Note: First Looks give previews of new drinks and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with bars and restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
One way to keep the pretention to a minimum at your serious cocktail bar? Build it above a no-frills pub specializing in Irish whiskey and draft beer. At The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog, the Financial District's newest drinking destination, you'll find exactly that—thoughtfully-crafted period cocktails upstairs, and well-poured pints at a belly-up kind of bar on the ground floor.
According to founder and general manager Sean Muldoon, the idea for the dual concept bar stemmed from an experience he had while running the award-winning beverage program at Belfast's Merchant Hotel. "We had invited a bunch of guys from the U.S. to check out the bar as part of our Connoisseur's Club, and apart from our place they spent all their time drinking in this regular, Irish working man's pub down the street."
Years later, when one of his regulars, a New York-based financier named Connor Allen, offered to help back him in his own venture, Muldoon thought back on those visiting cocktail-lovers and their affinity for the basic local pub.
"I immediately thought of the 1850s," says Muldoon, "it's when Irish immigrants were coming to America, and then also this neighborhood is where the bartending movement started. I thought, 'We can tell the story of the Irish immigrant on the ground level, and the story of the era's cocktail-drinking sporting fraternity on the second floor.'"
Here, Muldoon's modern tale of the Irish immigrant includes occasional live Irish music, oyster service, a real-deal quality goods grocery shop (think olives, chips and dip), and plans to have "the biggest Irish whiskey selection known to man." Telling the cocktail story upstairs is head bartender Jack McGarry, another Belfast import who worked with Muldoon at Merchant Bar and also spent time behind the bar at London's Milk & Honey.
"I researched and read about the cocktails from that period for a year without ever even touching a shaker," says McGarry. The result of the wealth of knowledge he accumulated is displayed in the bar's extensive list—a tome of 72 drinks divided into 12 groups of 6. Categories include everything from "Bishops" and "Communal Punch" to "Flips, Possets and Nogs" and each gets served in its own type of glass. As McGarry explains, "every category tells the story of how that style of drink was born."