I finally made it to JakeWalk, one of a string of great cocktail bars on Smith Street in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens neighborhood. This was the bar pictured in Frank Bruni’s New York Times piece about punch and its champion, David Wondrich (for which Wondrich made a punch of Batavia Arrack with ambergris and an Indonesian palm sugar).
The dimly lit JakeWalk has about 12 seats around the bar, above which hangs the heaviest looking mirror I’ve ever seen in a gilt frame almost a foot thick. I’ve gotten used to places like this having bartenders in near period garb: suspenders, mustaches, pressed white shirts — but at JakeWalk, the bartenders looked more like math tutors (casual, slightly nerdy).
My first drink was the Violent Bear, which I chose because it sounded savory and boozy, and because I was curious to try something with genever gin. With the genever as its base, it also included Punt e Mes, stone pine liqueur, honey syrup and Xocolatl mole bitters. It was $12, but between 5 and 7pm, all drinks are $2 off.
The honey flavor was evident, and it had a slighly bitter aftertaste that almost reminded me of Campari. I’m curious to try the stone pine liqueur alone to see what exactly it brings to the drink.
The Violent Bear was good, but not great, which prompted a conversation about how to tell the difference between exceptional things and things that just pack a unique punch. When you try so many things–cocktails or fragrances–you get numb to the ones that don’t stand out for their extreme differences. This may be why I’m on a smokey cocktail kick right now, and why discovering Kara Newman’s cocktail blog (mostly dedicated to spicy drinks) was so exciting. It’s also why most men’s colognes to hit the mass market bore me and every other fragrance blogger out there–fairly or not.
For my next drink, I asked the bartender which he recommended, a “guest cocktail” from a bar in Williamsburg or a house cocktail that came with your choice of either bourbon or applejack mixed with Green Chartreuse and a couple other things. Without hesitation, he chose the latter, and said very seriously that it was “life-changing.” That’s a bit extreme, but it was solid.
For the neighborhood, Clover Club, up the street a couple blocks, remains my favorite. It’s larger, with a bigger menu and a better happy hour, but the drinks are somehow more exciting too.