There’s nothing more entertaining than watching a group of “four drunk bros” barrel into your basement sweets shop on a Saturday afternoon and ask, “Do you guys have Vodka Red Bull cupcakes?” says Prohibition Bakery co-owner Leslie Feinberg.
Her business partner and chef, Brooke Siem, corrects her: “Four drunk girls.” Post-brunch.
The Lower East Side’s Prohibition Bakery began making its original alcohol-infused cupcakes in 2011, and flavours like Old Fashioned, Sangria, and Pretzels and Beer have been flying off the shelves ever since. Made using a novel technique of inserting liquor post-baking, so the alcohol doesn’t burn off, the cupcakes have been a hit with big-league clients like Google and HBO.
And yes, you need to show an I.D. to purchase a cupcake. Virgin flavours are available for the under-21 crowd.
We included Prohibition Bakery on a recent list of the 28 Coolest Small Businesses In New York City, and we couldn’t stop daydreaming about their sweet and boozy concoctions. Our journalistic integrity compelled us to investigate the matter further.
Welcome to Prohibition Bakery, the boozy cupcakery located on New York's Lower East Side. It could easily pass for a speakeasy from ground level on Clinton Street, with its nondescript storefront and low lighting.
Inside, you're greeted by the founders of New York's original alcohol cupcake company. Leslie Feinberg, a bartender, and Brooke Siem, a chef, met on a Birthright trip years ago and became close friends when Siem would end her shifts at the restaurant with a couple beers at Feinberg's bar.
Their first boozy cupcake was born from a request by one of Siem's friends, who wanted a Cosmo-tasting cake for her bachelorette party. 'I didn't know the first thing about making a Cosmo,' Siem admits. The pair put their heads together and whipped up something magical.
When you bake with liquor, the alcohol typically burns off, leaving only the hint of a grown-up beverage. With Prohibition Bakery's cupcakes, the booze concoction for each cupcake -- what the girls call the mysterious 'fourth element' -- is injected after baking.
Feinberg and Siem first launched Prohibition Bakery as a catering company, and in 2012 opened up the storefront. There are 15 flavours on rotation based on seasonal ingredients, though a few varieties are always 'on tap' for orders, including the Cosmopolitan, White Russian, Margarita, and Strawberry Daiquiri.
No coffee. No artisanal sandwiches. Just cupcakes. Plus these gum drops made with Fireball whiskey that burn just like a shot.
Catering continues to make up 80% of the business, with major league clients such as Google, MSNBC, and HBO's 'Boardwalk Empire.' But the store still attracts between 5 and 20 walk-ins a day, and even more when the L train isn't running. 'They walk the Williamsburg Bridge, with their jorts and their longboards,' Feinberg says. 'They need fuel for the journey, which we provide.'
On a typical day, the pair bakes early in the morning when it's cool enough outside that the oven doesn't turn the bakery into a sauna.
Today, Feinberg is making an orange cake batter for the sangria and old fashioned cupcakes. 'It has yogurt and olive oil, so you know it's healthy,' Feinberg says, dumping a container of white sugar into the batter. Sarcasm is their first language.
She pours the batter into a squeeze bottle and rapid-fire fills rows of mini cupcake liners. Prohibition Bakery bakes between 3,000 and 4,000 cupcakes a week.
The cupcakes bake for just 10 minutes and are dumped onto a baking sheet for cooling. That's when the magic happens, but unfortunately, the owners' technique is top-secret. They divulge that the cupcakes are not soaked in alcohol; rather, the boozy core is inserted with a squeeze bottle.
Then into the fridge they go, before being snatched up by a hungry customer or driven off for delivery.
We brought a dozen cupcakes back to the office for a taste test. When you held one up to your nose, the scent of liquor was unmistakable and strong.
The Pretzel and Beer, made with Brooklyn's Six Point Sweet Action ale, was my personal favourite. It was salty, sweet, and surprising, just like Siem said. 'It hits every flavour profile and texture, which is weirdly satisfying.'
The proof is in the pudding, as they say. When my co-worker bit into this Old-Fashioned cupcake, you could see the magical boozy core in the colour variation. Mmmmmm, whiskey.
In compliance with New York State Law, each cupcake contains less than 5% alcohol by volume. We know what you're thinking: can you get drunk off this stuff? 'I mean, if you try really hard?' Feinberg laughs. 'You should probably just eat them and enjoy, then go to the bar. It's more efficient.'
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