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Ask a Bartender: 16 Questions with The Dead Rabbit's Jack McGarry

Ask a Bartender: 16 Questions with The Dead Rabbit's Jack McGarry

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Open a mere two months, The Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog is already making an impressive run in New York City's Financial District. This is very much due to Jack McGarry, the house’s tenaciously ambitious head bartender, a perfectionist hailing from Belfast by way of London’s Milk & Honey who ever-so-selectively cultivated a notable drink menu with 72 cocktails broadly ranging from different time periods.

As his bar continues to grow, the young McGarry talks to us about not taking his drinks too seriously anymore and instead focusing on the grand picture daily. (And, about how he spends his sparse free time: With a pint of Guinness and absolutely no shoptalk.)

The Daily Meal: So, what turns you on about bartending?

Jack McGarry: It's that quest of perfection: Everything we do, I want it to be the absolute best we can give. It's that constant battle I love, and it's those magical nights when all those little things come together. I remember Sasha Petraske saying that a totally amazing experience shouldn't be able to be defined: For example, you walk away saying, "Wow the drinks were amazing, the place was so comfortable, the staff [was] so friendly, the toilets were bloody clean." It's synchronicity. It's everything coming together, and that's my love.

TDM: How long have you been a bartender? How old are you?

JM: I started working in the industry when I was 14 in a local boozer in the neighborhood and quickly moved onto bars in the city center of Belfast, and by [age] 16 or 17, I was entering cocktail competitions and winning them. When I was studying for my exams in school, it wasn't school literature I was reading — it was a stack of cocktail books from Dale DeGroff, Gary Regan, Simon Difford, and David Embury that had my attention. I remember getting into trouble with my study supervisor and him shouting at me in front of 30 students saying, "You'll never get a f***ing degree in cocktails and now get with it!" I guess he's right, but it's what I loved. And, once I focus on something, nothing and no one gets in the way of it.

TDM: Where/when was your first gig? How many bartending jobs have you had?

JM: My first industry rodeo was in The Hunting Lodge in West Belfast, and it was something similar to an Irish pub meets a sports bar. After that, I moved downtown to a new bar called Café Vaudeville, which in Belfast we call a Style Bar (a better joint than your run-of-the-mill). After that, I moved to a hotel and a social club. I was following my cousin — who was the general manager in all these venues — Sean Campbell. His philosophy was very simple: Work hard, don't steal, and you'll get far in this industry. It's at the hotel, though, that I meant a guy called Andy Dillon. He liked me, and once he got his first general manager gig in a place called Tatu, he gave me a call. Andy noticed the burgeoning cocktail movement in Belfast and hired the services of a guy called Kieran Breen — a former pupil of Sean Muldoon's — and it's this guy and the practices he was taught by Sean that inspired me to take cocktails serious. When that place closed, I worked in a few other volume cocktail bars and then eventually landed the job at the Merchant when I’d just turned 18. I was there for nearly four years. Once we started to work on The Dead Rabbit project, I moved to London to work at Milk & Honey and then with Henry Besant at Strangehill.

TDM: What was it like working at the famed Milk & Honey in London?

JM: It was different. In the Merchant, I was all about the perfect drinks and everything looking perfect, but when I look back, I feel like I neglected the guest somewhat. I mean, don't get me wrong, I was attentive and all that, but for me, everything was about the drink. When I moved to Milk & Honey, their ethos was different. It's similar to if you go into an electronic store, you'd expect your store assistant to know all the intricacies of the product; that was Milk's ethos. My ethos before that was to just have the best electronic products. So, they were all about knowing everything about your liquors, wines and beers, and education. It was regimental with tests every month and then an end-of-year exam. The biggest thing I took away from Milk & Honey was taking in a bar room. In the Merchant, my head would have been buried in the ice bin or fixated on a garnish, but in Milk I lifted my head and engaged, seeing the whole room, meet guest's eyes as soon as they walked in, said hellos and goodbyes. [It’s] a simple difference, but massive implications.

TDM: So, how do you feel about the term "mixologist"? Do you consider yourself one?

JM: No f***ing way. A bar is about selling comfort. Terms like this make me think of the hospital, and I f***ing hate the hospital.

TDM: What are your favorite pubs and why?

JM: When I get a day off, which is rare at the minute as we are only open eight weeks, I like to go to places were I can relax and [that have] nothing really at all do to with cocktails. So, I'd say places like Swift in the East Village or 11th Street Bar [in Alphabet City] on a Sunday when the Irish Session is on. You'll see me there with Guinness in hand, and no cocktail talk is permitted.

TDM: What bartenders have been inspirations for you?

JM: Well, my longtime partner and mentor Sean Muldoon has been my biggest inspiration. You seldom in life meet someone who has the exact same philosophy as you, and our partnership has developed tremendously since we started out nearly six years ago. He's allowed me to develop and at the right pace; he's my brother and my biggest critic when needed, but we both have the common goal, which is to be the best we can be.

TDM: What’s it like being the head bartender at The Dead Rabbit? Any perks?

JM: Owning a place changes you: You think differently, interpret situations differently, and almost certainly set yourself up differently. I've always been extremely organized when it comes to everything behind the stick, but I'm naturally noticing myself restructuring the importance of things. When I started out, all I thought about behind the bar was drinks, drinks, drinks. Now, it's probably the last thing. I mean, cocktails is my life blood and always will be, but the toilets being spotless, all the light bulbs being on, heat/sound/lights at appropriate levels, all your staff having everything they need to execute a service, and everyone doing things the right way, [that] is what I’m thinking about. Perks? At the minute, I feel happy knowing we are getting better each and every day. We are not firing on all cylinders just yet, but we aren't far away either.

TDM: What do you enjoy most about The Dead Rabbit bar?

JM: It's my love. I couldn't really pick anything out in particular, but as I said, the thing that makes me happy right now is locking up knowing the next day you'll be better. It's constantly striving to achieve that, and [it] makes it all the better it that it's your place.

TDM: What was the particular angle you were going for when creating The Dead Rabbit cocktail list?

JM: The beverage program at The Dead Rabbit is centered around exploring the kingdom of mixed drinks during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. All of our drinks are sourced from books of that era and modified to fit the contemporary palate. We offer 72 historically accurate drinks from 12 different categories.

TDM: What Dead Rabbit cocktails are your favorites?

JM: I'd say my top three would be the Automobile (Pernod Absinthe, celery cordial, Marie Brizard Parfait Amour, celery shrub, and champagne). It's a well-balanced Death in the Afternoon-styled drink. Montana Club (Louis Royer Force 53, Bonal Gentiane Quina, Amaro Sibilia, Marie Brizard Anisette, Dead Rabbit Orinoco Bitters, Boker's Bitters), a style of Manhattan(ish), which would have been prevalent during the 1870s and 1880s. Finally, the Mamie Taylor (Great King Street Scotch, Strega, fresh lime juice, ginger syrup, Boker's Bitters, mace tincture, and siphon carbonic). Just a beautifully clean drink, like a lemonade you could have all day long.

TDM: What are your favorite cocktails to make? And why?

