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Holidays mean family, and family means spending time. But spending time often means killing time, and a royal venue for such matters is BEMELMANS BAR (35 East 76th Street, 744-1600). Hidden in the swank Carlyle Hotel, the bourgeois parlor is filled with discreet charm and surrounded by a giant, whimsical mural; Ludwig Bemelmans, author of the Madeline series of children’s books, painted every wall in 1947. The drink list is no less historic. The stiff Sazerac ($12.50), an aftershave-tasting mix of rye, bitters, syrup, anise, and lemon peel, is plucked from a century-old New Orleans recipe, and the tart whiskey smash ($12.50) is a light play on a mint julep, with a gentlemanly tip of the hat to a whiskey sour. One of the last refuges to spot a real ascot, Bemelmans is also dimly lit, and the banquettes are buttoned with rich leather, ideal for shady business mergers, affairs, or, of course, mindlessly entertaining your parents.
Ma and Pa, however, might want to party. The crowd at the RACCOON LODGE (59 Warren Street, 227-9894) is a fun mix of millionaires, vagabonds, and everyone in between. “You know Jason Priestley,” the bartender said recently. “Well, he beat my record: 47 minutes in the ladies’ bathroom with a stripper!” The hard hats of firefighters are still dusty down here, blocks away from ground zero, resting near many other trophies of sport: a moose’s head, a pig, and a few old brassieres. The strip club New York Dolls (59 Murray Street, 227-6912) is nearby, and after shifts, girls are known to spill into the Lodge for cheap, icy bottles of Budweiser ($3). The blue-collar beer always tastes better next to the gas-lit fireplace, chased with a bag of Cheetos (50 cents) or while you’re gunning down virtual deer with a plastic 12-gauge shotgun in Big Buck Hunter II, a video game. The Lodge used to offer free tank tops to female customers in exchange for other gifts, but for some reason, ever since those six businesswomen from New Orleans accepted them, and that frisky navy captain, the enticing souvenirs, according to the bartender, are no longer offered. “Six women completely naked is one thing,” he said. “But a navy captain! C’mon, that’s special.”
For a special neighborhood nightcap, the Rolo shots ($5) at KEYBAR (423 East 13th Street, no phone)—literally Rolo candies melted and mixed with vodka then chilled—should satisfy Pa’s boozy sweet tooth. “It’s liquid cooking,” says Drazsy, the new bar’s Hungarian co-owner and resident shot doctor, who, for months, worked to concoct specialties like the Black Sea Jelly Fish ($5), a sweet vial of grenadine, peach schnapps, and black Blavod vodka, all suspended in jiggly layers. The Flotilla ($7) is seven separate layers of liquor topped with flame. “This ain’t no shit, man,” says Hedy, who also co-owns with hubby Gyuszi. The Euro family designed the place themselves and plan to give out “keys” to loyal locals for private parties. They also have a fireplace, a real one, with real burning wood. Even Pa can stoke it how he pleases.