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While Spartos loves nothing more than a New Year's Eve party, she dreads the inevitable wretched hangover. Who wants to ring in 2001 in a puking, dehydrated funk? This time, after she clicks her flute of bubbly to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne," she'll wake up to the breakfast of champions—the vitamin-packed Bloody Mary.

Starting local in her quest for the quintessential morning cocktail, Spartos drops by the GREAT JONES CAFE(54 Great Jones Street, 674-9304, ext. 3756), dependable for good Cajun grub, an almost famous jukebox, and a chummy atmosphere. She orders up her poison ($5; $1 off all drinks weekdays from 5 to 7) from the longhaired bartender who talks Kinks with her neighbor, a middle-aged blue-collar type who has a knack for pounding brew. A sloppy drinker herself, Spartos spills some of her first sips of crimson vodka, but Drunk Neighbor—who by now has put away three pints—assures her, "Your nerves will get steady by the time you hit the bottom." Which is precisely the point, but this drink tastes like cocktail sauce, with floating bits of horseradish that stick to the gums.

Unsatisfied, Spartos hits the refined KING COLE BAR AND LOUNGE(St. Regis Hotel, 2 East 55th Street, 753-4500), whose centerpiece is a multimillion-dollar Maxfield Parrish mural that depicts the Merry Old Soul passing gas to the dismay of his court. The old boys' club claims to have created the Bloody Mary in the '60s (originally called the more tasteful "Red Snapper"), although it dates back at least to Paris in the '30s. Amid decrepit suits and rich internationals talking stocks, Spartos is whisked to a mahogany table, her jacket discreetly disposed of by the self-assured staff. Seated in an incredibly comfortable leather chair, she's served the bar's classic drink ($15) along with a silver tray overflowing with macadamia nuts, wasabi peas, and other goodies. Spartos's high expectations are met: The goblet actually looks like it's filled with blood, and the smoky and spicy flavor is nirvana.

Vetavitavegimen yourself at King Cole bar.
Keith Bedford
Vetavitavegimen yourself at King Cole bar.

After doling out 20 bucks for her taste of the good life, Spartos flees with the hopes of finding a cheaper passion. At Grand Central Station's CAMPBELL APARTMENT(15 Vanderbilt Avenue, 953-0409), she's promised "cocktails from a bygone era." (Note: Beware of the dress code ["Absolutely no athletic shoes, T-shirts, sweatshirts, baseball caps, shorts or torn jeans"], since the hostess derives great pleasure in glaring at your feet.) Unwilling to wait for a swanky "cocktail table," Spartos maneuvers her way through the diverse crowd of yuppies at the bar, who appear to be cranking up for their train ride home to Scarsdale. She sips her third Bloody Mary ($10) of the day, but is disappointed by its rather bland taste. So Spartos resigns herself to staring at the 25-foot ceiling—its wood beams painstakingly hand-painted at the turn of the century to emulate a 13th-century Florentine palace—convinced that in the land of Bloody Marys, where no two are alike, you get what you pay for.

 
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