JM: I really enjoy making our juleps because we have moved away from the prerequisite silver julep cup and went along the lines of a Harry Johnson-style of garnish with a fancy wine glass ornamented with marinated seasonal berries, citrus slices, and mint sprigs. It's a showstopper. Once you make one, you can guarantee you’re getting a ticket with a few more on it.

TDM: What spirit is sexiest to you? Why?

JM: Irish whiskey. Well, I am Irish, ain't I?

TDM: For you, which spirit is the most versatile?

JM: I'd have to [say] white spirits in general, maybe apart from white dog or moonshine stuff, which is coming out these days. I love gin, genever, pisco, eau de vie, and even vodka for its versatility. I remember sitting in Chile a few months back: The sun was glorious, and the company was even better. One of the local bartenders knocked up some pisco sour's with a hint of fresh basil, and I just remember thinking to myself it was f***ing lovely — nice and fresh. One of those moments. I love the brown stuff also, but for diversity of flavor direction, white (and in particular, London Dry Gin and pisco) are two loves of mine.

TDM: When brainstorming a new recipe, what’s one aspect you’re particularly striving for?

JM: When working on a new drink, coming from a historical point of view, I first establish what the flavor base [is] and just experiment with it until it works. I use a lot of flavor websites and study how flavor works a lot, but to be honest with you, I really think creating drinks is something natural as opposed to something you learn. I don't really have a set guide of rules or boundaries. I just make the drinks until they work. I mean, we shake our mint juleps, have no sugar in our Old Fashioned's (just modifiers [such as] Pierre Ferrand Dry Orange Curaçao, Bénédictine), and use absinthe in practically everything because it makes everything taste better, in my opinion. I just keep experimenting until it works and the drinks tastes fantastic, that's it.

TDM: What are your favorite herbs, bitters, etc. to use in your cocktails?

JM: Our own bitters are phenomenal. They are made by Adam Elmegirab, who makes Boker's Bitters in Aberdeen, Scotland. They are our recreation of the style of Angostura [that] was prevalent during the 19th century prior to the Angostura folks taking out an injunction for the exclusive use of the name. Back then, they had the signature spices notes but also had a lot of bitterness due to the inclusion of Angostura bark. So that's what we replicated, that bitterness, and it gives all our drinks an edge that Angostura wouldn't.

The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual: Secret Recipes and Barroom Tales from Two Belfast Boys Who Conquered the Cocktail World

The cover proclaims "secret recipes and barroom tales from two Belfast boys who conquered the cocktail world". The two Belfast boys in question are Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry and they did just that.

'Barroom tales' refers to the story which unfolds in the introduction of how Sean Muldoon went from occasional building site labourer, French Foreign Legion enrollee and failed musician to being the visionary behind the legendary bar at the Merchant Hotel, meeting Jack McGarry, perhaps the only other bartender as driven as himself, and the duo's creation of The Dead Rabbit - their second World's Best Cocktail Bar.

From Belfast's troubles to Manhattan's rewards, Sean and Jack's story is told by Ben Schaffer and is as much an account of the development of cocktail culture in Belfast and London as it is the story of their the souring careers.

Beyond the introduction the book turns more 'Drinks Manual' with cocktail recipes grouped under headings such as 'Sours and Fizzes', 'Cups and Cobblers' and 'Juleps and Smashes'. Each recipe has vintage origins, or at least is inspired by a classic cocktail, with the background or origin of each relayed over several paragraphs or even a page. Despite their origins, the formulations are very much Sean and Jack originals - they are simply too complex to be anybody else's. Almost all call for one of two of the 50 different homemade tinctures, syrups and infusions outlined in the book, on top of as many as six other commercially available ingredients.

For many of us this book will kindle memories from past decades while for others Sean and Jack's story will be inspirational. I look forward to working my way through their hallowed cocktail recipes along with the accompanying tinctures, syrups and infusions. These are the drinks from the World's Best Cocktail Bar (Tales 2015) but their complexity and the diversity of ingredients mean this is a book for bar professionals and very keen amateurs rather than cocktail novices.

9 Summer Cocktail Recipes From NYC's Top Bartenders

Drink creatively this season with summer cocktail recipes from NYC's best professional bartenders. These talented individuals redefine what it means to tend bar and have created sustainable careers in the service industry. I chatted with them about their experience and philosophies that have made them successful in one of the world's most competitive bar scenes. Then, I taste-tested tons of cocktails (shout out to my liver: thanks for taking it all in stride) and selected the most killer drinks in town:

Jack McGarry (The Dead Rabbit)
World's Best Drinks Selection 2014, International Bartender of the Year 2013

"There's many different interpretations of being the best in the world. When we came out here [from Belfast] it was all about stating what was our interpretation of being the best in the world. Dead Rabbit is all about the product, the experience, and the hospitality and those are the three core values for us. When we first came here it was all about Tales of the Cocktail and [we had won] all these awards and stuff like that. The greatest satisfaction I see now is the likes of the team, all I think about now is the team. I train people to act like they own the place and I am very proud when I see them take on bigger responsibilities and lead the line."

Rene Hidalgo (Grand Banks, Lantern's Keep)

"Bars in the 80s, 90s, even the early 2000s, you could walk into any bar and know what you were going to get. Everyone basically had all the same selection of bottles so you could go anywhere and ask for a Bud and a shot of Jack Daniel's and I think that made people lazy. People didn't really have a reason to think about what they were going to drink because everyone was offering the same sh*t. Then there was such a huge explosion of bars in New York in the 2000s that now we have all these spaces and can afford room to specialize. Your bar doesn't have to appeal to a wide audience and you can really get into specifics. You have an opportunity to say, "Hey man, try this. And if you don't like it, no harm no foul." We respect that."

Jeremy Oertel (Donna Cocktail Club, Death + Co)

"My philosophy is that you can always do things a little bit better. It's interesting and fun and you can push yourself to do more. There is so much to learn. The social aspect of having your friends come visit you or having regulars whose lives you know and care about-- you have all these amazing conversations and relationships. My regulars were at me and my wife's wedding."

Alicia Leslie (Milk & Honey)

"It's not just slinging drinks to make money. It's about creating something interesting for people, and opening people's minds to something they maybe never tried. Whenever a person comes back to see me, it makes it worth it. Its hard work, long hours, but it's really fun. You're throwing mini parties for everyone all night. You have to do things as perfectly as possible, but you don't want to take yourself so seriously. Your job is to have fun and make people drinks."

Hunter Orahood (The Crow's Nest)

"Knowledge, consistency, and a good palate are all important [qualities in bartenders], but nothing is as clutch as being an all around hospitality person, being friendly and anticipating guests needs. I really like the feeling that every day I am going to work or step behind the bar I am hosting a party and everyone is invited. That and the fact that the service industry and bar community these days is packed full of some of the most creative and amazing people you could ever hope to meet."

Michael McIlroy (Attaboy)

"There was a backlash against [strict policies]. Thats why we did what we did at our new bar, Attaboy, where we got away from all the reservations and the rules and the uniforms and the same music and were just like man, come on. Just come in, hang out, if there's room, there's room, if there's not we'll call you back. You sit down, have a drink, and the Rolling Stones are playing. It's awesome. Consistency. I think that's the key thing. To ensure that all the staff are up to spec, that they know what to do, they know what the bar is, what it stands for. And thankfully that's what we have. To me, it's the best staff in the world."

