Monday, June 30, 2008

In Clover

It's been a couple weeks since I first set foot inside Julie Reiner's sublime new Brooklyn cocktail den, The Clover Club, so it's about time I lay down some impressions.

It was a good time. The barstaff, led by Guiseppe Gonzalez—one of my classmates at the recent spring Bar Alcohol Resource weeklong-intensive course (which I passed, by the way, thank you very much)—was making dozens upon dozens of four select attractions from the cocktail menu, and I tried one of each. They were: the Clover Punch (gin, lemon, blackberry, allspice, Champagne) sitting in brimming glass bowls along the century-old bar; New York Sours (rye, lemon, orange, claret snap); plain old Mint Juleps; and Bermuda Swizzles (dark rum, pineapple, lime, velvet falernum, sugar).

All were beautiful. The New York Sours dense and dark. The punch was not exactly deceptively strong, as punches can be—just plain strong. The swizzles were lovingly prepared with twirling palms swirling dancing swizzle-sticks. And the Juleps were ice cold and attractively frosting up their silver mugs. (When they ran out of those, they were served in what looked like copper Moscow Mule mugs). I guess I enjoyed the Swizzle much, while the Sour most won my respect as a concoction. And, yes, I do sometimes respect drinks more than I just plain like them, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

The bar behind which these were all made was a century old, intricately carved, mahogany dandy that once lived in a tavern in a sugar-mining town in Pennsylvania. That was the story I got, anyway. (These pictures are courtesy of Pressed tin ceilings, of course, and dark burgundy leather booths adorn a raised area in the front room, which is a quite a roomy affair, with plenty of air and space (and a hostess to get past) before you reach the bar. About the same distance from sidewalk to stool as you get at Reiner's Flatiron Lounge, I'd say.

The smaller back room is more elegant and stately, like an Englishman's library, with a coffered mirrored-ceiling, sconces, a smaller bar, a chandelier, scattered upholstered chairs and a corner fireplace (which was ablaze, despite its being June). I can see the intimate appeal of the back room, but I myself prefer the convivial, democratic feel of the larger, more public front area. The general idea, as I take it, is for the place to resemble the Victorian drinking dens favored by bon vivants and men who took their derbies and moustaches seriously back in the late 1800s. No juke box. No television. Thank God.

The menu is a cocktail-history buff's dream, divided as it is into arcane drink categories such as Daisies, Collins & Fizzes, Buck & Mules, Cobblers & Highballs, Punches and Juleps & Smashs, among other things. A bit wonky for the average tippler. But I'm not complaining. I get precious few chances to walk into a bar and order a Cobbler without explaining myself. (Nothing takes the fun out of ordering a drink more than having to explain your order. It's like explaining a joke.)

This is just what I did on my second visit to the Clover Club. I ordered the Madrono Cobbler (Oloroso Sherry, Amaro, Muddled Strawberry, Demerara) on the recommendation of Gonzalez. He recommended it because he invented it, and won a Sherry contest with it. Very good. Potent and meaty for a cocktail. One other note: I applaud Reiner on keeping the cocktail prices more in line with Brooklyn wallets; most drinks are $10 or $11.

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