Intro: This is part 3 of the 3-part series of Dead Rabbit, which has been extensively ahem, researched over the years.
- In part 1, we outlined the “concept” of the bar and why it’s one of the top 50 in the world.
- In part 2, we wrote about the best cocktails and food items to order at Dead Rabbit.
Part 3 focuses on the bartenders and closing thoughts/tips when you visit this hallowed establishment in New York.
Bartenders (and a bit of a Rant)
The bar program here has traditionally hired from within and they train their own on what they feel those bartenders need to know. As a result, some of the bartenders who have come up through the ranks understand their menu well but don’t always have a full grasp on the classics. This is a menu-driven bar, which is fine when you’re visiting occasionally and want drinks that you can’t get anywhere else, but when it becomes your local bar and you just want a well-made classic, the vast majority of the bartenders strongly insist into something off of one of their menus. Similarly, it can be a fight to get them to tweak any element of a drink on their menus. On the rare occasions that I have asked to try a drink from their menu with slightly different measurements in order to increase heat or dryness or remove an ingredient that I didn’t like or substitute it with something else, I have been informed, rather pedantically (and this is with multiple bartenders) that the menus were very carefully crafted to exhibit the best versions of the drinks and could not be altered. Perfection is a matter of personal preference and when shelling out $18 per drink, I’d prefer some say.
If I were giving this beloved bar the benefit of the doubt, I would say that this shortcoming is a symptom of the program’s perfectionism. Like most serious cocktail programs, the staff at DR are meticulous in crafting their menus, it takes them months and they do so by committee. But, I have never encountered such group devotion to a single idea of “right”, as I have with this staff. More problematic for me is that when they finally decide that a given drink is ready for the menu, no other iteration or interpretation of that drink could ever be acceptable and they will not debate you on the drink’s merits, but simply inform you that your suggestion would result in an “unbalanced” drink, despite your protests that it would be calibrated to your prevailing, individual, tastes.
So, this is my only one major problem with this excellent and innovative bar program, namely. But I’ll re-iterate: I love this bar and there’s a reason why I visit so often.
Closing Thoughts & Advice
Dead Rabbit is my home. It is the place I will first bring out-of-town guests.
This place is one of the few true cocktail bars in downtown Manhattan (by that I mean DOWNtown), it is also one of the few places way downtown that is open until 4 am every night and serving food until almost 4 am.
As I mentioned in Part 1, the cocktails are insanely innovative – and incredibly well-balanced. And although I have some minor quibbles, they are minor and the result of visiting frequently over the years and, as a result, getting to know the bar and its program extremely well.
- I recommend you visit the 2nd floor Parlor Room (the cocktail lounge), but note that it closes at 2 am, and they generally start breaking down and make last call early (1:30 am pretty reliably for last call). So definitely don’t make this your last stop of the night if you want to take your time and sample some different things.
- Like I said in Part 2, I recommend: the Irish Coffee, Jailbird cocktail, Black Rose cocktail, and definitely the chicken pot pie.
- If Jillian (head bartender) is working, definitely look to her for her advice: she is an encyclopedia.
- Fun fact: If you notice sawdust on the floor: this is a theme bar, and the theme is throwback to 1880s New York waterfront. Sawdust was a good idea for sopping up things on the floor (blood of dead cows for steaks, over-served sailors, bar-room brawl fluids, spilled wine and beer, etc.), so that it was easier to shovel a pile of sawdust that absorbed fluids than to scrub out the stains.