bars, Bodeca, a private, members bar at the Flemings Room in Mayfair. He worked there as a mixologist and oversaw a list of more than 50 signature drinks before coming to New York three years later. He worked at Barmarche in SoHo before joining Bar and Books.
Obviously the emphasis here is on whiskey and cigars. The bar has a light fare menu of appetizers, shrimp cocktail, pizza, a specialty cheese platter and steamed dumplings, from $4 to $24. You can also get an order of Petrossian Alverta Presidente caviar, at $85 for 30 grams, but that’s the extent of it.
The wine list ranges from $60 to $500 for a bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2002 Pauillac. It’s a blend of 78 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 12 percent Merlot, 9 percent Cabernet Franc, and 1 percent Petit Verdot, medium to full-bodied, tannic, powerful, with a classic cassis aroma that is so characteristic of Mouton. The wines hail from France, Spain, Uruguay and Napa Valley in California.
Scotch, Rye, Brandy
The liquor list, however, is truly expansive. For starters it contains 19 different rums and 11 brandies. The Scotch, rye and bourbon whiskies are so extensive they have their own menu. The single malt Scotch whiskies are divided by the regions where they are produced, Highland, Speyside, Lowland and Campbell Town.
Added to that is yet another menu of specialty cocktails. In addition to Ian Flemming’s favorite martini, the bar offers a signature Southern Ming Julip – Blanton’s Whisky, mint sprigs and sugar served over crushed ice – and an “Elderflower Manhattan – Suntory 12-year whiskey, St. Germain Elderflower liquor, Dry Vermouth and a dash of Angostura Bitters. All cocktails are $15.
Finally, there is a list of specialty cigars. Avo Xo Intermezzo, and Tubos from the Dominican Republic are favorites as well as the Montecristo #2 Torpedo. If you like you can bring in your own cigars, but there is a $5 service charge.
The Smoking Room
The smoking room is located down a long hallway. The door is kept close and it has a very private, club-like den or library feeling. The room is small and smoky but is properly ventilated in accordance with city regulations, says Scorah. The bar gets around the city’s smoking ban by refusing to allow employees in the room to avoid unwanted exposure to second-hand smoke.
On Mondays, Bar and Books offers complimentary cigars for women and on Tuesdays all whiskies are specially priced.
“It’s a very traditional, old English theme,” says Scorah. Secret Agent 007 would surely approve.