Experiencing Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic, New York

This isn’t the Melbourne Cup, nor is it Royal Ascot… packed grandstands are eschewed in lieu of blankets on the grass and picnic lunches on the outdoor tables, with Veuve Clicquot champagne keeping guests well hydrated

There’s a longstanding tradition of escape from New York City during the warmer months. As temperatures soar, heat waves regularly cause brown-outs and the city clears as locals flee east to the Hamptons and Montauk, west to California, or across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. However, although the city is best-known for ice-skating in Central Park or Christmas shopping at Bergdorf Goodman, the spring-summer season – with fewer crowds and down-tempo atmosphere – is also a great time to visit. 

Where for the most part, the NYC nightlife happens indoors – in dingy rock’n’roll bars on the Lower East Side or historic bistros on the Upper East, for example – during the warmer months, bars pop up everywhere outdoors, a case of freer licensing regulation and savvy entrepreneurs. In Midtown, where the city has most recently experienced its greatest revival (iconic tourist attractions such as Times Square are still on the itinerary of most visitors, but there’s much more to do, so long as you know how to find it), rooftop and patio bars, such as in the new Baccarat Hotel and SixtyFive Bar at the Rainbow Room atop the Rockefeller Center, are the ticket to afternoon cocktails with the added comfort of a breeze to stir the humid air. 

One event in particular sways New Yorkers and visitors alike to trade the crowded, traffic-riddled Jitney for a five-minute cruise across the Hudson River: the Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic. Although located in New Jersey in Liberty State Park, the site of the annual event boasts an unrivalled view of the Statue of Liberty, one of the polo’s many draw cards. And given that the tournament is for charity – in 2015 the event again supported City Harvest, a non-profit organisation helping feed New York’s homeless – the competitive adrenaline that pervades a regular sporting event is replaced with a relaxed, joyous spirit. 

To be clear, this isn’t the Melbourne Cup, nor is it Royal Ascot. Dress code strictness doesn’t stem beyond a suggestion to wear a summer dress or a linen suit; the event attracts little more than 7,000 guests, meaning that packed grandstands are eschewed in lieu of blankets on the grass and picnic lunches on the outdoor tables; and, given the event’s namesake sponsor, there’s not a beer or white wine in sight – this is a distinctly bubbly affair, with Veuve Clicquot champagne keeping guests – this year included actresses Diane Kruger, Freida Pinto, Emma Roberts and Maggie Gyllenhaal, model Andreja Pejic, and musicians Leigh Lezark and 50 Cent – well hydrated throughout the afternoon. 

Like haute couture, the champagne descriptor is reserved for houses in France (specifically from the Champagne region), and since its foundation in 1772 by Philippe Clicquot-Muiron, Veuve has been a leader in the field. In 1805, after the death of her husband (Francois, son of Philippe), Madame Clicquot, the “Grande Dame of Champagne”, took control of the house and greatly expanded its global reach. Veuve Clicquot became extremely popular with various royal courts and legend has it that during the Napoleonic Wars, Madame Clicquot circumvented the Russian blockade – enforced by the Prussian Guard – to ship champagne to the Tsarist court. The Prussians, bribed with champagne, apparently developed the practice of “sabring” – opening the bottles with their swords. 

In perhaps a hangover from the Prohibition era, Americans tend to favour hard liquor over wine, but given Veuve Clicquot’s reasonably accessible price and global branding efforts such as the polo and its annual Business Woman Award, and instantly recognisable yellow packaging, the US has become the house’s biggest world market, followed not far behind by Australia. There’s no sabring at the polo, but you are invited to join in the tradition of stomping the divots at half-time.  

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