Earlier this month, we thew a simple challenge to The Belle and Dragon and its secret neighbor, Mandalay: conjure up cocktails that one can suitably pair to three memorable film personas of our choosing.
Niccolo Magsino, Luigi Tabuena, and Lee Watson, the folks behind the two bars, quickly got to work, revisiting the films (and in one case, the episodes) that made our chosen names famous. Perhaps it’s apt that The Belle and Dragon and Mandalay are two of the most cinematic bars in Manila. The bars’ very designs lead the mind to think of immediate contrasts: the homey yet somber Belle and Dragon versus the dark, seedy Mandalay. The walls of the former are adorned with the portraits of the beauties and beasts that inhabit popular culture, many of them filmic, while the hidden nooks of the latter call to mind a host of titles: Chinatown, In the Mood for Love, Skyfall, to name a few. Tapping into their personal love for the Seventh Art, Magsino, Tabuena, and Watson accepted our challenge, and delivered a Belle, a Dragon, and a Mandalay.
First up is a drink after the heart of Don Draper, Famous Rogue in this month’s Cinema Issue. Draper, as we spoke of him, is both “a dissectible caricature and an impenetrable enigma.” It is thus sensible that many Draper trademarks—the suits, the cigarettes, the womanizing, and the drinks—are really fads of an entire era. For this reason, it’s easy to pin Don Draper’s drink-of-choice to the classic Old-Fashioned, whose original incarnation was historically a mix of whiskey, sugar, and bitters.
The product is a cocktail for the man in Mandalay, The Mad Old-Fashioned, which takes some liberties with the common recipe. Instead of using bourbon, the drink is made with rare, expensive Thomas Handy Rye, and in place of sugar, the cocktail draws from Draper’s other vice to employ Perique, a tobacco liqueur, to give the drink a sweet, smoky flavor. Throw in Angostura bitters and serve it over a sphere of ice.
There are plenty of elements that mark The Graduate‘s most iconic shot: framing the subject under the arch of Anne Bancroft’s bare leg, a young Dustin Hoffman timidly calling out Bancroft: “Mrs. Robinson, you are trying to seduce me.” We wanted as much as possible to present this cocktail in a similar manner, and the outcome, we find, is just as tempting.
Our Belle is a Smokey Martini, making use of Hendricks gin, dry vermouth, and a splash of peaty Caol Ila Single Malt Scotch. Like Draper, Robinson is a chain smoker, so smoke bitters are thrown into the mix, along with the classic three-olive garnish. “I don’t know about you,” Lee Watson, the bars’ resident ‘Spiritual Advisor’, points out, before eagerly volunteering to play Hoffman in our shoot, “but for me a Martini being poured into a glass by an attractive female bartender is very seductive.”
It is likely that there’s never been a Famous Rogue as definitive as actor-motorist-style-icon-anti-hero-playboy Steve McQueen. Rather than to draw from several works, the team settled on a single scene from The Thomas Crown Affair as inspiration. McQueen plays a millionaire businessman who moonlights as a criminal mastermind for the sheer thrill of it. Faye Dunaway hopes to catch him in the act, but the strong mutual attraction between her and McQueen lead them headfirst into an affair. This relationship is best symbolized by the film’s chess scene, in which Dunaway finds herself winning over McQueen, only to have the latter swindle and change the game. It’s a subtle, sexy scene that takes real wit to play out.
The Checkmate Sazerac is a cocktail incarnation of the same relationship—Faye dancing with the Dragon—as it puts together two strong spirits that are never combined: Aberlour A’bunadh, an intense cask-sterngth Single Malt Scotch for McQueen and Martell Cordon Bleu, a unique nutty Cognac for Dunaway, a twist on the traditional Sazerac recipe. The drink also includes a small amount of sugar, Peychauds bitters, and a rinse of absinthe. Says Lee: “It’s a serious and sexy drink, with a touch of the clandestine.”
The Belle & Dragon and Mandalay (100 Carlos Palanca, Legaspi Village, Makati) are open every day of the week.