Ah, New York. It's the best date a girl can have—for a while, anyway. One minute, the city is taking you to a shady stretch of the West Village to lazily browse at the Biography bookstore while eating cupcakes frosted with pure charm from Magnolia Bakery, and the next minute it's dragging you through the dark, musty, people-clogged corridors of Penn Station looking for a chain restaurant. Oh wait, that's not New York. That's Sex & The City. My mistake.
Of course, the characters from Sex & The City never went to Penn Station. Why would they? Penn Station is dingy, depressing, gross, and (shudder) a train station, and the characters on Sex & The City never really even ventured into the subway. But Penn Station is the only place in New York City that has a Houlihan's. Which means that Houlihan's: Penn Station is the only place in New York City where you (and your girlfriends!) can drink Sex & The City-themed cocktails made with Skyy Vodka (the official spirit brand of the movie! Accept no substitutes!), and hopefully get drunk enough to forget that you're in a Houlihan's in Penn Station drinking a promotional cocktail that tastes like spiked Dimetapp called "X Boyfriend."
Unfortunately, you won't get drunk enough to forget that you're in Houlihan's: Penn Station, in part because there's not a lot of Skyy Vodka in a Skyy Vodka X Boyfriend, and Skyy Vodka X Boyfriends cost a ridiculous $10 each, but also because it's hard to forget your surroundings when you're sitting at a table in an underground, shallow-ceilinged, hospital-green room next to a "window" with a direct "view" of the Roy Rogers restaurant next door. I know, because I went to Houlihan's: Penn Station to try the Sex & The City cocktails last night, and the experience is forever burned into my memory, and still lingering in my esophagus.
(objects in this picture are 50% more depressing than they appear)
There's been a lot of talk lately about how Sex & The City changed New York, and it's true. For instance, before Sex & The City, the Houlihan's in Penn Station didn't have an aggressively mauve "Diva" poster on an easel sitting in its doorway to lure in commuters/latent SATC fans with an open invitation to "Get your girl on."
(Ugh. Thanks for ruining Houlihan's, Sex & The City. It's really lost its charm.)
Incidentally, this poster depicts both the exact opposite of what it's like to drink "Diva Martinis" at Houlihan's: Penn Station, and yet somehow captures the inherent awfulness of doing so. Weird, but true.
There were five "exclusive Sex & The City martinis" available for (cautious) consumption, each with its own hideous character description:
TuTu Mango (aka the Carrie) "Fun, fruity and totally original. Hellooooo, Lover."
X Boyfriend (aka the Samantha) "Liberating and OH so satisfying."
Peach Yorkie (aka the Charlotte) "Accessorize with pearls, twinset, and anything Burberry."
Tartlet (aka the Miranda) "Tart and sassy. Baby's breath meets Harvard Law."
and Mr. Big Shot "Sweet and sour. On and off. Here's looking at you, Kid."
I chose the Samantha cocktail, because I didn't want to find out what the alcoholic approximation of "baby's breath meets Harvard Law" was, and the idea of a liquid twinset frightens me. My friend chose the Carrie cocktail, because she likes mango, and the idea of a drinking a watered-down Casablanca reference is pretty unappealing. Our waiter was clearly excited by our choices, "That mango is fresh mango," he informed us. "You should have been here last week. All the ladies were filling out cards to win a trip to the movie premiere." Oh, were there a lot of people? "Like six, seven people."
We looked around. There was a couple eating two $17 hamburgers, two young women with a very vocal three-year-old girl eating a platter of potato skins, and a guy in a rumpled suit slouched into a booth nursing a Corona. Six or seven people? Not bad. The bar was a little more lively. And by "lively" I mean there were two girls at the bar doing shots alone, and a cluster of guys in button downs drinking draft beers and watching CNN. In other words: Glamorous. I pulled back the putty green curtain on the window next to our table, and peered into the Roy Rogers. A teenager on the other side looked up from his french fries, startled. We were more than ready to fully embrace our Diva-dom. Finally, after 20 minutes ("They're pureeing the mango right now.") the drinks arrived.
(The Kool-aid-looking one is the Samantha. The yellow-ish slush in a glass is the Carrie. Obviously.)
So, how did they taste? Both drinks came pretty close to embodying their characters: The Samantha tasted like old cough syrup and vodka, so, you know, it was sassy—just like Samantha! The Carrie, for all that talk of mango, didn't taste like the fruit at all. It was essentially bland, like watered-down, vaguely sweet baby food, so it wasn't anything like the thing it was supposed to be—just like Carrie!
But then I began to wonder: can a promotional vodka drink at a chain restaurant ever really capture a character? Aren't promotional vodka drinks at chain restaurants more like bad relationships: promising you fresh mango and then giving you flavorless slush-piles? Are we too willing to settle for a medicine-y X-Boyfriend instead of a cocktail that isn't a nauseating tie-in to a terrible movie? Also, seriously, when can we leave Houlihan's?