Monday, March 10, 2008

It's All Jake

Rain kept me away from Jake Walk, Carroll Garden's new wine, cocktail and cheese bar, on Friday and Saturday. But on Sunday the coast was clear, so I struck out for the Smith Street tavern, which is owned and run by Patrick Watson and Michele Pravda, the married duo behind wine store Smith & Vine and cheese chop Stinky.

Both told me that I made the right choice in waiting; Friday had been a nuthouse, with people two deep at the bar. There was still good traffic on Sunday night, but light enough that I easily scored a place at the bar. Serving up drinks with Ari Form and Matt DeVriendt, managers at Smith & Vine and partners in the new venture. They were properly dressed in shirtsleeves and ties neatly tucked within their shirts. Ari makes for a particularly striking, 19th-century figure; he is the only bartender I know who sports true muttonchops.

The space is handsome, but not fussy. An L-shaped bar, tables along two walls, what looked like orange, brocade wallpaper on the fall war, a shelf for books. Halfway between nondescript bar decor and the over-designed fussiness of some of the newer cocktail dens.

There is more food to be had here than at most wine and/or cocktail joints, most of it coming from Stinky. If you are big on the classic pairing of wine and cheese, this is your place. (There is a heading for "Cheese wines.") I did not partake of anything more than olives. A lot of folks were ordering up cheese plates, though.

If you are familiar with wines on offer at Smith & Vine, then you know the wine to be had at Jake Walk. Lots of interesting, quality small producers from France, Italy, Germany, Austria and the U.S., and a good share of not-widely-known varietals. Don't look for any of the big-market names you see for sale at the corner liquor shop. (Thank God.) There are at least 30 wines by the glass. The prices by the bottle look quite reasonable. There's also plenty of beer, scotch, bourbon and, I was happy to see, rye, including Black Maple Hill.

As for cocktails, the menu list is short. About five each of spirits-based cocktails and wine-based cocktails. (Though the boys behind the bar they have the ability to make many more.) Since I know Smith & Vine's wines and Stinky's cheeses, I focused on the cocktails as the newest part of this Brooklyn mini-empire. I first chose the Cotton Cocktail, because it has rye in it, and rye's where I gravitate. Completing the drink were dry and sweet vermouth, orange bitters and absinthe. The bartender was using Wild Turkey. It was light and went down easy.

I was about to order a wine-based cocktail after that, but when I learned Ari knew how to make a Sazerac, I grew weak and regressed, falling back on my favorite drink. He made a fine example of said cocktail, though a touch too heavy on the simple syrup for my tastes. Still, it had that purity of taste and beautiful color you like to see in a Sazerac.

These drinks, as well as other cocktails around the bar, were served in a wide variety of glasses. I couldn't figure out the system and the random glassware may actually be part of the vision. I don't know. The man next to me had ordered a Manhattan and expressed mild disgruntlement at not getting it in "a proper Manhattan glass." Cocktailians. They're hard to please.

Still, the place is already off to a good start and if it doesn't stay wildly popular, I'd be surprised.

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