"When it comes to mixed drinks, there's no end to what you can do with vodka," says John Clement, a bartender at Clementine, an ultratrendy Manhattan restaurant. "I have the recipes for about 1,000 vodka drinks in my head."
Clement's prodigious powers of recollection were only partially tested at a midwinter cocktail party that he and his fellow bartender Brian Patton, of Cibar, recently staged in a downtown loft in New York City. Each host served several of his restaurant's signature vodka drinks, including Clementine's raspberry liqueur and vodka specialty, the Swingalicious, and Cibar's Hot Potato ("a warm, spicy drink," according to Patton, "that's the perfect winter martini"). F&W's Grace Parisi came up with an array of fittingly potato-rich appetizers to serve alongside, among them tiny roasted potatoes with Parmesan crusts and potato-caviar cups.
The guests were duly (and vocally) grateful. "When no other drink pleases at a party, vodka does," Patton observes. "It's hard to find someone who won't drink it." Clement agrees, adding: "People are more comfortable with vodka than with a lot of other liquors."
As a matter of fact, more Americans drink vodka than they do any other spirit--and not just because vodka is easy to appreciate; it's also sexy to drink. If you need proof, look at the steamy advertising campaigns of Sundsvall, Finlandia and Argent. Vodka is culturally hip, too: consider the campaigns of Absolut and Stolichnaya. (The former has been famous for its involvement in the arts since 1985, when Andy Warhol designed an ad.)
And vodka is universal. It's made in virtually every country, including such unlikely places as Italy and France. Even a few American states have gotten in on the action: one recent entry, Teton Glacier, hails, sensibly enough, from potato-heavy Idaho. The reality is, if you drink vodka, you're pretty well able to toast with a native spirit wherever you travel.