Go inside the swanky, Cuba-inspired lounge that was just named the best new cocktail bar in America

Cocktail at Blackbird barSarah JacobsThe Mary Pickford cocktail at BlackTail.

The 11th annual Spirited Awards  — essentially the Oscars of the drinks world — just crowned New York City’s BlackTail the Best New American Cocktail Bar. 

While only less than a mile away from owners Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry’s other award-winning sister bar, The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog, BlackTail’s atmosphere and cocktail recipes are worlds apart. BlackTail transports you to 1920s Havana, serving up colourful, punchy, and, at times, fruity cocktails.

Last fall, we met with BlackTail’s bar manager and cocktail aficionado, Jesse Vida, to get the full story behind this beautiful new bar at the very southern tip of Manhattan in Battery Park. 

BlackTail is partially inspired by the Highball Express, a fleet of private planes that transported wealthy New Yorkers right off the Hudson River to Havana, Cuba, during Prohibition. The second they were over international waters, they could drink freely.

Sarah Jacobs

'We're telling the story of an American-style bar in Havana during Prohibition,' Vida told Business Insider. 'Havana became not only a place to go have fun, but a place to be seen.'

Sarah Jacobs

From the decor to the menu, BlackTail pays homage to that time period, but with a modern twist. 'We're putting a modern flair (on our cocktails) so we're using modern ingredients, and bringing the cocktails to what the palate level is now compared to what it was,' he said.

There are a total of 44 cocktail recipes on BlackTail's menu, not including their eight-drink seasonal menu.

Sarah Jacobs

To develop the cocktails, Vida and his team took two full months to research old recipes, and another three to fully develop their creations. 'We decided to target the 1910s through the 1950s, so we looked through a bunch of old cocktail books and got inspiration from the (recipes),' he said.

One of their most popular drinks is their take on a rum and coke. 'We use champagne instead of a soda, and we make our own cola syrup,' he said.

Sarah Jacobs

The Mary Pickford is a drink that pays homage to the fruity cocktails of that time. A mixture of lime and pineapple juice, pomegranate reduction syrup, house maraschino, and pineapple-infused white rum make up this sweet drink.

Sarah Jacobs

BlackTail's food menu, created by chef Ryan Schmidtberger, features Cuban dishes that were available to American tourists at that time. That includes various seafood dishes, including oysters, shrimp, and caviar.

To decorate the place, Muldoon and McGarry commissioned photographer Vern Evans, who has lived in Cuba for many years. Together they curated 300 of his photos to print, frame, and hang.

Sarah Jacobs

They also printed the images on postcards, which you're encouraged to fill out and drop off in the mailbox on your way out -- BlackTail will see that they get sent.

The barstools' design is based off of the ones found inside Ernest Hemingway's Cuban home. They were built specially for BlackTail.

You must be seated by a host to enter the bar, and according to Vida, it gets packed on the weekend. Wait times can be up to two hours.

To create even more of a Havana-like atmosphere, there's live music three nights a week. 'A Cuban band plays on Tuesdays, a ragtime jazz band plays on Thursdays, and more of an upbeat jazz band on Sundays,' Vida said.

'Everything (in the bar) ties together. We don't leave any stone unturned. Not only are we bringing people to Havana, 1920s, but we're also giving a modern twist,' Vida said.

Sarah Jacobs

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