Many of us are still smarting from the aftermath of the company holiday party. The annual ritual is part sadistic torture, part fascinating sociological study. With open bars a-flowing, the whole affair takes on stupendous proportions in New York, where boozing like an 18-year-old with a recently acquired fake ID is the norm. The holiday party venue is an easy measure of a company’s financial soundness, and what better time to judge the solidity of your feed-source than just before the new year? By any measure of performance, for instance, Merrill Lynch employees should feel lucky the company’s holiday celebration wasn’t at Mars Bar.
On the other hand, it would seem that companies such as Price Waterhouse Coopers had a relatively lucrative year considering its party took place at the swank Campbell Apartment in Grand Central. The posh interiors of financier John W. Campbell’s office make for an intimate, decidedly Anglo, old-money sort of feel. The ornately painted beams running across the 20-foot high ceiling and the Persian carpets trigger a desire to curl up and listen to one of FDR’s fireside chats.
Located in the western wing of Grand Central, the Campbell Apartment is housed in a landmark that is beloved by New Yorkers for its magnificent architecture, secret nooks and unflagging functionality. The marketing gurus harp on the bar’s history—legitimately impressive, yes—in an effort to try and create a throw-back speakeasy feel. In reality, the bar is less speakeasy and more mid-town, but it does draw a devoted after-work crowd. There’s a reason the patrons of The Campbell Apartment are mostly Banana Republic-types, though. The dress code dictates no sneakers, sportswear or baseball caps. I have to admit, it brings my New York heart some schadenfreude glee to see the hostesses gently turn away tourists with parkas tied around their doughy waists.
Aesthetics aside, however, what really matters are the “cocktails from another era” that The Campbell Apartment boasts. Call me Grinch, but the Sugar Plum Martini, made with Raspberry Stoli, Chambord, Moët and brown sugar cubes, seemed half-hearted at best. Particularly considering the misnomer. The Commodore (Bourdon, Crème de Cacao, grenadine and lemon juice) and Manhattan Smash (Bourbon, Frangelico, bitters, muddled fresh apple and lemon juice) were more my speed, with good balances of tart and sweet. The champ of the evening was The Campbell Apartment’s signature Prohibition Punch (Passion Fruit, Appleton Rum, Grand Marnier and Moët), which was served in a goblet the size of a small fishbowl. The various flavors mingled to form a potent but not-too-juice-like concoction. Still, from about $13 to $16 each, the spirits don’t come close in complexity or originality as to cocktails at Pegu Club and Milk & Honey. Consider the premium an entrance fee of sorts to the historic space.
All in all, the coziness and dimness of The Campbell Apartment makes for hearty holiday cheer. The garlands adorning the expansive mantle and mottled glass of Grand Central all but call for wassailing. And under the right circumstances, the dim lighting, smallish space and holiday spirits might also set up just the right opportunity to do what you’ve been considering all year—go ahead, make a pass at the hottie from accounting. You have all of 2008 to feel awkward about it.