Havana-Inspired Haven BlackTail is a Soaring Success

Image: BlackTailNYC.com

BlackTail at Pier A is a New York City bar opened last summer by the guys behind the award-winning Dead Rabbit, Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry. The concept is something of a themed bar, designed to transport guests to Prohibition-era Cuba. The bar takes its name from a fleet of seaplanes sporting tails painted black that served as the aerial yachts of the era. Reimagining what an American bar in Havana would have looked like during Prohibition, it’s wood paneled and outfitted with potted palms, ceiling fans, and plenty of Hemingway-esque imagery.

“Prohibition in the US drove the cocktail scene underground, with questionable drinks enjoyed in equally dodgy locations,” says managing partner Muldoon. “Cuba was a direct beneficiary. Many top US bartenders relocated to the island and opened American bars catering to their thirsty visiting countrymen. As a result, Havana’s opulent bar and cocktail culture achieved peerless new heights, which we are recreating at BlackTail.”

BlackTail’s drinks menu has a central figure, Ed Donovan, an Irish-American barman who packed up his Newark, NJ, bar and transported it to Havana at the start of Prohibition. Divided into chapters with headings borrowed from Basil Woon’s 1928 boozy travelogue When It’s Cocktail Time in Cuba, it’s a massive 88 pages, designed by Belfast-based Drinksology, the team behind the Dead Rabbit’s widely admired menus. The narrative is interspersed with 40 cocktails created by McGarry, head bartender and bar manager Jesse Vida, and beverage director Jillian Vose. The cocktail themselves are grouped into five categories: Highball, Punch, Sour, Old-Fashioned and Cocktail. In addition, 8 seasonal cocktails bring the menu total to 48.

“People do come in expecting rum, and we certainly embrace that aspect of the program in a major way,” says Vida. “That said, we do have a more broad spectrum of spirits in our cocktails and on our back bar. Much to our collective surprise, rum wasn't solely a dominant category in Havana at that time; whiskey, gin, and brandy were also very popular in cocktails menus at that time. We wanted to reflect that to be historically accurate.”

One cocktail is most interesting from the outside: the deconstructed Rum and Cola.

“We knew we had to have some type of representation of the iconic Cuban classic, the Cuba Libre,” Vida says. “We came across an old recipe for a drink that was simply Champagne and Coca-Cola. We made the drink out of curiosity but it was super dry and not very tasty. From there we added rum, bitters, and amaro, and we were all in love with the drink.”

His current favorite was created by bartender Nicholas Rolin for the winter seasonal menu: the Freedom Fighter. Rolin’s creation calls for brown-butter-infused Genever, bourbon, gin, parsnip, fino sherry, barley orgeat, and toasted coriander.

“It's a delicious, refreshing, and savory cocktail with a wonderful balance of flavor,” says Vida.

Now take a look at other cocktails currently get the winter feature treatment, and all show the impressive combinations for which the Dead Rabbit is known:

  • Tommy Gun – Rum, Irish whiskey, walnut wheat syrup, Cardamaro, Armagnac, rye, pear liqueur, and lemon
  • Clairvoyant – Ristretto, egg, bitters, and half & half
  • O'Reilly Street – Scotch, Irish whiskey, rum, sherry, cinnamon, and bitters
  • Hotel Sevilla – Tequila, rum, absinthe, orgeat, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, and Ancho Verde
  • Floridian – Irish whiskey, rum, chipotle bitters, banana liqueur, fig, and vermouth
  • Conquistador – Rum, grappa, aquavit, falernum, egg white, bitters, and lemon)
  • Queen of Salsa – Coconut-infused Scotch, sherry, pomme eau de vie, Angostura bitters, lime, and lemongrass