Cocktail of the Month: ‘Midnight at the Pera Palace’
By March 8, 2023 0 320•
President Biden awed the world last month with his top-secret surprise trip to Kyiv. “Amtrak Joe” and his entourage traveled overnight from Poland on Ukraine’s state-owned rail service in a luxury compartment.
Since the war began, global leaders Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, Mario Draghi, Ursula von der Leyen and Justin Trudeau have traveled the same route, declared the safest and most secure way to visit the conflict-ravaged nation.
Long before “Train Force One,” a different “Train of Kings” existed in Europe. The Orient Express, a moving palace on the rails, opened in 1883 and traversed over 1700 miles from Paris to Istanbul. Along with kings, czars, spies and Europe’s elite class, fictional characters such as Hercule Poirot and James Bond cemented this train’s place in history.
While Turkey was as far into the Orient as this rail line would ever go, travelers capped off their journey with a stay at Istanbul’s glittering and glamorous Pera Palace hotel, an opulent inn, built to host passengers from the lavish train.
Famous guests have included Agatha Christie, whose former room carries her name, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Greta Garbo, Sarah Bernhardt, Alfred Hitchcock, Mata Hari and Jacqueline Kennedy. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, resided in Suite 101, which is now a museum devoted to his legacy.
Ernest Hemingway was a resident after the First World War, when he was a reporter. He was, of course, a regular at the hotel’s Orient Bar. It has been said he spent many an hour nursing a whiskey there.
Visits to the Pera Palace and the Orient Bar are a must do when visiting the former Constantinople. The hotel and bar underwent an extensive renovation and reopened in 2010 fully restored to their old-world glory.
Last October, I found myself wandering Istanbul’s Taksim Square with a dear D.C. friend who had moved back to her home country. It was chilly moonlit night and the crowds surged through the bustling thoroughfare. We had spent our evening at the quaint tavernas, but as late night set in, we felt a longing for a place more refined and subdued from the growing crowds.
My friend, Sefika, knew just the place. We ventured a few blocks off the beaten path and came upon a gorgeous art-nouveau building that oozed old-world charm. As we neared the Belle-Époque façade, a vintage-looking sign glimmered “Orient Bar” from an ornate window.
As soon as we entered, I started daydreaming about the East-meets-West grandeur of the hotel. I tried to imagine how impressive these lofty surroundings were back in the day when it was the only hotel in the Ottoman empire with electricity and an elevator.
The Orient Bar is a den of crimson with rich carpeting and velvet chairs that laze under the mystic glow from the chandeliers above. It was like instantly stepping into a Christie murder-mystery movie set.
As you’d imagine, service was impeccable and the cocktail list impressive. Classic tipples filled out the menu festooned with original creations.
I opted for the “Midnight at the Pera Palace” an inventive offering which shares the same name as a 2022 Netflix series filmed at the hotel about a cub reporter researching the Pera’s storied history who’s thrust into the past and must stop a plot that could change the fate of modern Turkey.
I was fascinated by the drink’s inclusion of both blended and single malt Scotch. A mixture of Caol Ila single malt, Johnny Walker black, lemon and smoked honey sounded like the perfect mix of sophistication and warmth I was seeking.
The cocktail arrived garnished with a candied fig speared through a sprig of thyme. The star was the smoky flavor of the single malt which was complimented by the honey which elevated rather than sweetened the cocktail. The JW smoothed out the peaty smack while the natural elements gave it a savory flair. The flavor was pure finesse.
Like Biden’s Ukraine visit, the exact details of this cocktail are classified. However, whether you arrive by rail, air or ship, the Pera Palace is ready to whisk you back in history whether it’s at midnight or any time you like.