Among the many tasks at hand when opening a new bar, Essex owner Brandon Pettit added a rare one: he started right away working on the house-made Fernet-like beverage. Pettit is the chef and owner of famed pizzeria Delancey next door; Essex is the new cocktail bar he recently opened with his wife and business partner, Molly Wizenberg, who you might recognize from her blog, Orangette.
Pettit and bar manager Gary Abts hurried to get the tequila into aging barrels while the contractor was just beginning to shape the former umbrella shop into a bar. "Everyone's making bitters," Abts admitted, and then pointed out the difference, "we're taking the next step." That next step, making everything from scratch, started fast. When the lease on the space was signed in April, Abts and Pettit immediately got to work on the necessary ingredients (liqueurs, pickles, and more) for cocktails that are "as fresh as possible and as house-made as possible," said Abts. Pettit had already begun making many of the vinegars used in drinks.
The bar started out with a vaguely old-school British pub inspiration, but ended up with a quirky, neighborhood feeling, with the vintage refrigerator, minimalist white walls on one side, and mesmerizing, whale-themed wallpaper on the other. The drinks are similarly quirky, based on classics, but each tweaked in their own way, like the Queen Mary, a Bloody Mary updated for the evening crowd.
Abts is working on his second opening in quick succession; he's fresh from putting together the bar program at La Bête on West Capitol Hill. Working with Pettit, he said, made for great drinks because "Brandon is a perfectionist. We try, re-try, try again until we get it right."