Richard Boccato and Giuseppe ("Joe") Gonzalez' new tiki bar Painkiller opens officially tonight. I visited the place on Monday, and talked to Boccato about the debut menu shortly after. Here are my findings, published yesterday, in the New York Times' Diner's Journal.
Zombies Descend for Drinks on the Lower East Side
By ROBERT SIMONSON
If the patrons at the new Lower East Side tikiden Painkiller want to order a Zombie — as many will — they’ll have a choice.
“We have to pay respect to Donn Beach,” said Richard Boccato, one of the owners of Painkiller, which officially opens on Friday. Beach, who founded the legendary Don the Beachcomber bar in Hollywood in 1934, is one of tiki’s founding fathers. But one of his signature drinks, the lethally alcoholic Zombie, is also one of the most debated cocktails in tiki history, with several differing published recipes.
“His 1934 Zombie is a masterpiece,” Mr. Boccato continued. “But there’s also the 1942 recipe and the 1956. We’re going to be serving various interpretations of the Zombie.”
Choose your Zombie preference carefully. Each customer can only have one.
Made with four ounces of rum (tall thin bottles on the bar contain the pre-mixed “Zombie rum batch”), the cocktail is powerful, but slides down like lemonade. “These drinks go down very fast,” Mr. Boccato warned.
Painkiller’s debut drink menu leaves the customer, and the bartender, a lot of leeway, and not just in the Zombie department. Presented in the form of a colorful tacky placemat [pdf], it divides the world of tiki beverages into 10 categories. Some drinks, like the Mai Tai, the Painkiller itself, and the Cradle of Life (which involves an inverted lime wedge filled with flaming Chartreuse), stand on their own. Others entries, like “Frozens,” “Daiquiris” and “Swizzles,” embrace whole categories of cocktail, without getting more particular.
“Because the spectrum of these drinks is so broad, rather than nail down, for instance, a specific, set frozen drink, like a frozen daiquiri, we’re trying to encourage people to experiment with several different varieties,” explained Mr. Boccato, who runs the bar with Giuseppe Gonzalez. Drinkers can specify a particular brand of rum if they wish.
“It’s like the Bartender’s Choice option that you get at Dutch Kills,” said Mr. Boccato, naming the Long Island City bar where he and Mr. Gonzalez used to work. “The menu-placemat is a kind of template that we can use forever. It makes life easier for everyone involved. It gives you more choices.” (Single drinks run $12 to $16.)
Another less-familiar stratum of drink on the menu are the Bastards. These are variations on a gin-ginger beer-lime juice mixture, and were created by a globetrotting, mid-20th-century bartender named Joe Scialom. They include the Suffering Bastard, Dying Bastard and Dead Bastard.
Mr. Boccato is working on a new version called a Glorious Bastard. The menu also offers a tiki flight, a series of miniature drinks decided upon each night and served in small, clear-glass skulls.
“There’s so much to play with,” he said. “Our bartenders are going to be able to experiment a lot.”
The machine that will supply drinkers with the steady stream of complimentary hot dogs will arrive next week, Mr. Boccato said. It will turn out 50 to 60 dogs at a time.
“We hope that people will take advantage of the fact that they will be free,” he said, “because you do need something in your stomach if you’re going to be drinking Zombies.”
Painkiller, 49 Essex Street (Grand Street), Lower East Side. 212-777-TIKI (or 8454)