Selma Frost (Donna Cocktail Club, The Copenhagen)

"I'm not thinking of this as just a job. Of course I have to pay my rent, but if you can forget that you're there to make money you can focus on actually learning something and sharing that with people. One of my favorite things about the service industry is that you are never fully educated. There's always new things to learn about, like brands or techniques. The possibility of learning something new makes me excited to go to work because I feel like I am bettering myself."

Michael McFerran (Bua)

"Personality and hard work are everything. I don't really look for NYC experience necessarily because you can teach anyone how to make a cocktail. It's basically just following a set of ingredients. What you cannot teach someone is how to engage people, how to make them feel at home, to feel welcome, how to make them want to come back. Some people just have it, they're built for this industry."

Grant Wheeler (The Garret)

"I think the whole pretentious bartending trend was a rebellion against a particular social stereotype. Making a bar austere or elitist was a natural reaction to people feeling marginalized about. what they were doing for a living. The best people behind the bar are those who really enjoy making people's experiences first and foremost. There needs to be a certain element of technical savvy but just because someone is the most knowledgeable bartender spirit-wise doesn't necessarily make him the best. Warmth and hospitality are everything."

The Best Cocktails at the World’s Best Bar

What do you do once you&rsquove (twice) opened the Best Bar in the World?

You celebrate with a drink. Then share the wisdom.

Which is exactly what you&rsquoll find inside The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog Drinks Manual, a cocktail tome from the world&rsquos certified best mixologists, available right now.

The emphasis at The Dead Rabbit &mdash a Gangs of New York-style speakeasy located on the southern tip of Manhattan &mdash is on historical drinks. The &ldquoforgotten ones, the drinks that have long since fallen out of fashion but can still teach us much about flavor and texture,&rdquo according to bartenders/owners Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry, who co-wrote the book with Ben Schaffer.

Inside: recipes, of course. All of history&rsquos greatest fizzes, cobblers, slings and toddies, with their backstories (some dating to the 17th century) and how the Dead Rabbit guys have gussied &lsquoem up for a new generation.

Plus, the fascinating history of the DR&rsquos founders, two Belfast boys who had already won over the cocktail world at the Merchant Hotel in Northern Ireland before setting off for boozier pastures.

&ldquoThe Belfast bar was ahead of its time,&rdquo Muldoon told us at the book launch party. &ldquoThere was nowhere else to go … what else were we going to do? Just win another award? But New York &mdash we could do what we did in Belfast, but get so much more opportunity. This book is living proof of that.&rdquo

And since we had the brains behind the best bar in the world in front of us, we had to ask: What&rsquos your favorite drink?

For Muldoon, it&rsquos the Mamie Taylor.

&ldquoIt&rsquos Jack&rsquos variation that makes it good,&rdquo he said, nodding at his co-owner. &ldquoIt&rsquos a Scotch highball with ginger and bitters. Refreshing. Had that drink in other bars, never had it as good as we&rsquove made it here.&rdquo

Could have said that about pretty much anything.

Three excerpted recipes below, including the Mamie Taylor, along with two more perfect for the cooler times ahead.

Inspiration: Tim Daly, Daly&rsquos Bartenders&rsquo Encyclopedia, 1903

From the book: Originally, this evocative name was connected to a straightforward Scotch highball. (Ms. Taylor, like many who have given their name to a mixed drink, was showfolk&mdashan opera singer, in fact.) Here, we&rsquove expanded on the basic highball structure to incorporate the McGarry touches: spice, flavored sweeteners , plenty of bitters, and underutilized liqueurs. The creative combination of Strega and Scotch is not obvious, but it is a great stage effect nonetheless. Ring down the curtain.

¾ ounce Ginger Syrup
3 dashes Mace Tincture
3 dashes Boker&rsquos Bitters, or Angostura Aromatic Bitters
¾ ounce fresh lime juice
½ ounce Liquore Strega
2 ounces Great King Street Scotch
1½ ounces soda water
Fresh nutmeg, grated, for garnish

Add all the ingredients, except the soda and garnish, to a shaker. Fill with ice and shake. Add the soda to the shaker and strain the mixture into an ice-filled tall glass. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

Inspiration: William Schmidt, The Flowing Bowl, 1892

Schmidt&rsquos original is heavily boozy, a whiskey and bitters brawler in the best cocktail tradition. As with many of the drinks in this chapter, we&rsquore taming the beast and evening out the flavors. For this recipe, we will ratchet up the bitters component with two complementary formulas, plus our old standby, absinthe. Further seasoning comes via gloriously herbal Bénédictine (perhaps familiar to most imbibers when combined with brandy as B&B) and Royal Combier, which is a spicy liqueur that has in fact already been blended into brandy.

Royal Combier, featuring aloe, nutmeg, myrrh, cardamom, cinnamon, and saffron, is a perfect foil to the nuttiness of Old Overholt. Bénédictine involves twenty-seven secret herbs and spices, far more than needed even for fried chicken. Nonetheless, fried chicken goes great with a Whiskey Cocktail.

2 ounces Old Overholt Rye Whiskey
¾ ounce Bénédictine
¼ ounce Royal Combier
3 dashes Dead Rabbit Orinoco Bitters or Angostura Aromatic bitters
3 dashes orange bitters
3 dashes Pernod Absinthe
Orange peel, for garnish

Add all the ingredients, except the garnish, to a mixing glass. Fill with ice and stir until chilled. Strain the mixture into a cocktail glass. Twist the orange peel over the glass to express the oils, then discard the peel.

Inspiration: The Buena Vista Café, San Francisco, California, 1952

There are those who wish us to believe the unlikely fact that Irish coffee was invented at Shannon Airport in the 1940s. Obviously, for any of us who have been to any airport, we know that nothing creative has ever occurred in such a place.

A competing tale has it that Jonathan Swift invented the Irish coffee in 1705 through the simple genius of adding whiskey to his coffee and cream. Earlier the same day he had invented the Irish toasted cheese, Irish biscuit, Irish hat stand, and Irish stack of envelopes by inadvertently pouring whiskey onto those household items as well.

Regardless of its original production, the drink did not come into its own until its appearance in San Francisco at the Buena Vista Café, where it became a permanent favorite of locals and tourists alike. We always knew we wanted an Irish coffee on the menu at the Dead Rabbit, as it is perhaps the best-known Irish-American classic, and this recipe was designed under the guidance of Dale &ldquoKing Cocktail&rdquo DeGroff. It&rsquos a deceptively simple approach. One secret: Buy ridiculously expensive heavy cream from your favorite local dairy. Another tip: When preparing this classic, be careful not to slip on the Irish floor.

½ ounce Demerara Sugar Syrup (see below)
1½ ounces Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey
4 ounces hot filtered coffee
1 ounce whipped heavy cream, for garnish
Fresh nutmeg, grated, for garnish

Add all the ingredients, except the garnish, to an Irish coffee glass. Float an inch of whipped cream on top. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

2 cups granulated Demerara sugar
2 cups water

Combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat, but do not boil. Slowly stir to dissolve the sugar. When the syrup has thickened, remove from the heat. Use a funnel to pour into bottles. The syrup will keep for 2 to 3 weeks in the refrigerator. Yields about 16 ounces.

