A wise driver doesn't give her mechanic instructions when taking the car to the local garage, or specify medical treatment when visiting a doctor. These are professionals that we rely on, trusting their judgment. Likewise, when seeking a different sort of aid from a bartender. Or so it should be. Gone are the days of the knowing barkeep who could guess his customers' needs from the kick or drag in their stride — and more to the point, have the honed skills and exhaustive knowledge to pour a cocktail for the veteran drinker that sparkled in novelty.
The young mixologists behind the bar at The Brooklynite might not really have clairvoyant sight; but after several visits to this new establishment in the yet-to-be-named neighborhood just south of the Current offices (Off Broadway? Museum Reach?), it's clearly been proved they can deliver a repertoire of amazing cocktails that is near inexhaustible.
Founded late last year by owner/operator Jeret Peña (previously the bar manager at The Esquire, where his skills earned him attention from the revered James Beard Foundation and garnered the title of San Antonio-Austin Rising Star Mixologist), The Brooklynite is staffed by bartenders from the best houses in town. On week nights, it's a quiet spot where most costumers keep to themselves, enjoying the pre-Prohibition inspired cocktails and atmosphere in their own private party. But on weekends, the place might get near to packed. Those inside the room hung with chandeliers and video screens playing old cartoons might pause to appreciate the hostess guarding the door, who keeps sure that the bustle doesn't become overmuch. If you, by chance, are told to wait for the room to thin out, don't regret the trip to this still isolate spot off the river. Lacking a kitchen by plan, one or two food trucks (including Tapa Tapa, the Queen of Smoke, and Jason Dady's Duk Truck) are parked outside with quick eats. If you don't want to venture to a food truck park, this is one of the best spots within the inner loop to find a rolling kitchen.
But on to the drinks. For those not yet addicted to cocktails, a short but efficient list of red and white wines by the glass is available, along with a modest collection of bottled beer and a changing assortment of Texas micro-brewery beer on tap. A menu of over two dozen classic and house specialty cocktails makes good reading, but ask for "something different," and you'll either be directed to the print assortment, or perhaps something yet unnamed that was recently concocted — such as a grappa variant on the French 75 Peña was toying with last week. A good place to start is the refreshing Lazy Collins a pisco variant on the Tom Collins, but with a softer feel in the mouth, followed by a sleight spike of sweet citrus. Before the cocktail is delivered, a glass of water with a slice of cucumber is placed at hand, good for quaffing the thirst; a habit other bars most likely avoid in search of greater beer sales. Sequencing is everything. A good follow-up is a Philly Flip, a frothy (due to the egg white) concoction based on rye whiskey tempered with mezcal, and complicated with Averna and bitters. The rye shines through, avoiding the over-sweetness that bourbon's corn delivers. For those with a hankering to sample this cocktail staple, a quite large selection of ryes is on hand for sampling; the collection of tequilas and mezcales is adequate, and other spirits are well selected. One of the specialties brought by Peña to his new establishment is the house-made ginger beer he developed awhile back; some bitters are also made in-house. But for a taste of a blending element not often found (or when used, not often understood), ask for a drink with vinegar. Not the sort that might top a salad, drinking vinegar is an alternative to citrus' sour that, when employed with skill, results in a cleaner feel — at least in our perception. One of the most often ordered house drinks is the Missionary, with gin, cucumber, grapefruit, and sipping vinegar. A nice ending to an evening's trio of cocktails, and a solid choice for a solo drink.