Blacktail part 1

An Irishman Goes to Cuba - Blacktail part 1

19 Feb. 2018
When we met The Dead Rabbit’s Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry in October 2013, they were hot off their triumph at the previous summer’s Tales of The Cocktail Spirited Awards.

Since then, the 2013 World’s Best New Cocktail Bar received over a dozen awards, among which World’s Best Bar, period. Suffice to say that the news they were about to open BlackTail at Pier A, a new bar with a Cuban concept, sent our pulses racing. We needed to know more, so we sat down with Muldoon and Bar Manager Jillian Vose for this two-part feature. The first one focuses on the birth and development of what is sure to become the new New York hotspot.
The site
A mere half a mile from The Dead Rabbit, Pier A was built over a hundred and thirty years ago and is a New York City landmark since 1977. After two decades of neglect, Pier A Harbor House opened on the premises in late 2014. A massive 2600 square meters, the building houses a restaurant, 4 kitchens and 6 bars. “The complex is owned by people who are investors at Dead Rabbit. They asked us to take a look and see if we could help them out. It will be a standalone bar, with its own entrance”, said Sean. BlackTail will have room for 130 seating guests, to be attended by a team of 20. It will open this summer.
The concept
Sean has had a lifelong passion for Ernest Hemingway and travelled far and wide to visit the places where Papa lived – and drunk. He went to Cuba a few years ago, and, obviously, as a cocktail lover, something clicked. “For us to get involved in a project, we’ve really got to feel it deep in our hearts. We just can’t come up with something from thin air. At first, I didn’t really see what we could do at Pier A but we flew in our design team from Belfast and I told them about an old project I had, centred on Cuba. It’s been in my head for 9 years, and back then I wanted to do it in Belfast but it would have been wrong”. Initially, the name he had in mind was Pan American Clipper, a legendary luxury flying boat from the 40’s that used to fly to South America and the Caribbean. “But we realized there was another flight, nicknamed the Highball Express. It would take thirsty drinkers from dry NY to wet Havana. On its way, the Express would fly over Pier A, so things started to make sense.” During their research, they also found that the NY planes had their tails painted black: BlackTail. “Since the concept was already in our heads, once we had the name everything went quick.”
The bar
“If you open a Cuban-themed bar in New York, New Yorkers have to identify with it. The Dead Rabbit is an Irish bar but with a story that happened in NY. Same with BlackTail: it’s a Cuban bar but we tell the story of an American leaving for Cuba via the BlackTail. We didn’t want to reproduce a Cuban bar. The space is grand, very fancy; it’s like a hotel bar.” It’s not purely Cuban but still bear its influences on its sleeves… “We all flew out to Cuba a few months ago with our friend Julio Cabrera, the Cuban bartender from Miami. We went to all the old school bars and took in everything that worked.” The barstools come from Floridita, there’s a José Marti sculpture, Sloppy Joe’s references, wood-covered fridges and a bar top specially designed to look as if it came straight from Havana.
The menu
The Dead Rabbit is widely known for the quality for their menus. We had an exclusive look at BlackTail at Pier A’s menu and we can tell you they’ve outdone themselves. “It’s about an Irish writer flying on the BlackTail, having a drink and reading Basil Woon’s ‘When it’s Cocktail Time in Cuba’. And that Irish guy wants to meet another Irish guy called Ed Donovan. He was a real-life bartender in Jersey who moved his bar lock, stock, and barrel to Havana upon prohibition”. Superbly illustrated, the menu is rounded off by a text on the history of the BlackTail and a (booze-fuelled) fiction by Jared Brown. A sure awards contender if we ever saw one!
The drinks
The drinks? Ah, for the drinks, you’ll have to wait for the second part of this feature. Jillian Vose will spill the goods on a very exciting bar program. “We didn’t want to have people come at BlackTail and say, ‘oh, it’s a Dead Rabbit cocktail’. From the glassware to the recipes, everything has to be different”, she told us. Different how? Watch this space…

François Monti