Nightcaps 

Cocktails to send you off to dreamland.

Late one night last week, I wound up at the bar at Catherine & Mary's. It was about an hour before closing, and, on a whim, I decided to meet friends for a quick drink. I was already wearing my pajamas — Target pajamas, the type that look more like work-out wear than lingerie — and, I am ashamed to write today, I just put on a jean jacket and a pair of clogs before heading out the door. Truth is, I was tired, both from work and from recent sinus surgery, and it seemed easier to go with the flow than to stay home as-is or get dressed back up before driving Downtown.

My friends didn't blink. Neither did the bartender, when I blurted out my obvious fashion faux pas. I pointed to my PJs, and he nodded knowingly and whipped together a deliciously foamy concoction of blood orange juice and gin, topped with a rosemary sprig and served in a coupe glass. That one drink made me feel like my pajamas were a chic, clever joke that he, my friends, and I were all in on. And within an hour, I was back home and climbing into bed, where that dreamy taste of gin, blood orange, and herbs quickly sent me off to slumberland.

click to enlarge French Connection - IVAN MATEEV | DREAMSTIME.COM
  • Ivan Mateev | Dreamstime.com
  • French Connection

The next night, I was all dressed up — striped pajama bottoms, an old T-shirt, and wool slippers — with nowhere to go. Instead of heading back out, I turned to the internet, where I found dozens of bedtime cocktails to taste-test. Nightcaps, it turns out, are really a thing. The trick is to just have one — too much alcohol at bedtime, doctors warn, and you can have overly vivid dreams, night sweats, disturbed REM patterns, and insomnia.

My current favorite, which is particularly perfect for these cooler nights, is the Hot Chai Toddy. I found the drink on a spirits website called Supercall; apparently, it originated at a British bar called the Gin Garden. First, you brew a cup of Chai, which I did using a new electric water kettle. While that's happening, simmer one and ¾ ounces of apple juice with a cinnamon stick and a spoonful of honey. Pour the tea and the apple juice concoction into a mug, then stir in one and ¾ ounces of gin. Squeeze a lemon over it, or add a few lemon slices to the mug. Sip, then slide into bed.

Then there's cognac. If you're drinking this distilled wine straight, look for bottles with the VSOP rating, which signals that the cognac was aged at least four years (the acronym stands for "very superior old pale"). I tried an ounce solo one night; the next, I combined cognac and amaretto liqueur (one and a half ounces of the former and ¾ ounce of the latter). Traditionally served over ice in an old fashioned glass, this drink, called the French Connection, had depth, due to the cognac, while the almondy taste of the liqueur reminded me of marzipan.

This weekend, I discovered the Lavender Honey Cream Cocktail, a sophisticated milkshake-like drink that required making lavender honey syrup, which is easier than it sounds, but still, something I saved for my less somnolent hours since it involved turning on the stove. The following night, I was ready — and so I combined one and a half ounces vodka, one ounce of heavy cream, an egg white, and an ounce of lavender honey syrup in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and gently shook it for 30 seconds. Then, I strained the drink into a cocktail glass and retired to the living room, where I put on a Nina Simone album and lit a scented candle from Anthropologie. Nina sounded theatrically melancholy; I sipped my drink and felt my eyelids grow heavy. Perhaps it did the trick too well — I didn't manage to rinse my glass or the cocktail shaker before conking out, which meant that both items had to soak in the sink the following morning.

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