Jeffery Lindenmuth / April 2013
Working literally from the ground up in a landmark structure, modern day bar gurus Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry have plotted a course to transport customers to a 19th century barroom experience.
It’s fair to say that few imbibers ascending the stairs at The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog at 30 Water Street in lower Manhattan will recognize a single drink on the cocktail menu. It’s not that this newly opened drinks destination sprung up in the wrong place—but possibly the wrong time. Each of the historically accurate drinks on offer at The Dead Rabbit has been sourced from forgotten cocktail texts, primarily from the mid-19th century, conjuring the era when this very neighborhood bristled with rough-and-tumble saloons packed with Irish immigrants, while around the corner on lower Broadway, cocktail luminaries like Jerry Thomas and Harry Johnson plied their latest creations.
Appropriately, The Dead Rabbit was conceived behind one of the world’s great cocktail bars, The Merchant Hotel in Belfast, where its creators, co-owners and Irish compatriots Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry, worked together. “We had a regular customer who offered to invest in us. We both knew we’d gone as far as we could go at the Merchant, but we didn’t know the next move,” says Muldoon. The investor originally wanted to back the duo in Belfast, but after attending the Manhattan Cocktail Classic with Muldoon, he essentially told the young men to go west.
Once in Manhattan, Muldoon’s vision received further backing from the team behind New York City’s Swift Hibernian Lounge, Harry’s Cafe and Steak, and Puck Faire, bringing in the experience and magic touch of restaurateurs Peter Poulakakos, Anthony Malone, and Danny McDonald, who was instrumental in securing and transforming the landmarked 1828 commercial structure. “I had a fixed idea and Jack had a beverage idea, but you need the guy who can make it reality. When it comes to designing the bar, Danny is very much the brains,” says Muldoon.
With Muldoon as manager and mentor, McGarry, who began his career at age 16 at The Balmoral in Edinburgh, embarked on the drinks list for the upstairs Parlor, a two year process of research and resurrection. “To properly tell the story took an exploration of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries,” says McGarry, who also relied upon the expertise of New York City–based cocktail historian David Wondrich and the archives of Greg Boehm of Mud Puddle Books.
As much bibliophile as bartender, McGarry draws heavily on The Flowing Bowl (William Schimdt, 1892), Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks (William Terrington, 1869), and Bariana (Louis Fouquet, 1896). “Fouquet was the most adept in terms of balance. However, Schmidt was the most creative with his drinks,” says McGarry, who mixed through thousands of different cocktails in a quest to wed history to modern tastes.
The result is 72 liquid selections—a litany of esoteric punches, cups, cobblers, flips, possets, and nogs that will impress the most jaded cocktail revivalist. Anyone, however, will enjoy their deliciousness. The recipes are admittedly McGarry’s interpretations, yet each is credited to the original source.
Dating to 1608, Meriton Latroon’s Bantam, a communal punch of Batavia Arrack Van Oosten, lime sherbet, fresh lime juice, coconut palm sugar, and Earl Grey tea, is the earliest drink. An idea central to the Parlor at Dead Rabbit, communal punches are available portioned for four ($55), six ($75), or eight persons ($90). Louis Muckensturm is most renowned for publishing a recipe for the dry Martini, but McGarry chooses the obscure over the obvious, opting for his Massagrand—Louis Royer “Force 53” VSOP Cognac, F. Meyer Mirabelle Eau de Vie, Marie Brizard Apry, Cherry Heering, Caffe Americano, Dead Rabbit Orinoco Bitters, and calamus tincture.
The 58 page hardbound drinks list also includes the tale of the Dead Rabbit’s namesake, as written by Irish-American novelist Peter Quinn. “Dead Rabbits” refers to the Irish street gang, immortalized in Gangs of New York (“dead” being slang for “very” and “rabbit” the Irish-American pronunciation of “raíbéad,” Irish for “man to be feared”). However, Muldoon conceived the name with one man in mind: John Morrissey, a gang leader, political enforcer, and bare-knuckle boxer, who no doubt may have found the fancy drinks of the Parlor a bit precious.
The first floor Taproom at Dead Rabbit is more the sort of place where Morrissey would be found, modeled on an immigrant tavern like those where he and William “Bill the Butcher” Poole repeatedly beat each other to within an inch of death. Like other “American bars” of the era, there is very limited seating, occasional music, and service designed to satisfy the frightfully impatient. The addition of craft beer, 15 wines by the glass or bottle, and one of the finest selections of Irish whiskey in the States, approaching 60 varieties, add some modern civility.