Excerpts from THE DEAD RABBIT DRINKS MANUAL by Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry. Copyright © 2015 by The Best Bar in the World, LLC. Photography © 2015 by Brent Herrig Photoraphy . Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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Putting the Irish in Irish coffee

Jack McGarry of the Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog in New York’s financial district claims to serve the world’s best Irish coffee. Hmmm, you might think, but McGarry’s credentials match his mouth. The 24-year-old bartender was voted International Bartender of the Year at the Tales of a Cocktail competition in New Orleans in July. Open only a few months, The Dead Rabbit romped home with the World’s Best New Cocktail Bar and World’s Best Cocktail Menu awards.

Named after the infamous 19th century Irish-American gang, the Dead Rabbits, the bar has a small facade on Water Street in downtown Manhattan. Back in the 1840s, millions of Irish famine exiles would have docked close by, just off the coffin ships. Harking back to the old world, the downstairs taproom is littered with sawdust, but under the sea of shoes this nod to yesteryear is barely visible.

The upstairs parlour cocktail lounge is quieter, the dim lighting leaving a clean sheen on the mahogany bar. In both bars, most of the liquid sloshing around the glasses is a murky brown colour. Serving more than 70 Irish whiskies, the Dead Rabbit represents the best of Irish whiskey culture in New York.

The craft cocktail renaissance has helped to raise the profile of darker “classic cocktail spirits” such as bourbon and scotch in the United States, and over the past 10 years Irish whiskey has enjoyed a steady revival. But despite its surge in popularity, uisce beatha still struggles to compete for the seasoned palettes of Scotch-swilling spirit connoisseurs.

In general, bartenders snub Irish variations, claiming they were not used in pre-prohibition recipes. Not the case if you ask McGarry.

“Bourbon didn’t become a popular whiskey until the 19th century,” he points out. “Irish whiskey was the biggest imported whiskey into America at that time. A lot of times when you see these classic recipes it just says whiskey. It was very likely to have been an Irish that was being used.”

McGarry and his business partner Sean Muldoon, both Belfast natives, are seeking to challenge the status quo with their new menu, which takes the number of Irish whiskey cocktails in the upstairs parlour from 14 to 40 out of the 72 drinks served.

“A lot of people see [Irish whiskey] as being slammed as a shot,” says McGarry. “Obviously Jameson shots are always going to be massive in America and we’re not trying to challenge that, we just want people to appreciate Irish whiskey in general.”

Having gained financial backing, McGarry and Muldoon moved to New York more than two-and-a-half years ago to realise the concept for the Dead Rabbit. McGarry had just finished a stint at London’s Milk and Honey, one of the world’s most awarded bars. Before Milk and Honey, McGarry worked with Muldoon in the Merchant Hotel bar in Belfast, which won the World’s Best Cocktail Bar award at the 2010 Tales of the Cocktail competition.

With a slew of award-winning bars under their belts, the pair seems to have the Midas touch in the cocktail world. And since it opened last February, The Dead Rabbit has enjoyed quick and quiet success. So what spurred the new menu?

“We were in a bar in Brooklyn, and the bar we were in had all these fancy bourbons, ryes and scotches,” says McGarry. “We asked the guy, ‘Where is your Irish whiskey?’ and he said he didn’t have any. ‘What if someone orders an Irish coffee, what do you use?’ I asked. He said: ‘Bourbon’. That was the eureka moment when we knew we had to address it.”

Putting anything but Irish whiskey in an Irish coffee is a cardinal sin to any Irish bartender. Given their heritage, the undertaking could be seen as a patriotic – albeit slightly overzealous – labour of love. But McGarry is business-oriented.

He says there aren’t too many whiskeys that can do both boozy and fruity drinks really well.

“Irish can wear many different jumpers and our menu is trying to show that versatility, by working with bananas and lychees, as well as amaros and liqueurs. You can work with it in any different way, and it will still show its character.”

The new cocktail menu at The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog aims to propel Irish whiskey into the spotlight and nudge scotch and bourbon off the palates of New York’s whiskey aficionados.

If anyone has the ability to sway the masses, McGarry and Muldoon will offer their best attempt.

And what about the Dead Rabbit’s meticulously prepared Irish coffee? Is it, as they say, the best Irish coffee in the world?

Cold, heavy cream perched on top of piping-hot Powers whiskey and an aromatic coffee brew. Jack McGarry wasn’t kidding. It was perfect.

NYC’s Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog

We’d all love to travel back in time. How ‘bout a little trip to New York City circa mid-1800s? While the bartending industry has been in a lather recreating ‘ye olde’ cocktails over the past decade, two Irish lads, Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry (of The Merchant Hotel, Belfast fame), have tried to accurately capture the past with their bar, The Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog. The detail is remarkable, even down to the small grocery store at the back of the first floor, a ploy used to appease temperance activists in the 1840s. The New York Times has described the bar as a “time portal of a tavern” with a “Dickensian” vision of New York history. How cool is New York?

Located in the Financial District, right next door to the iconic Fraunces Tavern, the bar is housed in a Federal style, five-story landmark structure from the 1820s. The ground-floor Taproom is a sawdust-strewn pub setting for the enjoyment of craft beer, bottled punch, and whiskeys of the world, with lunch served daily. It’s the kind of place that conjures up images of New York’s infamous street gangs, the namesake of the venue (but more on that later). Move upstairs for the more dandy drinking hole. The sumptuous Parlor focuses on small plates, communal punch, and 72 historically-accurate cocktails dreamed up by the nineteenth century’s most celebrated bartenders.

Having opened in February to rave reviews, the bar has already been named in Forbes Magazine’s Top 15 American Nightspots and New York Magazine’s Best Everyman’s Bar 2013. And it’s that ‘Everyman’ philosophy that underpins The Dead Rabbit’s hospitality. “We wanted to be a bar for everyone,” says McGarry, “and both bars are starting to have distinct crowds who come for what they like, be it a Whiskey Smash a la Terrington or an Amstel light.”

Known for his attention to detail and dedication to perfection with The Merchant Hotel, Sean Muldoon didn’t miss a beat when dreaming up his perfect mid 19th-century bar, with no stone left unturned. “During my research about the era I read about the gangs of New York,” he said, “the Dead Rabbits and their one-time leader John Morrissey.”

As Muldoon tells it, Morrissey came from Ireland at the age of two with his parents in 1832 and was raised in Troy, upstate New York. At 18, he headed for NYC and became embroiled in gangland activity. He went west to pan for gold in 1849, but instead got involved in gambling and opened a string of Faro houses. He was a prize fighter and became World Heavyweight Boxing Champion in 1853, after defeating Yankee Sullivan in a bout that lasted 37 rounds. He came back to New York in 1854 and challenged all his old gangster friends. In February 1855 he got into a fight with William “Bill the Butcher” Poole, which resulted in Poole’s death. In 1857 he led his gang, the Dead Rabbits, to victory in what became known as ‘The Battle of Paradise Square’, and in doing so became King of the Five Points – (think Scorcese’s Gangs of New York). After this, he got involved in politics, opened bars and gambling houses. He was really good friends with Jerry Thomas and even bought one of Thomas’s bars from him. He became a US Congressman and Member of the State Senate and founded the Saratoga Racecourse, which was the Las Vegas of its day.

