There is a bar near Battery Park in lower Manhattan that is a cross between the kind of saloon with sawdust on the floor and a spot where you can order a cocktail with bitters and not get the stink eye. Inside is a patchwork of black and white photos hanging from the ceiling and some sort of ceramic rabbit wearing a shamrock bib and Mardi Gras beads sitting amid the booze bottles. The place is called The Dead Rabbit.
All of this should help set the stage.
If you are going to name your place after a deceased furry mammal, you are probably not a sentimentalist in the traditional sense. What they are sentimental about, however, is cocktails. The co-founder, Jack McGarry, tested scores of recipes from the mid-nineteenth century to create his historically-rooted bar with an Old New York meets Irish-American feel.
Brett and I stumbled in on a Saturday at approximately 11 am, found the two best bar stools in the joint, and did not leave for the next three hours. We drank a number of cocktails that day. If asked to recall them, I probably would not get much further than a sweeping implication of gin and beer, forced into a number of wonderfully barbaric midafternoon combinations.
But right before we were about to settle up, our bartender —who had a Southern drawl and was not particularly attentive that day—set down an Irish coffee. Which I suspect was meant as a peace offering for spotty service.
We were drunk on booze and charm by this point. But she did not know that. One sip and another was promptly ordered. The drink became legendary thereafter. And thanks to The New York Times, we were able to uncover its secrets.
As is the case with Irish coffees, a fresh pot is brewed and whiskey is righteously employed. The cocktail is delicately sweetened with a demerara simple syrup that plays to the barrel-aged vanilla notes of the liquor. Perhaps the piece here, however, that truly sets the cocktail apart is that the heavy cream is left unsweetened and whipped only until “ropy.” It looks like a cumulus cloud, spreading to fill the glass and floating delicately on top, graced with nutmeg in its final moments.
The whole thing ends in a pretty harmonious, self-congratulatory clink of glasses. Brett and I have become sort of crazy for them. Also as unlikely sentimentalists in the traditional sense, we have fondly named them Dead Rabbits.
It is at once a classic and romantic cocktail. Not too sweet, to be sure. And with the guts that any drink from a good Irish bar would have.
It is only a slight coincidence that this information comes to you a few days prior to St. Patrick’s Day. In the event that a superlative Irish coffee is needed this weekend, you’ll know how to drink the rabbit dead.
The Dead Rabbit
Adapted from The New York Times, courtesy of Jack McGarry from The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog
1 tbsp Demerara syrup (see below)
about 3 to 4 tbsp whipped cream (see below)
3 tbsp (1½ ounces) Irish whiskey (Jameson works in a pinch)
4 ounces hot fresh coffee
dash of freshly ground nutmeg
1 cup Demerara sugar
½ cup of water
1 cup heavy cream
for the Demerara syrup
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and water over low heat. Stir occasionally until the sugar dissolves; set aside.
for the cocktail
Brew a pot of coffee. Meanwhile, warm a coffee mug with hot water (slightly below boiling works well).
In a medium bowl, whip the cream until it achieves a ropy consistency; it should be firm but still loose. Place in the refrigerator until needed.
Pour out the water from the warmed glass. Add the syrup and whiskey. Pour in the coffee; stir to combine. Gently spoon the whipped cream on top. It should float if properly whipped. The amount used will vary slightly depending on the size of your glass, but you’ll want it about ¾ inch thick and covering the liquid.
Grate nutmeg over the top.
Makes 1 cocktail
It is easier to make some of the components in bulk. The whipped cream makes enough for 3 to 4 cocktails. You’ll have extra syrup beyond that, too. (Store the syrup in the fridge.)
It just so happens The Dead Rabbit has won a number of awards, including Best Bar in North America last year. They do not mess around.