A Cuban bar by a couple of Irish guys makes a lot more sense when you realize Ernest Hemingway is involved.
“I became familiar more with [Hemingway’s] drinking exploits than his writing. I got into his writing after I got into his drinking,” says Sean Muldoon of The Dead Rabbit, and another soon-to-be-destination cocktail bar BlackTail, which opens Aug. 15 on the second floor of Pier A Harbor House in Battery Park. “He was the first rock ’n’ roll star before rock ’n’ roll was even heard of. He was larger than life.”
It was particularly Hemingway’s famously lush time in Cuba while American bars were either closing or risking everything to keep serving patrons during the Prohibition era that interested Muldoon years before the Dead Rabbit. In a way, his first New York City bar with business partner Jack McGarry — which was named World’s Best Bar by the Spirited Awards in 2015 — was them paying their dues by establishing themselves with a project people would understand: a whiskey-focused Irish bar from two Belfast expats.
Like the notorious Irish gang that was the namesake of their first bar, BlackTail has its own shady source: the black tailfins of the planes that took thirsty Americans to free-wheeling Cuba during the Prohibition era of the 1920s and ’30s. Laid back but refined, BlackTail is meant to evoke an American bar set in Cuba, with classic photos of the island country on the walls and the staff wearing jaunty tan fedoras.
And the theme goes beyond Hemingway’s decadent approach to dodging anti-liquor laws. “Rum was probably the first spirit that I was into when I was learning cocktails,” Muldoon confesses. “I’ve always loved tiki-style drinks — and that whole thing of escapism when you walk into a tiki bar: No matter how bad you feel, you walk out feeling good.”
Though there are no Cuban rums on the menu (they’re not legal to import yet) the team created their own blend and kept the five categories of drinks — highballs, cocktails, sours, punches and Old Fashioneds — pretty classic, adding their usual contemporary flourishes. Even the standard rum and Coke got a spin: Puerto Rican rum gets a deep note from fernet branca, but also a lift of champagne.
Accompanying the cocktails ($16) is a seafood-heavy small-plates menu with items like ancho chili-glazed chicken lollipops, Gulf shrimp and watermelon skewers, Cuban sliders made with rabbit (wink, wink) and tres leches cake.