“To me, John Morrissey was the link that brought together the Irish Immigrant and the Sporting Fraternity of New York in the mid 1800s,” says Muldoon. “I called the bar the Dead Rabbit after him. We opened on February 12th, the date of his birthday.”

The 72-strong drink menu features cocktails, flips, cobblers, nogs, slings, juleps and other historically significant mixed drink categories, all sourced from original bar guides. It is an historical journey through what is now the Financial District of Lower Manhattan from 1848-1884, beginning with an illustrated ‘map’ filled with original sketches of events and characters from the period. According to Muldoon, the menu is based loosely on Herbert Asbury’s 1928 reprint of Jerry Thomas’s Bartenders Guide, but uses literature from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

Jack McGarry, Muldoon’s apprentice from The Merchant Hotel days, and partner in the business, worked tirelessly to recreate drinks from the middle of the 19th century. According to one urban legend he bought fifty books and read for a year and a half before making one drink. “I wanted to complement Sean’s vision,” says McGarry. “I also wanted to truly explore the world of punch having been inspired by both Dave Wondrich’s books on the topic and era.”

McGarry says the big list is in keeping with the era, and it’s not just for show. “In order for me to truly illustrate the kingdom of mixed drinks prior to prohibition I had to have a big menu,” he says. “I wanted to show how the communal punch bowl ruled the roost for more than 200 years and how it instigated all these singular serving drinks we all know today.” So McGarry started with the punch bowl and has illustrated in a chronological order from communal punches right through to absinthe styles and cocktails. “I then wanted each individual category (of which there is 12) to illustrate the arrival of that category and how it indeed developed,” he added.

When it comes to pinning McGarry on a favourite, he squirms a bit. “I worked hard on all the drinks to ensure they were appropriate to the 21st century palate,” he says, “but if I was pushed right now it would be the Automobile (pernod absinthe, celery cordial, parfait armour, celery shrub and brut champagne) and the Montana Club (Louis Royer Force 53 Cognac, Bonal Gentiane, Amaro Sibilia, anisette, Dead Rabbit Orinoco Bitters and Boker’s Bitters.)

Q&A with Sean Muldoon

Could you tell us about the vision behind this project?

The idea was to bring Irish pub culture together with high end cocktail culture in a way that made sense. When I managed the Merchant Hotel in Belfast, I ran a training school called the Connoisseurs Club.

The Connoisseurs Club was conducted over a three year period and through it we brought the world’s most prominent cocktail and liquor authorities to Belfast. The idea was to get them over to tell our staff, our customers, and other bar staff about their specialist subjects. Once they were with us, we intended to wow them with our hospitality, drinks and 5 star service. Despite all our best efforts however, these luminaries had spent most of their time in a working man’s Irish pub up the street from us called The Duke
of York.

It’s true they loved what we did, but they spent most of the short time they spent with us drinking pints in a rough and tumble boozer.

When I was asked to come up with a concept that would have longevity, a ‘cocktail bar of the 21st century,’ I thought about bringing together the Irish pub that the bar guys loved to hang out in and the cocktail bar that we loved to work in. But to do that it needed to make sense, and be believable.

I had to bring together an Irish idea with a cocktail idea, so I thought about New York in the 1840s and 50s. I knew a million Irish immigrants had arrived to New York from famine torn Ireland in the [years] between 1845 and 1851 and I knew that Jerry Thomas wrote the first ever published cocktail guide in New York in 1862. So I knew from the outset that something was happening here in that time period that brought both traditions together.

Q&A with Jack McGarry

You’re a partner in one of the world’s most talked about bars, you’ve worked at a couple of the world’s best bars, and you’re a young guy: how did you get to here?

I’ve been incredibly lucky but I also have determination and dedication to succeed. I started working in bars when I was 14 to make some pocket money but it wasn’t long until I fell in love with it. By the age of 16 I was beginning to fall in love with cocktails when I met a guy called Kieran Breen, a former pupil of Sean Muldoon. I fell head over heels in love with the cocktail world and my immediate ambition was to also get to work with Sean at The Merchant Hotel. I started in The Merchant I never looked back – Sean is a marvelous mentor for anyone to have – he showed me the path and allowed me not only to find myself but also to make mistakes and learn from them. I started influencing and developing the program at the bar within a year with Sean always keen to naturally let me to develop. When he thought I was ready he added some more responsibility. I’m a quick learner and with Sean’s guidance and my passion to be the best that I can be it wasn’t long until me and Sean struck up both an amazing working and personal relationship and we both wholeheartedly understand and appreciate what one another does. So if you ask me how did I get to where I am it’s very simple, it’s because of that relationship and Sean’s guidance.

13 ways to create a world-class cocktail menu

1. Know your audience
Don’t create a menu for yourself or to impress others bartenders. If you work in a high-volume lounge where Vodka & Soda is your most popular mixed drink on a Saturday night, then perhaps that lavender-scented Sazerac with the absinthe foam you’ve been tweaking for the past six months is not the wisest choice. Nothing is more important in business than knowing your audience. Think, what kind of people are visiting your venue? What are they drinking? Do their tastes change depending on what night of the week it is?

2. Find a balance
Try to create a menu that has something for everybody. You’re never going to please everyone all of the time – but you can get close. Ask, do you have a good cross section of spirits represented? This, of course, isn’t so important if your establishment specialises in a specific spirit. But I always ensure I have a vodka cocktail, two gin drinks, two to three whisky drinks, a cognac option, one or two tequila or mezcal cocktails and a couple of rum drinks. Then flesh this out with low alcohol and aperitif options.

3. Make sure to list no-or low-alcohol drinks
Low-alcohol cocktails have become increasingly popular in recent years and it’s a welcome change from the era of strong, spirituous libations. “Stirred and brown” was a catchphrase that became part of common cocktail vernacular and, personally, I couldn’t wait for it to end. Thankfully, today, more people are appreciating cocktails made with sparkling wine, vermouth, sherry, port, madeira and beer, not to mention countless amari and other bitters such as Aperol and Campari. Low-alcohol drinks are great with food and make good session cocktails. The profit margins on them are incredible, too.

Libra at Trick Dog, San Francisco, nominated World’s Best Cocktail Menu, Tales of the Cocktail, 2014.

4. “Avoid overly precious cocktails”
Morgan Schick, Trick Dog, San Fransisco:
“We try to avoid overly precious cocktails – we try to inject a little bit of fun into it. We never want our menu to take itself too seriously. Some places a little pretension works in the menu. But it’s not right for us. We try to avoid making the menu too highbrow. I definitely pay attention to what other bars are doing and steal as liberally as everyone else. But I don’t think using an ingredient or a flavour or a technique because it’s trendy always works. But we are definitely sensitive to changes in popular palates. Our guests these days like a drier, more bitter drink than they did in the past so our cocktails are going that way. Our job is to give people something that they think is delicious and so being conscious of what is thought of as delicious is important.”

