If there’s one thing that’s integral to New York culture it’s our secret societies, tunnels and the buildings that harbor them. (We just don’t usually talk about it.) Indeed, curious New Yorkers can still find traces of the city’s secretive past hidden in plain sight. One of the most exclusive groups to roam Manhattan’s streets started way back in 1868. Edward Elmer Potter, famous for Potter’s Raid during the Civil War, started The Zodiac Club under the commonplace guise of meeting for dinner on a monthly basis. The minutes diligently recorded at each of the meetings shed light on classy menus and influential conversations with the biggest guns in town. (J.P. Morgan is said to have been a long-time member.) Rumor has it that even today they still meet at undisclosed locations with their usual 12-member group of high-powered, elite New Yorkers.
Down under the streets, Track 61 has its enigmatic home beneath the Waldorf Astoria, where FDR once used the tunnel to enter the hotel unnoticed (presumably to hide the wheelchair he was using while stricken with polio). According to legend, the president’s train car could move from the regular tracks over onto a special platform designed to move up an elevator into the hotel’s garage. Then, in 1965, the subterranean compartment became the site of Andy Warhol’s raucous Underground Party.
While we probably won’t be invited to take a ride on Track 61 or have a seat at the Zodiac dinner table, the secret is out on something that we just might be able to get our hands on. Just south of the Waldorf and the historic Midtown meeting places of the club, the bar at the NoMad Hotel has started their own cryptic tradition with a curious set of drink cards, quietly dealt out at the bar like a back-room poker game. Winner takes all, of course — in cocktail form.
We put on our fedora and a trench coat (mostly because it was cold out) and did our best Dick Tracy to get the story behind the cards:
1. Mum’s the word– The first rule of Nomad cards, is you do not talk about Nomad cards. Word on the street is that asking for a card will not result in a peek at the deck.
2. Society rules– They’re dealt to friends of the house and VIPs. Familiar faces have been greeted with a chance to play — and rewarded with a bespoke cocktail to cherish for the night.
3. Resolve to be unresolved– They’re given out to the indecisive. A good bartender knows just what to do when folks don’t know what they’re in the mood to drink. Guests choose from various ingredients and imagery on the card then the barkeep whips up somethin’ special.
4. The Devil’s In The Details– The cards themselves are worth a look. Illustrator and graphic designer Wendy MacNaughton drew them at her home base in San Francisco.
5. Know the man in charge– There’s an award-winning mixologist at the helm of it all. Leo Robitschek runs the show, so saddle up to the gorgeous 24-foot-long mahogany bar and get to sweet-talkin’.
6. It’s all about the secret ingredients– Chili peppers are on the menu, along with plenty of old favorite cocktail ingredients, naturally. We’re seriously eyeballing their Satan’s Circus cocktail, a spicy blend of rye with Thai bird chili-infused Aperol, Cherry Heering and lemon.
7. Be more secretive than Bruce Wayne– They’ve got Batman, Bruce Lee, and the Virgin Mary on board. Each can be found on the face of their own card. For folks who aren’t feeling the heavenly vibe of the latter, we’re lookin’ at the Hells Angel cocktail, filled up with cognac, rye, amontillado sherry, crème de violette, grenadine and lemon.
Ready to try your hand at the game? Head on over to The NoMad at 1170 Broadway.