I surely do love a good hotel bar. I really do. You always meet the most interesting people there, people moving through the city for business, for pleasure, from all walks of life and from all over the country and all corners of the globe. And travelers are often eager to make conversation next to whomever they're seated. It's a good time.
But generally, the allure of a hotel bar is more about the cameraderie and people than the drinks or food. Caulfield's Bar & Dining Room at the Thompson Hotel doubles down by offering dishes and a bar program good enough to entice even those not staying upstairs.
The first step inside Caulfield's makes it clear that this is no ordinary hotel bar. The interior melds old and new, transposing Art Deco themes into a slick, modern setting. It's equally easy to imagine Dick Tracy siddling up to the bar as it is to picture Bruce Wayne sipping a scotch. Past and present, and both cool as hell.
And Caulfield's offers a stellar bar program to match the stylish decor. Crafted under the supervision of manager Jeremy Back, the cocktails are creative, fun and most importantly, delicious. Take for instance, the Rye-ality (below, left), a spicy sipper composed of Templeton Rye, grapefruit, serrano pepper, cayenne preserves and yuzu Miracle Mile bitters. Another playful drink is the Bar & Dining Room (below, center), a drink that emulates something you'd be more likely to eat by combining Maestro Dobel, fig shrub, cracked black pepper foam served in a glass laced with proscuitto dust. It's like a liquid proscuitto-wrapped date and it's surprisingly drinkable. Also fun is the Bar-zillian (below, right), an enticing mix of Leblon Cachacha, lime and hrapefruit juices, egg whites and Forbidden bitters.
To complete the trifecta, the food would need to be top notch. So Caulfield's stacks the odds with chef Stephen Kalt, who has cooked under Daniel Boulud at the legendary Le Cirque and is a veteran of elevating hotel food (Corsa Cucina at The Wynn Las Vegas and Fornelletto at Atlantic City's Borgata Hotel and Casino). Kalt's food is both artful and tasty, and way better than our prior experiences with hotel bar cuisine.
It would be a mistake for anyone not to begin his or her meal with a selection of charcuterie (the options include pate Campagna, duck rillette, chicken liver pate, salametto, capicola, duck ham, bresaiola, and serrano ham). The terrines and pates are made in house and are outstanding, the artisan salumi is equally good, and the accompanying mustards, fruit pasts and jams are great.
Next, buttery slices of Pacific fluke crudo are garnished beautifully with pear, radish, coconut milk, finger lime and ginger. It's a nice balance of creamy and acidic, and it's light enough that it doesn't overpower the fluke.
Similarly, the big eye tuna confit lets the fish shine while pairing it with an interesting combination of tomato, haricot verts, olives, new potato, white anchovy, egg and sherry vinegar.
For our second round of drinks, we knocked back more cocktails like the Lipstick (below, left) where St. George Botanivore gin cozies up with fresh beet and lemon juices, and some Bitter Truth Habanero shrub. It gets it name for the big lipsmack on the side of the glass - the product of beet juice rather than an unwashed glass. Then there's the Kentucky Kiwi (below, center) which mellows out Pure Kentucky XO whiskey with a kiwi shrub and Bitter Truth Boston Bitters. The O.K. Corral (below, right) serves up gin two ways. The first is served martini-style like a bijou with Oxley, Antica sweet vermouth and a sprits of green Chartreuse. The second way is a barrel aged treat that Back calls the Hanky Panky and for good reason: it's exactly what it's all about.
The Little Angel pasta is both enthusiastically recommended by our server and well-received by us. Tiny pockets of fresh pasta are filled with a delicate combination of artichoke, arugula, and peas, finished with butter, poppy seeds and nutty Montasio cheese.
Heartier and bolder is a crock of juicy and flavorful meatballs of ground lamb, bulghur, Moroccan lemon and savory tomato. It's the ideal dish for a cold night, and goes a long way in filling the space in our stomachs left by the earlier dishes.
For variety, we opt for a grilled pizzette, a satisfyingly charred flatbread topped with creamy burrata and a bright basil pesto.
Our final dish of the night features plump slices of roasted duck breast and leg confit, drizzled with a rich reduction and served with gaviota strawberries, padron peppers, potato pearls, and cipoline onions.
It would be an understatement to say that the food and drinks at Caulfield's are better than they need to be. They are legitimately good enough to stand alone and apart from the hotel, and good enough that we'll definitely be back in the future. Because I do love a good hotel bar, and Caulfield's is definitely that.
*Disclosure: this was a hosted meal.
Hours: Seven days a week: 7:00a-11:00p