Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Visit to Prime Meat's Tap Room

It took five tries to score the Brooklyn restaurant Frankies 457 on a night when the speakeasy of their new venue, Prime Meats, was actually open for business. Prime Meats is just a few doors down from Frankies on Court Street. When open, it will contain a dining room, retail outlet and bar. For now, however, only the bar, called the "tap room," is open to the public, and only on select nights.

To get to the tap room, you have to pass through Frankies into its backyard garden space. You then turn right and enter a large kitchen space (below).

And walking across the kitchen, you climb a short flight of stairs at the far end of the room.

Finally, you push open this ornate wooden door, with its frosted, beveled glass, into a tavern from another century, where lights are low, furnishings are made of heavy dark wood, the bar is sculpted, the punch bowls are chiseled, the wallpaper is painted and chandeliers hang from the ceiling.

Apparently, the saloon is mainly being used by Frankies to park its patrons as they wait for a table. I was an oddity, wanting, as I did, to only visit the bar and have a drink or two. But they readily accommodated me.

The tap room is doing a number of things right already. By keeping the cocktails $9, they're undercutting much of the competition, even in Brooklyn, where elite mixed drinks usually start at $10 or more. (A previous tap room menu I've seen had cocktails at $8, so the price may have already gone up since the tap room's soft "opening.") Additionally, the owners are keeping things simple, not overwhelming the buyer with too many choices. There's a short list of classic cocktails that everyone can recognize, including the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Champagne Cocktail and Martinez. Then there's a page of seven or so new inventions.

I was surprised to see Damon, a former employee at LeNell's liquor shop behind the bar. A tall, blonde guy with a friendly air, he said he was the author of the new drinks, as well as the homemade bitters used in many of the drinks. He let me try a couple of these bitters. The Buddha's Hand Bitters have more of an edge the most people expect from their bitters. They pack a serious acidic, bitter bite. I suspected the bitters might easily have their way with a Manhattan, and I was right. The change in bitters dominates the flavor of the drink. I can't say whether I loved the alteration; the bitters are somewhat bullying. But they certainly make the drink stand at attention, and you pay attention, too. (I also tasted the homemade Bartlett pear bitters, which were equally strong.)

It's cool to be able to order a glass of punch in a bar. There is one offering, at $6 a glass. (Places like Clover Club and Death & Co. offer punch, too, but only by the bowl.) It wasn't the most delicious punch I've ever had, but it was a delight to watch the bartender ladle out a helping from the crystal punch bowl behind the bar, and to then drink it out of a antique punch glass.

Of the originals, the popular favorite seemed to be the Loganberry Scramble, which derives its personality from Loganberry liqueur, a cordial made in Oregon from the little-known Loganberry. The berry's flavor—a combination of deep sweetness, bitter edge and nutty notes—dominated the cocktail, which is based on rum and is filled with lots of crushed ice.

A few other drinks on the menu looked interesting. I have an objection to the Fourth Degree, a simple libation made of gin, vermouth and absinthe. Last time I checked, that was called an Obituary Cocktail. (The proportions could be wildly different in the Fourth Degree, however.) And, as much as I am not sold on absinthe, I'm curious about the Absinthe Crusta.

The crowd was young and fascinated with the drink-making process, as people who frequent such places usually are. Conclusion: another nice new drinking place in South Brooklyn. Now, can someone just open one on my side of the BQE?

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