Updated: Jan 28, 2019
“It's the next big thing.” This phrase has been circulating in the bar and spirits industries for the better part of five years, and while some skeptics have given up on holding their breath, the die hards - I call us the true believers - have watched with growing enthusiasm as this prediction has come closer and closer to fruition.
Meanwhile, agave, mezcal in particular, shows no sign of slowing down and has seen an explosive, and according to some circles concerned with the sustainability of this trend - alarming - rate. It is ubiquitous in cocktail programs around the city regardless of their theme or focus, and many (including mine) include mezcal cocktails among our top sellers. Meanwhile, for those seeking to be on the forefront of rum, we are also beginning to see a wider array of high quality rums which have friendlier and more accessible price points for operators and consumers in comparison to comparably aged or rare whiskies, appear as well.
Since taking the helm of the beverage program of Glady’s Caribbean, a fast casual eatery serving traditional wood fire jerk and island fare, I can attest to this development firsthand. When the bar opened in 2014, the majority of the rums I could find for the back bar were rather one note - either highly rectified and relatively odorless and flavorless, or bottles that were hopelessly loaded down with added sugar or subjected to aggressive barrel treatments that obscured the qualities of the sugar cane base and masked flaws in production. In short, the rums of those days were rum in name only where I was concerned. Pusser’s, Smith and Cross, and Wray and Nephew, whose production methodologies had changed little in the time since their release on the market, were the stalwarts, and the only other options for quality traditional rums, produced on heritage stills and spared the dreaded dosage of sugar that in my opinion masked inferior production, were boutique bottles like Samorolli that were too expensive for me to offer to consumers who were not familiar with what rum could offer.
With all that said - good times ahead. The last few years have seen the release of a number of bottles - and bars that serve them with care and pride - that represent the highest standard of quality in rum that the U.S. market has seen in over 50 years - and has been embraced and championed by a growing number of bar programs - be they rum focused or otherwise. See below my favorite places and events to experience, in no particular order but all marked by friendly, attentive service, and to enjoy the best of what rum has to offer in NYC.
The Polynesian - Death and Company alum “Captain” Brian Miller’s hotly anticipated ode to traditional style Tiki drinks with a modern twist offers one of the largest selections of global rums in Manhattan, if not all of the East Coast. Ensconced in the Pod Hotel on the edge of Times Square, it is a veritable oasis among the hubbub of traffic and jumbotrons below. Meanwhile, the cocktails - Tiki or otherwise - are crafted with a meticulous attention to detail that put the top destinations in the city on notice, and the spirit list features offerings not to be found anywhere else in NYC - rum don’t walk! Paradise Lounge - Rum fanatic and industry veteran Austin Hartman - one of the founding members of Cane Club Collective and bar industry veteran - serves a selection of classic Caribbean cocktails in an atmosphere geared towards locals and industry professionals seeking laid back neighborhood vibes with an island twist. The big draw is the Barbadian inspired rum shop style service - parties of 2 or more can purchase 200 ml splits of iconic rums including Don Q Silver and Rum Fire, and order mixers of their choice - coca cola, ginger beer, tonic water and the like, to pair according to their individual taste. It's always time to lime here, and the weekly Tiki Monday is an added bonus. Clyde’s Caribbean - A lively Williamsburg spot attached to Pearl’s Caribbean, founded by the owners of Sweet Chick, to a quiet block in Williamsburg tucked discreetly a block away from bustling Bedford Avenue. The bar - intimate and cozy - hosts a regular rotation of DJ’s and spirited parties, boasts a spacious backyard, and familial vibe and friendly atmosphere where it’s easy to get your sip - and twirl on. The bar hosts a regular rum seminar - free of charge - for those wishing to delve into the category, was featuring traditional and the added treat of rare rums. Meanwhile, the kitchen's knockout Trini cuisine - I am a sucker for the shark and bake has a tractor beam trained on yours truly- - to take the edge off a night of drumming and dancing. Lover’s Rock - True to its name - this Bed Stuy bar, helmed by Achilles Heel Alum Shane Fierstein - boasts laid back island vibes punctuated by a lively - and LIT party atmosphere. A regular rotation of top notch DJ outfits, most of whom are first generation Caribbean transplants to Brooklyn, keep the tunes hot in this friendly neighborhood watering hole that boasts a backbar of over 50 rums and traditional Caribbean drinks - thin rum and pineapple - paired with empanadas and in proximity to a number of restaurants with takeout options too that are cool to bring in to the bar. Donna Cocktail Club - Situated on a quiet block in close proximity to the Williamsburg Bridge, Donna - a pioneer in the tropical cocktail movement - serves an array of innovative and delicious cocktails of every stripe in a weathered and nostalgia-tinged space that strikes a balance between weathered and sleek - think Panama City luxury hotel that has been gently maintained over the course of 7 or 8 decades - accompanied by Mexican fare and attentive, spot on service by a cadre of seasoned industry professionals. Perfect for an intimate date or large group gathering, Donna is an oasis in the urban jungle and well worth the visit. Also of note: Miss Lily’s 7A, The Lost Lady, Diamond Reef, Super Power, The Rum House at Edison Hotel, Cane Club Collective Seminars
For more from Shannon Mustipher, check her new book “TIKI: Modern Tropical Cocktails" here