Drinking at Dead Rabbit New York: Part 1
Foreword from the editor: This is Ryan’s first article on our site – and what an epic piece it is. Clocking in at 5 single-spaced pages (Ryan is a lawyer after all), he has been meticulously researching the bar over the past few years. It’s an incredibly enjoyable read.
So, this is literally the 4th time I have tried to write this review over the years, because I have such a conflicted relationship with my local watering hole. I have a great deal of love for this bar and even more for the people who work there, however, I am also more attuned to the bar’s drawbacks than most. If you love cocktails and you’re just in town or downtown for an occasional visit, there is no doubt that the drinks at this place will blow you away.
You will have cocktails here, the likes of which you will never encounter anywhere else. The cocktails are inventive, playful, varied, highly creative in terms of their ingredients and mixtures of scent, viscosity and ingredients, but all within the realm of normalcy (i.e. no sea urchin gins, white Russian cereal bowls, etc.). I am not aware of any cocktail bar in the world that has a larger catalog of proprietary cocktails and certainly not one that is so consistently, meticulously crafted.
The Rabbit tends to generate a new cocktail menu every six months since they opened in 2013, each with about 30 drinks. Needless to say, the selection of drinks and creativity amassed on those menus is already vast and is still growing. The creativity of the drinks requires a bevy of specialty batches, tinctures, syrups and ingredients that populate the mind-bogglingly vast array of tincture/speed bottles at the front of the bar, all of which the bartenders in the parlor room seamlessly navigate like the bartender equivalents of Michel Desjoyeaux (Google him). The bar program trains heavily (for better and worse) on their menus and their menus only, so if they still have the requisite ingredients on hand, then they will be able to make you just about anything from any menu.
Profiles of their drinks are vast and varied and often in combinations that seem to have been dreamt up by a 3-star Michelin chef on acid. For instance, one drink recently on the menu was the ‘Nickel and Dime,’ which included the following elements: Caribbean Rum, Cognac, Sweet Vermouth, Ancho Chili, Blackberry, Cinnamon, Lemon, Pineapple and Mole Bitters. That’s a pretty normal drink for Dead Rabbit and that’s insane.
With all of those complex recipes, the bar staff at DR always seem able to find something to satiate their patrons’ wants in unique, Dead Rabbit, style… well, almost always. And here’s the start of my major complaint about my local haunt: their menus are uniformly balanced. By that I mean, although the flavors and mixtures and even measurements are wonderfully varied, their balance is often tragically flat.
This bar does a better job making a wide variety of cocktails for the popular palate than I ever thought possible. However, even if they have a drink with 2.5 oz. of overproof spirit in a coupe glass, they will somehow find a way to make it present as popular-palate balanced.
You will never feel the heat, you will never taste the alcohol the way you would expect to, and you will never truly enjoy the way two or three beautiful individual spirits play off of each other as you would with say a Champs Elysees or a Vieux Carre; instead, it will be masked with sugar and/or spices or some deliciously and carefully blended tincture and tested again and again until it is… painfully balanced. Ironically, one of the things this bar is famous for are its punches, which are excellent. However, their menus too often exhibit not only the diversity of ingredients, but also the uniformity and smoothness of their punches and a lot of the drinks on their menus ultimately end up tasting like extremely good punches. I recently took a two non-cocktail enthusiasts there and between us, we had 9 distinct drinks off of the latest menu, and their report (to my surprise, actually) was that the drinks were “really good, but all kind of tasted the same.”
Again, I stress, this is a great, great bar. The bartenders here are solid and have recently gotten even better with a couple of new key players added to the team. The menu is incredible, so, the criticism that follows really just consists of my own, personal, hang-ups and sense of misguided ideals, principles, etc. But if I’m contributing a review, I feel I would be remiss to not share my honest opinion simply because I like the bar or think that they do some great things.