By Daniel J Bollinger
Tucked away on the mezzanine level of the Lotte New York Palace hotel on Madison Avenue is the hidden intimate lounge Rarities. Designed as a quiet getaway amid the Midtown bustle, Rarities provides members, select hotel suite guests, as well as the public by appointment only with an exclusive variety of spirits, such as exceptional cognacs dating back to the mid 1800s, 40 year-old scotch, and the best vintages of Champagne. The interior, selection and service are all equally impressive at this 25-seat salon where invited guests have access to its private rooms accessed by a discreet entrance steps away from the hotel’s courtyard.
The New York Evening Post owner and railroad magnate Henry Villard built this extravagant mansion in the late 19th century. The successful businessman enjoyed entertaining other industry magnates in his Villard Mansion. Most of the details have been kept intact in this landmarked building. The floor-to-ceiling wainscoting in the first room and the staircase are the original design, as are the ornate details on the banisters and the trim, the mantel over the fireplace, and the pocket door. You can tell that the pocket door window is original because it has bent due to time and the elements. The carvings on the deep-arched windows, the vaulted ceilings, and all the intricate woodwork make Rarities an extremely posh space.
You won’t find a traditional bar in Rarities, as the lounge has a serving table in each room where your drinks are prepared. There are also numerous china cabinets throughout the lounge that house all of the inventory. Justin Lorenz, Rarities’ wine and beverage director, gave me a tour throughout the space and pointed out all the unique and vintage bottles the establishment stocks.
Lorenz is a master of his craft. His knowledge of the hotel, Rarities, and the history of the mansion is amazing; and his care and attention to service is unparalleled. I overheard him explain to the customer next to me and my guest that the label on the wine bottle was a little scuffed because it was a few decades old. Watching him take three deep inhales of the wine after opening the bottle to make sure it had not spoiled and was still of quality to be served was most impressive. He gingerly poured the wine into a decanter to properly aerate the vino.
Rarities has a huge array of bourbon, rye, whiskey, scotch, brandy, vodka, gin, rum, and wine; but it’s the rarity of certain bottles that makes Rarities what it is. For example, their Louis XIII De Remy Martin Rare Cask cognac is the only bottle in the world. There are so many unique vintages in the world at Rarities that I can’t go through all of them here, but I do want to tell you about the most interesting tequila I tasted. It was the Pierde Almas Mezcal Conejo Joven. If Justin had not told me it was tequila, I would not have known. The distillers hang a dead rabbit above the distillery process, and the heat of the process roasts the rabbit to allow the tequila to absorb the rabbit’s gamey essence. Because of this unique distillery process, Pierde Almas has a gamey flavor and is intensely smoky in aroma. The smoky smell and taste is not like tequila at all. This has an extreme smoothness that I would compare to a good whiskey.
If you prefer your drinks on the rocks your drink will be chilled with quite a work of art here. Rarities uses spherical ice balls about the size of racquetballs, which are made by Shintaro Okamoto of Okamoto Studio in Long Island City, Queens. Shintaro even etches a crown into the middle of the ice balls, a befitting statement for such an elegant establishment as Rarities.
If you want to impress a client, are curious to sample the rarest spirits in the world, or want to experience true luxury in the heart of Manhattan, then be sure to make a reservation at Rarities.