The first time I tried to have a seat at the bar at Park Slope’s Thistle Hill Tavern, I was foiled by a woman who shuffled in front of me and claimed the last two empty seats for her and her absent husband. That’s the bad news about Thistle Hill: the bar has only six seats. The rest of the seating at this year-old restaurant on Seventh Avenue and 15th Street is reserved for food, which is a shame, because the drinks are pretty damn good.
When my girlfriend and I went back a second time, on a Saturday afternoon, we were rewarded with a couple of stools. Our first drinks were the Maple Manhattan ($12, Black Maple Hill Bourbon, organic maple bitters, Carpano Antico) and the New Old Fashioned ($12, Sazerac Rye, Laird’s Applejack, A.B. Smeby Cherry Vanilla bitters, lemon, brown sugar, brandied cherries). The Manhattan was good, but still slightly bitter. I had it up, but the bartender said he preferred it on the rocks. The Old Fashioned was fantastic. It was not too sweet, slightly sour, and complex in flavor.
Curious about the bitters, I asked our bartender, Thistle Hill co-owner David Massoni. He laughed and told us that the Louis Smeby, the man who makes A.B. Smeby bitters, lived nearby. “I read a story about him somewhere and it had his picture. I said, hey! That guy’s a regular at our bar!” So he asked Smeby about his bitters and worked them into the menu.
Likewise, the Maple bitters (from a different producer) was sourced from a friendly shop across the street called Grab Specialty Foods.
But my favorite drink was my second. The house cocktail, the Thistle Hill ($12, Famous Grouse scotch, Carpano Antico, A.B. Smeby Citrus bitters), which is basically a Rob Roy, managed to taste totally new to me. The coppery flavor of the blended scotch was complemented perfectly by the Carpano Antica, a sweet vermouth that transcends the category.
I’m leaving out the food, which is the establishment’s biggest draw; we didn’t try any this time. But we will. Thistle Hill Tavern is the kind of place that Park Slope—and Seventh Avenue in particular—desperately needs.