William M. Dowd photosCHARLIE'S RESTAURANT ON MAIN STREET, HOME OF T-BAR.
LAKE PLACID, NY -- Charlie Levitz has been working in this Olympian tourist spot for more than two decades. It's a mere 2½-hour drive from his hometown of Albany, but it's worlds away when it comes to the hospitality industry.
Levitz has cooked at or owned and cooked at a variety of spots here in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, but his latest incarnation -- a four-pronged one -- may be the one that brings him more than regional fame.
Count 'em. He's the owner/overseer of the kitchens at both Charlie's and Chair 6 restaurants, he runs the region's largest catering operation, and he's the man who imported one of America's top cocktail impressarios to train his staff at T-Bar, located in Charlie's, in the right way to create drinks and memories for both locals and the pass-through tourist crowd.
That trainer was Tony Abou-Ganim, whose passion for cocktails combining top-shelf spirits, fresh fruits and clever ideas has made him a guru among the members of the cocktail set nationwide. Abou-Ganim, who is based in Las Vegas, has a touch of the Vegas performer in his drink preparations and serving showmanship. Some of that has been transmitted to the T-Bar staff.
In fact, the word is beginning to get around about T-Bar. Santé, the hospitality industry magazine, has just released its annual restaurant awards and T-Bar was given a regional award in the restaurant bar category.
I visited Levitz (right) and his staff at T-Bar, the Main Street lounge he opened nine months ago in space once occupied by Goldberries. The decor combines Adirondack rusticity in its carved wooden beams with some hip modern touches, such as the tortoise shelled acrylic bar, lit from beneath to create a warm, inviting glow.
But the most inviting thing about T-Bar is the cocktail menu: Only fresh fruits, juices and purees, house-infused vodkas served in infusion jars, cocktails whose recipes take advantage of seasonal ingredients, complemented by a special grill menu served only at the bar. There's a separate upscale menu for Charlie's, the 200-seat restaurant that surrounds it and looks out on Mirror Lake.
Consider: In addition to being able to whip out classic drinks as well as currently in-vogue creations, the possibilities range from an homage to the last great cocktail era (the Hemingway Daiquiri of the '20s, the Tom Collins of the '30s, the Bellini of the '40s) to such specialties as the Cable Car, which Abou-Ganim created at the renowned Starlight Room in San Francisco a decade ago.
"I'm very happy with what we've put together here," Levitz said. "It's a combination I think offers something special, something that's very welcoming whether you live around here or are just visiting."
I was particularly taken by the seeming ease of preparation the bartenders exhibited despite the complexity of many of the cocktails. And the fact that they're not slaves to what Abou-Ganim set up for them. The Gondolettes' Blackberry Caiprosca, for example, has been selling even better since bartender Laura Keaney switched it to a raspberry recipe to take advantage of the availability of plump local berries. It's a simple drink -- mudled fresh lime and berries with citrus vodka -- but provides a complexity of flavors.
I also sampled a lineup of other cocktails to test Laura's abilities: the Cable Car (Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum, Marie Brizard orange curaçao, fresh-squeezed lemon sour, wirth a cinnamon sugar rim), the Negroni (Plymouth English gin, sweet vermouth, campari, served up with a flamed piece of citrus), and the mojito (fresh mint muddled with rum and topped with a splash of soda and a mint garnish).
She gets an A+ for her work, as does Levitz and the whole T-Bar concept. When I mentioned this to Abou-Ganim, his response was typically modest: "I am sure Charlie would be thrilled, and I am very proud."
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