5. Don’t list too many cocktails
Enormous cocktail menus used to be the norm. One of my favourite bars of all time – Lab, in London – boasted 162 drinks. Is that too many? Of course. But at the time it felt right. But things evolve, tastes change, we learn. How many drinks you have on your menu can also be determined by the kind of venue you are. As The Dead Rabbit’s Jack McGarry explains (see number seven), a big menu is part of his bar’s identity and, for him, 65 drinks is appropriate and manageable. At Bacchanal, a new restaurant I’ve just opened in Manhattan, we have 22 drinks on our list, which by New York restaurant standards is considered quite ambitious.

6. “Don’t over do it on speciality produce”
Joaquin Sim, Pouring Ribbons, New York:
“Firstly, we look at the current menu and decide what’s staying and going. We take into consideration changing seasonality and a drink’s popularity. Once we’ve determined what is off the menu, we start to look at what holes need to be filled – so, shaken-gin- refreshing, or stirred-whisky-boozy – and try to devise new recipes accordingly. We also take into consideration a balanced array of base spirits, serving styles, glassware selection, ice needs, colours and garnishes. We don’t want too many drinks in pilsner glasses with crushed ice or too many stirred drinks. If we have seven drinks that call for an orange peel garnish then there better be a couple drinks that have orange juice in them otherwise we’re wasting a lot of citrus. Because we have so little back of house space, we also have to be careful to not overdo it on specialty produce or labour-intensive syrups. Our limited amount of storage dictates how many new products we can take in without shedding existing ones. Most important: make sure you can deliver. Consistency in execution by the staff, no matter who is behind the bar, or what day or time it is, is vital. Your drinks should be identical from staffer x on a Tuesday at 6pm as from staffer y at midnight on a Friday.”

7. “No menu succeeds without the staff believing in its vision”
Jack McGarry, The Dead Rabbit, New York:
“Don’t have a big menu for the sake of it. There has to be a reason for everything you do. Our menus are large and that’s part of our DNA as a venue. There are pros and cons: on the plus side, it’s great PR, and it also makes a good talking point for our clientele: many guests come and work through the entirety of the menu. Cons: it’s a lot for the customer to take on board, which is why it’s absolutely essential our staff are well versed to help each guest select a drink: the success of every menu depends on the staff. Always be sure to have a small insert in each menu for anyone who wants to order quickly. Another challenge, from a bartender’s perspective, is that it’s very difficult to remember all the drinks. But we’ve tried to overcome that: recently, we installed iPads with all our recipes at each bar station. Our approach to creating new menus is democratic. We have a bartender unit that comes from very different backgrounds. Every bartender has their own style of creating drinks and that’s what I love. The menu should reflect different approaches, unique strains and each bartender’s personality.”

8. Work out how best to describe each cocktail
The way in which cocktails are articulated by your staff will determine what sells and what doesn’t. Again, this can be covered in training to ensure they know how to describe each drink’s flavour profile, texture, base spirit or modifiers. The wording on the menu is also key: some bars, such as The Aviary in Chicago, go for the minimalist approach, only using a few words for each drink (which means the floor staff need to be even more versed in how to describe each one). At the now shuttered Bayswater Brasserie in Sydney, we went for a much more poetic approach, where a drink such as a classic Bramble might be romanticised as such: “A hefty pour of Beefeater gin, poured over lashings of crushed ice with freshly pressed lemon and a whisper of sugar, crowned with wild blackberry liqueur and finished with finely grated nutmeg”.

9. “Not every cocktail generates the same revenue”
Jas Scott, Bramble bar, Edinburgh:
“We change our menu quarterly to adjust to the cost of seasonal ingredients and give ourselves the opportunity to list new products as soon as they hit the market. Not every cocktail generates the same revenue. We aim for 70 per cent GP. Some fall under that, some over, but we never try to push customers towards higher GP cocktails. We make sure they get what they want – simple.”

10. “Top class menus should lead, not follow”
Zdenek Kastanek, 28 Hong St, Singapore:
“The key to a successful menu is truly understanding the identity and goals of your venue and your guests. At its simplest, we have eight basic spirit categories and two fundamental types of drink: pre-dinner and after-dinner. I’m from the old, European school of bartending so whenever I write a menu I always try to cover those two bases. I don’t mean every drink needs to scream ‘Aperitif!’ or ‘Digestif!’ Give it your own style make it interesting innovative but transparent, adventurous but humble and clear to the average guest. I’m all about simplicity. Anything over 25 drinks becomes confusing for the guest and you begin to compromise speed and consistency. Guests always want their favourite drink to taste the same and be with them as fast as possible. When I was writing the menu at Black Angels in Prague with Pavel Šima we had 24 drinks on the menu. People thought we were crazy. At the time, other bars in city had 100-plus drinks. But that was our idea and we stuck with it. Now go and look at bars in Prague today. I’ve always been a fan of David A. Embury’s idea of six basic cocktails. Six drinks probably won’t make a world-class menu but, you get the point, simple, well thought-out menus go a long way. Don’t follow trends slavishly. A top-class menu should lead, not follow. With each trend, we examine the practise, evaluate it, and decide if it has a place in our bar. Again, the key is to have a true understanding of your venue’s DNA and the discipline to stick to it. Just because some drink technique is cool, doesn’t mean it’s right for your bar.”

11. Photograph all your drinks
Yes, all of them. In this digital age, with magazines such as this one, as well as the increasing number of online blogs and other media outlets, you simply must spend money on a professional photographer if you want to stay ahead of the competition. If you put out world-class drinks across your bar, then there is always someone, somewhere that is going to want to tell other people about it. If you have top quality photos ready at the click of a button, then not only will you look professional, but these publications will come back to you again as a result.

Blind Pig, London, nominated for Best New International Cocktail Bar, Tales of the Cocktail, 2014.

12. “Give each drink a point of interest”
Gareth Evans, Blind Pig, London:
“A good menu should be short, accessible, easy to understand and fun to look at. We list our drinks with the ingredients and then add a point of interest at the end – something referring to the glass, or serve, something that makes people ask questions. So, for Rye n’ Air, it’s ‘Duty Paid’, for Cuba Pudding Jnr, it’s “Yogurt Powder’.”

13. Don’t underestimate the power of PR
When your menu is finished, use social media to promote it: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Weibo, WeChat – the power of these social media platforms to sell drinks can’t be understated. Try to promote a different drink every day. And, if you’re running any drinks specials, happy hours, promotions or launching a new menu, then these can be very effective tools to drive business to your venue.

Naren Young is a New York-based bartender and journalist who has created cocktail menus for dozens of bars around the world. You’ll now find him behind the bar at Bacchanal, New York, probably sipping on a Negroni.

