Monday, August 22, 2016

Charleston's Hottest Cocktail Chillingly Lives Up To The Hype--Served At The Market Pavilion Hotel

Teased by the salty scent of the bay and stroked by its balmy breezes, it is indisputably a cornerstone of the ever popular French Quarter. Built on land formerly below sea level, the 19th century European grand hotel style building rises to a height of four stories on the district's busiest crossroads, the Old City Market and East Bay Street. Many of the Revolutionary War-era bottles and historic artwork that adorn its public areas and guest rooms were pulled from the seabed of the very same waters that once held it in its pluff mud embrace.

Additionally, more than 300 pieces of original art, including oil paintings of former U.S. leaders, such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, are displayed throughout. Gas lanterns, mahogany foyers, crown moldings, French-style chaises, marble baths, and chandeliers hung from high ceilings recall the charm of early Charleston. While teeming with this impressive collection of historical artifacts, contemporary works have been gracefully intermingled for a successful marriage of what Charleston was once upon a time and what it is today, the number one destination in the world. This is the Market Pavilion Hotel.

On this August day, I was not at the Market Pavilion Hotel to experience its luxury accommodations. I was not there to dine at its prestigious Grill 225, famed for its steaks that are "hand-selected and wet-aged 42-50 days to ensure tender texture and unsurpassed flavor." I was not there to experience its rooftop oasis called the Pavilion Bar, complete with views of historic Charleston, a cascading pool, signature cocktails, eclectic cuisine offerings, and the city's most spectacular sunsets. I was there to revel in its "dramatic, sexy and delicious" Nitrotini--Charleston's only cocktail infused with liquid nitrogen. It is Charleston's coldest cocktail at 320 degrees below zero.

There are 33 different Nitrotinis on the menu. Jessica, the expert on duty, specially trained in the art, science and safety of the Nitrotini, helped me narrow the long list down to a couple selections by pointing out what were her personal favorites. It came down to a choice between the Champagne Nitrotini and the Pomegranate Nitrotini.

The Champagne Nitrotini is a blend of Louis Perdrier Champagne, Pomegranate schnapps and Cointreau orange liqueur, garnished with an orange slice at $18 and the Pomegranate Nitrotini is a blend of Pomegranate flavored vodka and schnapps with a splash of Pomegranate juice at $17. I tend to favor vodka as a personal choice in liquors and am fond of anything containing pomegranate. So, I went with the Pomegranate Nitrotini. Jessica artfully prepared the ingredients and carefully topped it off with the colorless, odorless, tasteless and inert liquid nitrogen cooling the concoction to a frosty -320 degrees Fahrenheit.

Immediately, the ghostly cloud of condensed water vapor reacting with the warmer air of the bar area steadily ascended above the glass and flooded over its edges onto the bar top as she set it in front of me with early jazz music playing in the background. The temptation, to immediately raise the drink to my lips, was almost irresistible, but that would have resulted in a stiff upper lip in the form of a horrific frost bite followed by the zenith of brain freezes. A warning tag on the glass instructed to simply wait 1-2 minutes for the cloud and invisible liquid nitrogen to evaporate entirely, and then enjoy responsibly, and I did just that.

Dramatic--it was absorbingly entertaining to watch the cool wisps of water vapor spill out into the air and across the bar top. Sexy--there was an alluring and titillating feel to the 'affair', pun intended. Delicious--I would say, absolutely. It is a cocktail that irrefutably lives up to the hype. In the final analysis, the Nitrotini is "Charleston's hottest cocktail minus 320 degrees" and is quite refreshing.

The Market Pavilion Hotel front bar at the East Bay Street entrance is the only place it is served (not available at the Pavilion bar on the rooftop). The spacious atmosphere of the bar area with busy East Bay Street and the majestic United States Custom House for a backdrop adds to the experience.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

"A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum"--Rome Like You Never Seen it Before

Friends, Romans, and Summervillians, lend me your ears. Director JC Conway and crew are up to some funny business at the James F. Dean Theatre in Summerville with Stephen Sondheim's uproariously rumpus, sumptuously pompous, and abnormally anomalous musical A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. Shall they be buried or shall they be praised?

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum is a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbartis turned into a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. It is a historically wacky story set in a Roman neighborhood of three homes. The house of Senex is in the center. He lives there with wife Domina, son Hero, and several slaves, including head slave Hysterium and the musicals main character Pseudolus. One of the neighboring houses is owned by Marcus Lycus. He is a buyer and seller of beautiful women. The third home belongs to the aged Erronius. He is abroad searching for his long-lost children, who were stolen in infancy by pirates.

Pseudolus is fortuitously presented with an opportunity. His young, boneheaded master, Hero, confides to him he has fallen in love with the golden haired beauty that lives next door in the house of Lychus, who happens to be a virgin courtesan by the name of Philia that has a problem with the numbers three and five. Pseudolus promises to help him win Philia's love in exchange for his own freedom, and the romp takes off. Pseudolus' road to freedom becomes fraught with doubt, temptation, deception, chastisement, and a surprising twist in the end.

Debuting with Pseudolus (Joseph Demerly) and incrementally incorporating the full cast, the opening number of the play, "Comedy Night", blew the roof of the house. It was a momentous start. From there, Demerly's high octane energy gloriously propelled the musical romp all the way to its "Finale". A multifaceted talent, Demerly is no stranger to "Forum" having done it on three other occasions playing different characters.

Alan Rosenfeld (Senex), Corey Geddings (Hysterium), and Jamie Young (Marcus Lycus) put in noteworthy performances. The three of them teamed up with Demerly in one of the plays more delightful and humorous songs as they fantasized the fringe benefits of "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid". In addition, larger-than-life Geddings, sporting a blonde wig and masquerading as a much bigger Philia, drew a special hurrah from the audience for his scene-stealing rendition of "Lovely" (elegantly sang earlier in the play by Anna-Noelle Kassing) and Jamie Young's snaky, slimy, lecherous procurer of courtesans character was nicely portrayed with a splash of comedic paranoia.

The rest of the supporting cast included Lisa Grooms as the battle-ax wife of Senex, Domina, and Christian Mahon as the lovesick Hero. Anna-Noelle Kassing as the young, beautiful, and dumb virgin courtesan-in-training, Philia, provided some crisp vocals. Daniel Rich's voluminous volcanic voice erupted throughout the theater as the pompous and braggart soldier, Miles Gloriosus, and Barry Gordon as the befuddled old man who is the Roman equivalent of Mr. Magoo taking it around one more time.

Kudos to Robert Venne, Tabatha Doetsch, and Alan Garner as the Proteans. whose load also included portraying slaves, citizens, soldiers, and eunuchs. Likewise to Sarah Morrison, whose accompanying piano music was flawless.

It is Rome like you never seen it before and makes you wonder how they ever conquered the then civilized world. The set is eye-popping, functional to the action, and a brightly painted stage on which a thousand dramas can be played. The costumes designed by Nicole Harrison were historically convincing and colorful. And, like any decent Roman farse, there is a bevy of beautiful dancing girls and plenty of sight gags, puns, and laughs.

Returning to the earlier question: Shall they be buried or shall they be praised? I have put in my twenty mina worth. What say you? Check it out for yourself and put in your 500 mina worth.

Now showing from August 5th to 21st. Purchase your tickets.