All Aboard The Orient Express in the West Village

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Orient Express launches its full menu with its official opening on October 1, and is located at 325 West 11th Street, between Greenwich and Washington Streets in the West Village. It is open from 4PM – 1AM on Sun & Mon, 4PM – 2AM on Tues – Thurs and 4PM – 4AM on Fri & Sat, with afternoon tea service to be introduced in addition. The forthcoming website can be found at www.orientexpressnyc.com. Call 212-691-8845.

The Orient Express may have inspired iconic novels and films like Dracula and From Russia with Love, served as the setting for bravado characters like James Bond, and been featured as the backdrop of Agatha Christie’s most famous works, but the famed vintage train continues to ride through modern culture with its latest stop in NYC’s West Village, where Turks and Frogs owner Osman Cakir has re-conceptualized its famous voyages into a posh, time-reversing cocktail bar with a flair for the spirits of yesteryear

Its look reflects the nostalgia of train travel: Amid the sexy amber glow, warm vintage-tinted beech wood panels, faux windows and bronzed luggage racks, the bar—a handcrafted Caesar Stone beauty—is the clear focal point. Above it, the ceiling curves to each side, and behind, bartenders bedecked in old-school vests and neckties shake and pour cocktails designed by Cory Mason, whose mixology career has seen him through the Standard’s Boom Boom Room and the swanky Beatrice.

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Though the space was a rickety laundromat only a year ago, it has a deep sense of permanence, as if it dates back as far as the Orient Express 1880’s timetables whose replicas dot the walls. It’s largely due to the detailed work of antique collector-cum-restaurateur Cakir, whose fascination with the storied train traces back to his childhood in Istanbul, the final destination for the Express’ Paris line. Indeed, it’s a subject that Cakir has taken to throughout much of his life, and a passion he knew he’d transform into a sophisticated watering hole at some point in his career. Thus, when a slice of the West Village opened up just two doors down from his buzzy, bohemian wine bar, Turks and Frogs, Cakir understood it as a call from fate.

There is a story for each nook and cranny at Orient Express, as is true, of course, for the menu as well. The Nagelmackers, a blend of port, dark rum and rye served with orange and Angostura bitters in an Absinthe rinsed cocktail glass is Cakir’s ode to the man who financed the train in its infancy; the Zaharoff (tequila, lime and honey topped with house-made grapefruit soda and floated Campari) refers to a writer and banker whose stingy history on the Express garnered him the nickname “Mr. 10%.” One of a handful of champagne cocktails, the B2C2, may be the most intriguing story of all: the recipe dates back to WWII, when a brigade of German soldiers who deserted the army found themselves stuck in France’s champagne caves with nothing more than a bottle of Benedictine to mix it with.

In addition to recreating these storied, lost recipes—drinks The New York Times praises as being uniquely “swellegant”—Mason’s beverage menu also pays homage to forgotten spirits such as Kummel, St. Germaine and Cocchi Americano. The latter, for instance, is a little-known predecessor to Lillet and the star of the Le Voyage, where it’s combined with rhubarb vanilla syrup, drunken fruit, Prosecco, rum and rhubarb bitters. By making all syrups and flavors in house, and even squeezing all juices to order, Mason recreates bygone flavors to pair with these rarified spirits: Falernum (a cousin of orgeat with cloves and lime), green chartreuse, ginger syrup, anisette, and even house-cured onions (to be combined with dry and blanc Vermouths for the classic Gibson).

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To complement, Cakir has introduced a menu of small plates inspired by the Orient Express and its stops, with Istanbul—the culminating destination—taking a heavy hand. Cold dishes like baby artichoke hearts, pastirma (Above), and tarama take a cue from the Turkish endpoint and are inspired, while a carefully chosen cheese plate sourced from nearby Murray’s voyages through Italy and France.

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Orient Vegetable Stew

More substantial eats are served in skillets. A far cry from bar food, we enjoyed such satisfying offerings as jumbo shrimp in a fin bois sauce and a presentation of cabbage with ultra-thin apple slices and spiced beef sausage—a nod to Eastern Europe. For dessert, crème brulee (Below) is spiked with Turkish coffee, a nice touch befitting the concept. During the day, Cakir plans to introduce afternoon tea service, with a range of artisan loose leaf teas and nibbles.

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As much care is given to the ambiance, from the soft glowy lighting to the music that plays overhead, a compilation of retro tunes to the likes of Etta James. It’s enough to make anyone feel as if they’ve stumbled into a period piece—a time capsule of sorts—far removed from the fashion-filled boutiques and bustle of the village just outside. Sip and stay, and sip some more—this destination is unlike any other. We loved it. A real discovery!

Copyright 2010 Punchin International

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