Julie Reiner’s name is often one of the first mentioned when talking about how the modern cocktail revival began. Her beautiful Art Deco-style bar Flatiron Lounge helped pave the way for many cocktail bars in New York City and beyond, and this month marks the 10-year anniversary of her other pioneering bar, Clover Club.
Inspired by the classic cocktail of the same name (and an 1800’s-era drinking club comprised of a consort of journalists who met monthly at the Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia), Reiner opened Clover Club on Smith Street in 2008. She had recently relocated from Manhattan to Brooklyn, but after moving it quickly became apparent that she’d need to bring quality drinks to the area. “There were no comfortable neighborhood joints that looked really great and served fantastic cocktails,” she recalls. “So I talked to some friends in real estate, and then I started talking to David Wondrich, who lived in this neighborhood. I told him I thought it would be a cool spot for this cocktail bar, and he agreed—later, of course, he told me that he just selfishly wanted Clover Club to be close to his house.”
Outside of the hustle of the Flatiron district, Reiner knew Clover Club would need to be very different from Flatiron Lounge. “We wanted to create a pre-Prohibition cocktail bar where you could go out and have phenomenal cocktails made with top-notch ingredients, but we also wanted it to be a neighborhood bar that people would visit multiple times a week to meet friends,” she says.
While neighborhood bars have been experiencing a comeback in recent year, a decade ago the idea of a low-key neighborhood bar that served quality cocktails was somewhat novel. “Everything had become so fussy and people were taking themselves so seriously,” Reiner says. “There were a lot of places that weren’t fun, and it really pissed me off! People go to bars to relax and have a good time and have conversation—not to get a history lesson or be scoffed at for ordering the wrong thing—so I wanted to move as far away from that as possible.”
Clover Club launched with a menu that put equal focus on modern recipes and classic cocktails, divided into sections based on drink type (like Sours & Cobblers, Fizzes, Punches, etc.) to help visitors navigate the styles. Over the past decade, that approach has remained the same as trends in cocktails and spirits have ebbed and flowed. Here are four cocktails that illustrate the ethos of the bar’s drinks program and its influence on the cocktail world over the past decade.
The Clover Club
As the bar’s namesake, the classic Clover Club has been on the menu since day one. “The Clover Club was always one of those gin drinks that everybody loved. It’s pretty and it fit the concept and idea of what we were trying to create at the bar,” Reiner says. Knowing the house recipe needed to be perfect, Reiner spent time researching old recipes, but it wasn’t until David Wondrich found a script that cited the use of dry vermouth that things started to click. “It turned from a fruity gin drink to a very well-integrated, grown-up cocktail,” Reiner says. She uses Plymouth gin for its soft juniper notes and she developed a special raspberry syrup recipe to achieve just the right balance. “When we opened I was 100 percent confident that this was the best version of the Clover Club I had ever tried.”
The Gin Blossom
“Part of our philosophy is to put a well-made cocktail in a nice glass in front of somebody,” Reiner says. “The drink doesn’t have to come to the table with a drum playing and fancy lighting and weird glassware! It should just be a group of friends hanging out drinking something delicious and beautiful,” she says. Drinks like her signature Gin Blossom perfectly illustrate this approach. “The drink takes its lead from the 50/50 martini, but using Bianco vermouth instead of dry vermouth. Apricot eau de vie gives it a little fruity undertone,” she says. “It still drinks like a martini, but it has a lot more going on with the sweeter vermouth and apricot. It’s been a favorite for quite some time.”
The Green Giant
Reiner is also known for her role as a mentor within the cocktail industry, and many of today’s most talented bartenders have worked at Clover Club (including Thomas Waugh, Lacy Hawkins, Kevin Dietrich and Ivy Mix). Bartender Tom Macy began as a bar back shortly after the bar opened in 2008, and over the years he worked his way up to co-owner. His Green Giant cocktail, with old tom gin, dry vermouth, lemon, snap peas and tarragon, is a great example of the bar’s knack for highlighting fresh, seasonal ingredients. “Tom is so good at this style of drink, and [the Green Giant] has become a Clover Club classic,” Reiner says. “It’s such a great combination of flavors—it tastes like spring in the glass.”
The Faux 75
In addition to cocktails, Clover Club has earned a reputation for its alcohol-free offerings, like the Faux 75 (and the Juniper & Tonic). “I’ve always had a menu of alcohol-free cocktails because I want to offer something that’s not just club soda and a lime to somebody who’s not drinking. I didn’t want them to feel excluded from what’s happening,” Reiner says.
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