The Dead Rabbit Mixology Mayhem: The Story of John Morrissey and the World’s Best Cocktail Menu

The Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog in lower Manhattan has won every cocktail award there is to win, including being named "Best Bar in the World" in 2016. Since their award-winning cocktail book The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual was published in 2015, founders Sean Muldoon A groundbreaking graphic novel-style cocktail book from world-renowned bar The Dead Rabbit in New York City

The Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog in lower Manhattan has won every cocktail award there is to win, including being named "Best Bar in the World" in 2016. Since their award-winning cocktail book The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual was published in 2015, founders Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry, along with bar manager Jillian Vose, have completely revamped the bar's menus in a bold, graphic novel style, now featured in their newest collection The Dead Rabbit Mixology & Mayhem. Based on "Gangs of New York"-era tales retold with modern personalities from the bar world (including the authors) portrayed as the heroes and villains of the story, the menus are highly sought-after works of art. This stunning new book, featuring 90 cocktail recipes, fleshes out the tall tales even further in a collectible hardcover edition—making it a must-have for the bar's passionate fans who line up every night of the week.
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How Gritty NYC History Inspired Acclaimed Modern Cocktail Den The Dead RabbitThe Fascinating History Of NYC's Dead Rabbit

Jack McGarry is cofounder and operating partner of New York City’s the Dead Rabbit. Located in the historic Financial District, the three-story establishment recently took home the award for World’s Best Bar at the annual Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. A former recipient (and the youngest ever) of Tales’ International Bartender of the Year award, McGarry has tended bar at the Merchant Hotel in Belfast and Milk & Honey in London. He and his partner Sean Muldoon — along with Danny Meyer’s Union Square Events — are planning to open a project in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood, titled GreenRiver, this September. Here, he details the long, captivating history that inspired the Dead Rabbit.

It was during our time at the Merchant Hotel in Belfast that a regular customer first took notice of what we were doing. Conor Allen was based in New York five out of every six weeks, spending each sixth week in Belfast. He was thoroughly impressed by my bartending skills and by Sean’s leadership and vision. He felt that we had reached our peak in Belfast, that there was nothing left for us to do but win more awards and that the opportunity was not there for people like us to progress. He said the opportunities would be endless in New York if we were able to replicate what we had done. He asked if we would be interested in moving to the city. Although this daunted us at first, we both felt our time at the Merchant was up and that it was time to move on.

Our brief was simple: We had one and only one chance to get this right. If we got it right, other opportunities would follow. If not, we would return home with three years of New York experience under our belts. We wanted to create a cocktail bar for the 21st century — something that would not be here today and gone tomorrow, something that would have longevity. We looked at our two favorite bars in Belfast: The Bar at the Merchant Hotel, which was the style of bar we worked in, and the Duke of York, which was the style of bar we drank in. We wanted to bring these two ideas together in one building in a way that made sense.

Jack McGarry (right) with partner Sean Muldoon and head bartender Jillian Vose at Tales of the Cocktail.

We then started to look at New York history, trying to find out when Irish bar culture met high-end cocktail culture. We discovered that this happened during the mid-19th century in downtown Manhattan. In the famine years of 1845 to 1851, one million Irish immigrants walked through the gates of South Street Seaport, which was then known as the Port Authority of New York. They settled in and around that area, which was known as the Fourth Ward, and as far as the Five Points, which was known as the Bloody Sixth Ward. The distance between the two wards was around one kilometer. At the same time, a serious bartending movement was taking place on Broadway between Bowling Green and City Hall. Celebrity bartenders of the day, such as Orsamus Willard, Shed Sterling and none other than Jerry Thomas were working in the first luxury hotels of Manhattan and in the finest sporting men’s cocktail lounges.

It’s important to further elaborate on the history of the area and its relevance to our own story. Before Castle Clinton became an immigration center in 1855, the ships bringing famine survivors from Ireland would have docked in the area that is now the South Street Seaport, which is just 900 meters east of our site. It is estimated that over half a million Irish immigrants entered the U.S. there between 1846 and 1851. Those who survived the arduous three-month transatlantic crossing — there were many, many who didn’t — quickly realized that life in America was also going to be a battle for survival. The South Street Seaport was then part of the Fourth Ward and was regarded as the only rival to the adjacent Five Points area in its triple distinction of filth, poverty and vice.

Water Street itself was the highest crime area in all of New York City and was festooned with brothels, dance halls, boarding houses and cheap watering holes. A travel guide of the day called it “the most violent street on the continent,” and another warned readers to “absolutely steer clear of it after dark.” A more recent commentator stated that it was “a thoroughfare of vice and iniquity to challenge the imagination of the most graphic Victorian preacher.” Street gangs were as aplenty there as they were in the Five Points. River piracy, murder and general mayhem were commonplace. Just right for the Dead Rabbit then!

From 1848 to 1858, Pete Williams ran a lowly gin joint called the Slaughterhouse Point on the intersection of James Street and Water Street. It served as the base of operations for the notorious Daybreak Boys, one of the most treacherous band of killers ever to prowl Manhattan’s East Side docks.

Then there was the Hole in the Wall, which once stood at 279 Water Street — currently home to the Bridge Café (temporarily closed due to Hurricane Sandy) — and was ruled by a six-foot Englishwoman named “Gallus” Mag. She would bite off the ears of misbehaving patrons and pickle them for posterity in a large bottle of alcohol, which she left in plain sight for all to see as a kind of trophy case behind the bar. It was a favorite hangout of ruthless gang leader Sadie the Goat until she got into an argument with Mag, and Mag bit her ear off, too, adding it to the collection. The Hole in the Wall closed down in 1855 after seven murders were committed there in a span of three months. One of those murders was the well-documented case of Patsy the Barber, who had gotten into a fight with fellow Daybreak Boy gang member Slobbery Jim. Slobbery Jim ended up cutting Patsy the Barber’s throat before stomping him to death with his hobnail boots in plain view of everyone who was there.

From 1858 to 1868, John Allen and his wife, Little Suzie, operated an infamous dance hall at 304 Water Street. This place was known in its time as being one of the most licentious establishments in New York City, wherein all types of vice and sexual obscenities were on display on a daily basis. Allen was considered one of the most notorious criminals in the city, and the vastness of his transgressions earned him the title of “the wickedest man in New York.”

The exploits of the infamous Dead Rabbits gang were chronicled in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York.

In 1863, 273 Water Street was purchased by Christopher Keyburn (aka “Kit” Burns), one of the founders of the Dead Rabbits gang. He opened a dance hall in the house called Sportsmen’s Hall, where he offered a variety of distractions, including gambling, bare-knuckle boxing, dancing, drinking, and, most notoriously, rat and dog fights. For nearly two decades, it was also a central meeting place for the New York underworld in the Bowery and Fourth Ward areas, in particular the Slaughter House Gang and its leader, George “Snatchem” Leese, until it was finally closed in 1870.

Tommy Hadden was another leader of the Dead Rabbits, and he owned a popular dive bar around the corner at what was once 10 Cherry Street, which had been frequented by many underworld figures throughout its existence. Both he and Burns frequently returned to the Five Points to lead the Dead Rabbits on forays well into the 1850s and 1860s. His bar at Cherry Street was next door to the bar of Dan Kerrigan, a prize-fighter and one-time chairman of the Tammany Hall General Committee, and had been instrumental in the 1855 murder of William “Bill the Butcher” Poole.

Located on the first floor, the Parlor functions as the bar’s sophisticated cocktail lounge.

