Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Laid Back Punch Palace for Me Hearties in Williamsburg

To tell you the truth, after this fall, I'm about punched out. Everywhere I've turned this fall, I've been ladled out a crystal cupful of Dickensian liquid or handed a copy of David Wondrich's new book "Punch." The Drink—of which Brooklyn bar I write in the below NY Times item—is the second bar in NYC this year to devote itself to punch (the first being Cienfuego in the East Village). And I mean devote itself, not just put a punch or two on the menu. There are no cocktails at The Drink. Just beer and punch. Of course, they'll make you a Martini if you insist. And I may insist.

Punch Pushes Cocktails Off the Menu at the Drink in Williamsburg

One of the unavoidable drinking trends of the fall has been punch. Hardly a cocktail bar has opened in New York in the past few months without giving a nod to the crystal bowl. Forty Four at the Royalton Hotel, 1534 on the Lower East Side and SoHo’s Lani Kai have all made room for punch in their programs. But the recently opened The Drink in Williamsburg has so devoted themselves to the format that the flowing bowls have actually knocked individual cocktails off the menu.

“We can and will make cocktails, but that’s not our focus,” said Frank Cisneros, an owner who is a bartending veteran of Prime Meats in Carroll Gardens and Dram in Williamsburg. “We’re set up to do punch. It ties into the nautical theme of the bar. When you look at when punch started becoming big in the mid-17th century, it was the time of the Dutch India Trading company. Tea was coming into England. Punch became the de facto thing. If you look at all the old punches, they were all named after old Admirals.”
The Drink’s tiny tearsheet of a menu offers about a half dozen original punches on one side (names include The Old Gunwhale, The Narwhal and The Charter), and an array of bottled (largely Belgian) and tap beers on the other. Bowls of punch cost $43, but a couple by-the-glass punches—one hot and one cold—are always on offer at $5 a cupful. Since the 12 ounce tap beers are only $4, one can drink both well, and cheaply, here.
Mr. Cisneros said he and his partners had been planning the punch emphasis long before the arrival of the liquor historian David Wondrich’s new book, “Punch,” which was published in November and quickly embraced by the cocktail clique. “I’ve had a love affair with it for a couple years now,” he said, noting that his former employer, Prime Meats, was one of the first cocktail bars in the city to regularly feature a punch by the glass.
We’re not trying to be tongue in cheek about it. One of our partners, Will Jones” — of the Williamsburg beer haven Sputen Duyvil –”is from Maine, and his family has two barns full of stuff. One-hundred-and-ten-year-old slabs of teak wood make up our bar. Those were at one time set aside to be the percule of a ship. I grew up sailing. I passed my midshipman exam when I was 17 and worked on a 118-foot schooner. Another partner, Nika Carlson, was also a sailor growing up. She used to race sailboats.” Much of the decor in the bar is drawn from the personal belongings of the partners’ stuff from familes.
Mr. Cisneros said he wants The Drink to be a casual hangout free of the high-strung accoutrements that mark many of the newer drinking establishment. “Our well liquor is all $6 and it’s all good stuff, like Rhum Barbancourt, Damrak Gin, W.L. Weller Bourbon,” he said. “I worked very hard to keep most everything on the back bar $9 or under. There’s no fuss about it.

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