In lieu of the fancy punches and à la minute cocktails of the Parlor, the Taproom offers a rotating selection of prepared punches, priced at $10 a glass and $50 per “flagon” (a repurposed stoneware Tullamore Dew crock, chilled on a bed of ice). “We intentionally priced the punch in line with a typical glass and a bottle of wine, because we want to encourage people to try it and see the value,” says Muldoon.
There is a full bar, but the Taproom is dedicated to two cocktails: Irish coffee with hand-whipped cream and hot whiskey punch (Irish whiskey with hot water, honey, and clove-studded lemon) with a garnish of a pilot biscuit (a small chunk of hardtack) that has been soaked in melted butter for hours. It neatly replenishes the drink’s buttery topping between sips.
For dining, Dead Rabbit offers an all-day raw bar, lunch dishes, and small bites, many inspired by the British Isles, including Scotch eggs, Welsh rabbit, and lamb chops. True to its name, there’s a small grocery, offering British and Irish delicacies, like canned fish, as well as Mediterranean tapenades and other preserved victuals, to be eaten in or taken out.
Dead Rabbit is an ambitious cocktail anachronism. It’s equally a thoughtful salute to immigrant determination and success in America. John Morrissey ultimately ascended up the stairs to the Parlor, becoming a U.S. Congressman from New York and even owning several Broadway drinking establishments. Muldoon and McGarry are counting on the fact that his story, like their drinks, bears repeating.
Find the recipes from the drinks in the slideshow below:
This recipe is adapted from George Kappeler, Modern American Drinks, 1895.
- 2 1/2 oz. Green tea infused-Tanqueray London Dry Gin
- 1 oz. pistachio syrup
- 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
- 3 dashes of eucalyptus tincture
- 3/4 oz. double cream
- 1 egg white
- siphon carbonic
Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice and dry shake. Shake again vigorously and strain into a fizz glass. Fill the balance with siphon carbonic.
Julep a la Thomas
This recipe is adapted from Jerry Thomas, The Bar Tender's Guide, 1862.
- 3 oz. Buffalo Trace Bourbon
- 1/2 oz. eau de the
- 1/4 oz. Parfait Armour
- 3 dashes of Pernod Absinthe
- 4 mint leaves
Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into an ice-filled julep glass. Garnish with citrus slices, mint sprigs, seasonal berries and dust with icing sugar. Serve with one straw.
Gin Smash à la Byron
This recipe is adapted from O.H Bryon, The Modern Bartenders' Guide, 1884.
- 2 1/2 oz. Bols Genever
- 3/4 oz. lemon sherbet
- 1/2 oz. lemon juice
- 6-8 mint leaves
- 3 dashes celery tincture
Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a smash glass.
This recipe is adapted from Tim Daly, Daly's Bartender's Encyclopedia, 1903.
- 2 oz. Great King Street Blended Scotch
- 1/2 oz. Liqoure Strega
- 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
- 3/4 oz. ginger syrup
- 3 dashes of Bokers bitters
- 3 dashes of mace tincture
Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Add 1.5oz siphon carbonic and strain into an ice-filled bar glass.
This recipe is adapted from E.Ricket & C.Thomas, The Gentleman's Table Guide, 1871.
- 1 1/2 oz. Jameson Black Barrel Irish Whiskey
- 1 oz. Dead Rabbit Jamaican rum blend
- 1 oz. Hidalgo PX Sherry
- 1 1/2 oz. half n half
- 1/2 oz. vanilla syrup
Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice, dry Shake and shake again vigorously. Strain into a nog glassand garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.
This recipe is adapted from Richard Cook, Oxford Nightcaps, 1835.
- 1 1/2oz. Chateau du Breuil VSOP Calvados
- 3/4 oz. Grahams LBV Port Wine
- 3/4 oz. lemon juice
- 1/2 oz. lemon sherbet
- 3/4 oz. cucumber extract
- 1 tsp. of redcurrant jelly
Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Then add 1.5oz cucumber soda. Strain in an ice-filled wineglass. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.
G.M. Gurton’s Communal Punch
This recipe is adapted from William Terrington, Cooling Cups & Dainty Drinks, 1869.
- 300 ml. Dead Rabbit Jamaican Rum Mix
- 200 ml. Olorosso Sherry
- 300 ml. Remy Martin 1738 Cognac
- 10 oz. fresh lime juice
- 250 mg. muscovado sugar
- 2 oz. ginger extract
- 750 ml. green tea
- Oleo-saccharum of 8 limes
Prepare the oleo-saccharum of 8 limes and integrate with the muscovado sugar. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until all sugar has been dissolved. Remove add zest and add to the punch chiller.