BlackTail—the bar hidden inside the mammoth Pier A Harbor House in New York City’s Battery Park—has much to celebrate. For starters, they just came back with a first place award for Best New American Cocktail Bar from the annual Tales of the Cocktails in New Orleans. And this week, the team celebrates its first anniversary.
To commemorate the happy time, the team—also behind local cocktail haven Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog—has crafted a bold new menu, digging into Cuba’s “gangsterismo” era. “We had a completely different idea when we started this menu,” says owner Sean Muldoon. “I happened to read a book called Havana Nocturne by TJ English.” The non-fiction novel recounts a time of organized crime and political corruption in 1950s-Havana, with American mob leaders Meyer Lansky and Charles “Lucky” Luciano setting their sights on taking over the country. “This book was revolutionary to me, it was unbelievable,” Muldoon adds. “I passed it to Jack [McGarry] and I passed it around to the staff and we all agreed—the next menu was going to be about the mafia in Cuba.”
English, a New York Times best-selling author, is known for his non-fiction works based on the lives of mobsters and gangsters. Completely flattered, he was on board. “Here’s how special this place is—these guys were not content with just creating great food and great drink. That wasn’t enough. In their hearts, these guys are storytellers. This place is a story, it has a narrative. This place is a wonderful creation. And like everything they do, part of creating the place is telling the story of the place. These menus are unlike any menu you’ve ever held in your hands before. It’s almost like literature—a novel. It tells the story of the history surrounding this place. It’s an extraordinary creation.”
Using the same creative approach, the new cocktail list is made into a hardcover book—named Volume 2—and broken down into the same categories pertaining to iconic bar glassware: highball, punch, sour, old-fashioned and cocktail. New drinks include the Doctor Zhivago, made with Bourbon, Irish whiskey, Drambuie, Benedictine, Sherry and ginger, and the Cry Baby, with Barbados rum, Dominican rum, Vermouth, banana, ginger, cinnamon and pimento bitters. “Myself, as well as the bartenders, and the input of the general staff created this menu,” says bar manager Jesse Vida. “It’s very important to me and the management that everyone gets to be empowered as it diversifies the palette. This is one of the best menus I’ve ever tasted.”
“I’m not a bar owner, I’m not a bartender,” continues English. “I’m a writer. Writers have been known to appreciate a good drink. And so I was drawn to the integrity of this place. These guys set out to do something—they wanted to be the best that they can be. Once I saw this bar and experienced this place, I was honored to be apart of it.”