The Irish-American tavern is a well-kept secret of business folk working in the Financial District, although it draws a regular crowd of Irish tourists.
Owners Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry emigrated from Belfast, Northern Ireland, four years ago with dreams of opening a pub that reminded them of home. You won’t find a neon Guinness sign in the window, nor are there shamrock lanyards around bartenders’ necks.
The Dead Rabbit serves 145 varieties of Irish whiskey and 100% authenticity.
Buried in the sea of skyscrapers that makes up New York's Financial District, a four-floor brick building on Water Street is home to the best bar in America: The Dead Rabbit.
It's an Irish tavern like few others. In New York, 'a sports bar with a Guinness sign in the window calls itself Irish,' one bubbly bartender tells me.
Dead Rabbit, which opened its doors just after Hurricane Sandy struck, tells the story of how the Irish integrated into New York in the 1800s. Its no-BS vibe radiates authenticity, from the sawdust on the floor to the stiff Irish-whiskey punch ...
... to the 800 images of daily life in Belfast, Northern Ireland, that hang from the ceiling in the taproom. The owners photocopied them from a magazine published in their hometown.
Sean Muldoon (L) and Jack McGarry (R) first met as boys, playing a Belfast game of 'cribby.' Years later, McGarry, who started bartending at age 15, went to see about getting a job at The Merchant Hotel, a cocktail bar Muldoon managed.
McGarry smiles at that early memory. '(Sean) said, 'You can be two types of people in this bar,' and he had two different pieces of ice in his hand. 'You can be the perfectly shaped, crystal-clear ice, or you can be the jagged, cloudy ice.''
He opted to be the former. McGarry read mountains of cocktail literature and perfected his craft. In 2013, the prestigious Tales of the Cocktail awarded him the International Bartender of the Year award.
After feeling like they accomplished everything they could in Belfast, the pair immigrated to the US to open Dead Rabbit. 'We were packed from the get-go,' McGarry says.
The crowd is a mix of regulars who work in the Financial District and tourists who've heard of Dead Rabbit's reputation from across the pond.
It's home to the largest collection of Irish whiskey in America, and possibly the second largest in the world. With 145 types on hand, whiskey cocktails make up half the menu.
And what a menu it is. Now in its second volume, the Dead Rabbit cocktail menu looks more like a graphic novel. It's a bound book with beautiful illustrations, and each tells a story.
The current edition chronicles the life of John Morrissey, an Irish immigrant and bare-knuckle boxer who ran the Dead Rabbits gang of New York. The drinks are sectioned, based on their flavour profile, to illustrate the eight stages of his life.
For example, the Fiery section captures the time a young Morrissey got in a scrap and his opponent pinned him against a pile of hot coals, giving him the nickname 'Old Smoke.' Thus, the drinks are earthy and aromatic.
In total, there are 72 cocktails on the menu. McGarry says he's most proud of the Irish coffee, calling it the 'best on the planet.'
Their rendition uses only the finest filter coffee and Clontarf Irish whiskey, stays warm in a vacuum-sealed sous-vide, and is topped with heavy cream and a dusting of nutmeg.
While the taproom is the crown jewel of the Dead Rabbit, others head upstairs to the parlour for a quieter, sit-down experience. Small plates are served all evening.
The house-made country pâté is topped with cornichons and Dijon mustard, and served on sourdough baguette.
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