After igniting a speakeasy craze with Milk & Honey, then fanning its flames with Little Branch, Sasha Petraske is sending his signature Prohibition-era cocktails and code of conduct into brave new territory: Murray Hill.
Designed and overseen by Petraske and his partners Joseph Schwartz, Lucinda Lynn Sterling, and John Bonsignore, Middle Branch takes its precursor's aesthetic a few feet out of the basement. Here, the speakeasy style spreads across two tightly-knit, low-ceilinged floors, each with its own bar. Settle downstairs, and you'll still see some light from the street; go up, and you'll find a crimson banquette, bistro seating, and slender, frosted windows that catch the candlelight.
It may be slightly less secret than the bars that came before, but the mood still hews to the Petraske standard: "It's not just that we have a passion for a certain kind cocktails, we're also known for a certain kind of decorum," Sterling says. "Our lounges are purposefully quiet and respectful. We keep the noise limited, the way speakeasies once did just to keep from being caught."
For the most part, Middle Branch will feature a direct replication of the Little Branch bar program, with the addition of a few local brews on tap down the road. The cocktail list, though, plays out the Prohibition-era canon, keeping some space for a few curveballs: Schwartz's Island Old-Fashioned sports Zacapa aged rum and Velvet Falernum; Sterling's new signature, the Gentle Persuasion is a summery swizzle drink based on Lillet Rosé.
Behind the bar, the goal remains to tailor each drink to the patron who ordered it, maintaining extreme attention to detail: "Part of the pizazz of these places is that the customer gets to watch as the drink comes together," Sterling says. "We open a dialogue, and focus not only on what's going into the drink, but on what the customer's seeing as we do it. It's important to us to always keep the connection."
Middle Branch's official opening depends on the final approval of their license, which the team expects in a matter of days. Until then, click through our slideshow to preview five of their signature drinks.
154 E 33rd St, New York NY 10016 (map)
About the Author: Carly Wray is a Brooklyn-based wine & spirits writer. She loves good Bonarda, cheap bourbon, and publishing uninformed opinions on her blog, Confessions of a Wine Fraud.