Any conversation about cocktails in the U.S. inevitably comes back to Dead Rabbit, the New York City bar that’s racked up multiple awards as the world’s best. But partners Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry weren’t content to rest on Dead Rabbit’s laurels—and in August, they unveiled their newest project, BlackTail, on Pier A in Manhattan.
The idea had actually been hatched prior to that of their first bar, and the Cuban-inspired drinking den satisfies several of the owners’ interests. “Sean has a fascination with Ernest Hemingway, and the bar in a way is a nod to him,” says McGarry. “We wanted to tell the story of how the American bartending movement influenced Cuba from the 1920s to ’50s, and Hemingway’s story is in there. It’s really an American ode to Cuba, more than anything.”
BlackTail echoes many traits the duo found in Cuban bars—such as the light fixtures and the slope of the bar, and the barstools that were based on the originals from Havana’s El Floridita. “We didn’t want BlackTail to be a Disneyland ode to Cuba—we wanted to have some living elements,” says McGarry. “The type of wood finish, the colors of the wood, the seats, the plants—even the artwork on the wall is from Vern Evans, who’s been documenting Cuban life for the last 25 years. He’s quite a famous photographer, and we have 300 or 400 of his pictures in the bar, along with posters and magazines we picked up from Cuba.”
And as with Dead Rabbit, the bar’s menu has a delicious intensity, with redefined classics such as a Rum & Cola with amaro and Champagne, and an El Presidente fleshed out with mezcal and ancho chile. Highballs with modern twists are also common sightings on the menu. “We took inspiration from old French manuals from the 1920s, where they just document the main flavors—Byrrh and cassis, for example—so the highball may be 6 oz. of liquid and 2 oz. of alcohol, so they’re very, very easy to drink. Cocktails can be quite punchy, as at Dead Rabbit, and we wanted it to be a bit softer at BlackTail, which improves the accessibility—that’s what Cuban bartending is all about,” McGarry says.