We knew therefore that for our story to have relevance, we had to find a building in that area — preferably one built before or during that time frame. Somewhere we could retell these stories. We found a five-story townhouse on Water Street that was built in 1828, which ticked all the correct boxes. We could have our Irish-immigrant bar on the ground floor that would have sawdust-strewn floor, a long narrow bar, the largest Irish whiskey selection in New York City, oysters, grog and a grocery. Our first floor would be the Parlor, i.e. a sophisticated sporting man’s cocktail lounge reminiscent of the ones you would have found on Broadway. Our third floor Occasional Room would be a room for meetings and private events.

It all seemed too good to be true on the surface, though we faced a lot of challenges ahead. The area was not known to offer this type of experience, and there were no other cocktail bars close by most of them were cheesy Mexican, Irish or American-style sports bars serving beer, shots and very average food. This is what the customers here seemed to like. On top of that, the block on which the building was situated (the Fraunces Tavern historic block) was famous for one thing, and that was that every business that opened on it had failed. It has to be said that other cocktail bars that had opened on the block had closed within six months — after spending $1.2 million. All this stuff was very worrying to both of us. But we convinced ourselves that our story was right, our timing was right, the product was right and we fully believed that the local people would embrace us.

About 200,000 people work in the area, some 60,000 people live in the area and many of them are professionals with expendable income. Hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of tourists visit the area throughout the course of the year. When you add on top of this the cocktail community coming down to visit the bar as a destination, we believed that we had a massive catchment area. We opened the doors price-consciously, as we wanted our product to be approachable for everybody and not just for a select few. The reaction has been unbelievable, our customers absolutely love it and we have the most publicized bar in New York City history. People from every walk of life come through the doors of the Dead Rabbit — we have no door policy apart from the obvious being that you are not intoxicated and are of the correct age. People can come in vests, flip-flops, tattoos or sporting attire — we do not care. All we ask is that they are behaved and not loud.

McGarry often makes 50 to 70 versions of a drink before settling on a recipe to be included on the bar’s voluminous cocktail menu.

Even though Sean and I are both Irish, we would describe the Dead Rabbit as a New York Irish bar, meaning that its story is specific to New York — in particular to the area of New York in which the bar is located. New Yorkers can see that it is very Irish-influenced, but we do not believe that they would consider it an Irish bar in the typical sense. The Dead Rabbit story cannot be copied or told in some other city because it simply wouldn’t work. Any future projects that we take on could not replicate the Dead Rabbit, but they would almost certainly be Irish-influenced.

The Dead Rabbit is named after John Morrissey.

Consider the life and times of John Morrissey. Bare-knuckler, roustabout, gang leader, gambler and politician, he lived barely half a century — from 1831 to 1878 — yet his life in many ways embodied the epic journey of impoverished Irish immigrants from the tradition-bound, famine-ravaged parishes of rural Ireland to the jam-packed precincts of New York, the fastest-growing urban agglomeration on the North American continent.

Born in Tipperary, Ireland, Morrissey came to Troy, New York, as a young child with his parents. He arrived in Manhattan at age 18. Brash, well-built and fearless, he could justly claim for himself the description penned by Walt Whitman in Song of Myself: “Turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating, drinking and breeding/No sentimentalist, no stander above men and women or apart from them/No more modest than immodest.”

Morrissey was not one to stand in line, hat in hand, awaiting the kindness of strangers. Upon his arrival, he barged his way into the Empire Club at 24 Park Row, saloon-cum-headquarters of Captain Isaiah Rynders, and started a fight. A stalwart of Tammany Hall, Rynders was suitably impressed. He recruited Morrissey as an “immigrant runner” (a thug who took charge of those just off the boat and, more often than not, fleeced them of whatever they had) and “shoulder-hitter” (an enforcer who made sure voters cast their ballots the way the party bosses wanted).

Early on, he earned the moniker “Old Smoke” when his opponent knocked him over a hot stove and pinned him atop the burning coals. Morrissey managed to get back on his feet. Clad in his smoldering coat, he gave his foe a thorough thrashing.

In 1851, lured by the prospect of instant riches, Morrissey joined the stampede to California. He made his first fortune panning for gold not in rivers or streams but at the gambling tables of San Francisco, where he ran an establishment specializing in faro, a hugely popular card game that, even when played on the up-and-up (rare as that was), favored the house.

He also won acclaim as a bare-knuckle boxer, turning a skill he learned in the streets into a source of national and international notoriety. His prowess in the ring became the subject of a traditional ballad, “Morrissey and the Russian Sailor,” which celebrated a bout “way down in Tierra Del Fuego in South Americay.” On knocking out his opponent, Morrissey proudly boasts, “I can lick you Yankee boys or you surly Russian bear/To the honor of old Paddy’s lands, these laurels I still will wear.”

Despite the ballad’s popularity and the reinforcement it gave to Morrissey’s ringside reputation, the fight was fictitious. Morrissey’s strength and stamina, however, were real. He won the world championship in 1853, defeating Yankee Sullivan in a contest that lasted 37 rounds.

Morrissey returned to New York to mine the opportunities for fame and riches that were burgeoning in the wake of the city’s preeminence as America’s commercial and financial hub. Yet while the city was exploding in size and wealth, it was also home to a widening gap between the haves and have-nots, and growing ethno-religious tensions. In 1849, the Astor Place Riot, sparked by a perceived insult paid by a British actor to an American one, left 25 dead and scores wounded.

At the molten core of the city’s volcanic tensions was the struggle between “Native Americans” — a term the Protestant descendants of the Anglo-Dutch settlers, ignoring the Lenape, appropriated for themselves — and the hordes of newly arrived Irish Catholics. Nativists were as determined “to put the Paddies in their place” as the Paddies were to make New York their home.

The animosity between Yankee and Paddy was epitomized by the vendetta between Morrissey and William “Bill the Butcher” Poole. An accomplished pugilist and leader of Nativist gang the Bowery Boys, Poole spearheaded the fight for control of the New York streets against Morrissey and his gang, the Dead Rabbits. (Myth has it the gang’s name derived from a deceased bunny skewered on a stick that preceded them into battle. More likely, it reflected the gang’s Irish identity and perhaps Morrissey himself, with “rabbit” being an Anglicization of the Irish word raíbéad, a big, hulking fellow, and “dead,” an intensifier.)

The animosity between Yankee and Paddy was epitomized by the murder of William Poole.

Poole and Morrissey indulged in fisticuffs at least twice, and though the accounts are unclear, it seems Poole came out on top both times. On February 24, 1855, the two bumped into each other in Stanwix Hall, a newly opened saloon on Broadway, near Prince. Morrissey spit in Poole’s face and pulled a pistol, but it misfired. Bill the Butcher unsheathed his knife. Luckily for Morrissey, the police arrived and broke up the fight. The affair was finally settled when associates of Morrissey returned that evening and shot Poole in the heart. He lingered for two weeks before uttering his parting words: “Goodbye, boys. I die a true American.”

A final showdown between the Bowery Boys and the Dead Rabbits took place two years later, in 1857, when the gangs faced off in “the battle of Paradise Square.” This time it was Morrissey and his gang who claimed victory. By then, however, Morrissey’s sights were set on claiming a higher status than that of a successful street thug he put his energies toward his gambling interests and politics.

Watch the video: Try a Mean Fiddler: Star bartender, from Wall Streets Dead Rabbit pub, makes us his favorite drink


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