A delightful little cocktail bar has cropped up in the West Village. This newly opened 45-seater goes by the name Wallflower, but it's hardly the shy type. If anything the sharply dressed space is cultivating a quiet cool, achieved through a restrained soundtrack, candlelight's warm flicker, and a cocktail menu that's great at making friends. I'm certainly one, following introductions on a recent evening with several fetching constituents of the eight-drink debut roster.
Cocktails at Wallflower are the dominion of bartender Xavier Herit, who logged seven years behind the stick at the bar and lounge at Daniel before departing for his present post. From what I can gather, Herit packed only one of his drinks devised at Daniel—the tequila-and-mezcal-based V.I.C—for the journey south; the rest are entirely new creations. (According to its website, this very important potation remains available at Daniel...for $21. At Wallflower, it's $15.)
Installed in the kitchen is chef Jared Stafford-Hill, himself an émigré from Francophile territory; he'd previously been charged with expanding Maison Premiere's culinary offerings.
I came for the drinks. And admittedly I would have stayed for them alone, but my companion and I—once settled in to a two top in the room flanking the bar area—quickly began to appreciate Wallflower's other charms. Venetian blinds on a high window combed the light from a nearby streetlamp. Private eyes would be comfortable conducting business here. Four stools face the surprisingly compact bar, which, thanks to a break in the back wall, nicely frames a look into the kitchen. One large table occupies a tucked-away alcove at Wallflower's far end. (Bigger parties, this is the spot you'll want to snag.) The balance of the seating favors groups of two to four, making Wallflower as apt a venue for a date as it is for geeking out over cocktails.
You might start by cozying up to Betty Draper ($14; pictured above). She's a bright, apple-driven blend of Citadelle Gin, a Christian Drouin Calvados, La Cigarrera Manzanilla Sherry, lime and celery juices, apple syrup, and apple bitters. The vegetal aroma of celery strikes the nose first, followed by the rush of pomaceous fruit on the palate. It's an inspired combination.
Sherry appears to be Herit's mixer of the moment; he puts the Spanish wine to work in three of his cocktails. It plays the starring role in what stood out to me as the highlight of the menu: the Ambrosia #2 ($16). The original Ambrosia cocktail (Cognac, Cointreau, Calvados, lemon, and Champagne) was invented in the 1920s at Arnaud's French 75 in New Orleans. Herit's is far more than a riff on a classic—this blend of Cardinal Mendoza Brandy, Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherries, verjus, maraschino, sparkling wine, and orange bitters is a reinvention. It lingers someplace between savory and sweet, exhibiting a crispness from the sparkling wine, flavors of pear and a subtle tang from the verjus and the maraschino.
Herit uses an effective technique to build up his drinks' dominant flavors. The candied, raisin-y undercurrent in the Ambrosia #2 comes from the progressive layering of two sherries atop a Spanish brandy. Likewise, in the Sho Sho ($15), he pairs a carrot shochu with ginger-carrot syrup to bring out the delicate spirit's base ingredient. This highball is topped off with Virgil's Root Beer and garnished with slices of candied ginger. Be careful, tempting as it is, not to slug this down in one ecstatic gulp.
Good Point ($14) is the reigning house Manhattan variation (Herit plans to revamp the cocktail menu seasonally). Good indeed. And spicy. It's mixed with 100-proof Rittenhouse Rye whiskey, Byrrh, maraschino liqueur, and orange bitters. (The Ritt was 86'ed at the time, so mine was made with bourbon.)
Our server described it as a take on a Greenpoint (typically rye, Yellow Chartreuse, and sweet vermouth)—a generous leap if you ask me. But whatever the inspiration, this brown 'n stirred is the kind of rich, brooding drink you want in your reach during the chilly days ahead. For those in the West Village, the same could be said for a cozy, thoughtful drinking den like Wallflower.
About the Author: Roger Kamholz is a food journalist living in New York City. Before moving to NYC he covered the Chicago food and drinks scene for four years. In addition to Serious Eats, Roger's writing and photography has appeared in TimeOut Chicago, Refinery 29, Grub Street, and Chicagoist. Check out more of his work at rogerkamholz.com.