Downtown’s new swinging cocktail lair Birds & Bees may have a hidden entrance and a subterranean location, but it’s more midcentury rumpus room than 1920s speakeasy. Descending here for drinks might make guests feel like they’re sneaking into Don Draper’s bachelor pad, thanks to a floating fireplace, walnut wood furniture, and the bar staff in period uniforms. Is that “Zou, Bisou Bisou” over the sound system?
The cocktail program, which is helmed by Bethany Ham (The Corner Door), isn’t straight out of the ‘50s with dry martinis, Pink Squirrels and Sea Breezes, however. Instead, the 10-drink menu features seasonal specialty cocktails inspired by ‘50s musicians as well as modernized versions of long-forgotten classics. “We just took them and reimagined them and made them more the Birds & Bees style to fit the palates of today,” explains Ham.
These definitely aren’t your grandparents’ tipples. Thanks to Ham’s penchant for the culinary, the cocktails showcase unusual housemade ingredients like matcha tea foam, masala-infused cognac, and caramelized sugar garnish, albeit served in gorgeous vintage-inspired glassware.
Here’s a peek at five of the new cocktails off the opening menu. There are some standouts but also a few that may not appeal to everyone.
Rat Packer Dean Martin infamously said of 1950s pop singer Pat Boone, “I once shook hands with Pat Boone and my whole right side sobered up.” Fortunately this drink will not have the same effect on you. In fact, this stirred cocktail is a lot more intense than what you’d think a drink inspired by America’s former poster boy for clean living would be. It’s definitely not for the faint of palate, but adventurous drinkers will appreciate how the sweet nuttiness of the almond rye transitions smoothly into the herbaceous absinthe. A beautiful sipper for cold nights.
Dirty martini lovers looking to try something filthier may want to order this pickle juice variation, which is served with a sidecar of excess and an impressive garnish of pickled okra, green bean, cornichon, and olive. This super dry martini starts off with the fullness and savoriness of pickle juice but the sherry thankfully smoothes out the harshness of the salty brine. And bonus for those folks who are feeling rough around the edges? According to Ham, “It’s a good starter or for when you’re feeling a little worn down from the night before. They always say that athletes drink pickle juice when they have leg cramps so I’m assuming it does something miraculous inside your body.”
Naturally 1950s Cuban-American celebrity Desi Arnaz gets a Hotel Nacional riff named after him. Chinese five-spice is sprinkled and flamed over the drink to activate its exotic aroma. And be warned: this is one cocktail you won’t be able to stop sipping as you marvel over how its pineapple flavor transitions seamlessly into peach.
As frou-frou as this cocktail looks, what with its flowers and vibrantly verdant foam, it’s basically a Gold Rush variation topped with matcha tea foam. According to Ham, the matcha tea pairs with the whiskey while the viscosity of the honey complements the texture of the foam. Personally I would have preferred a different tea for the foam, like chamomile, as the earthiness of the green tea really dries out the cocktail.
Cloak & Dagger
The Cloak & Dagger’s whimsical cocktail conveyance will compel all who see it to order it, but they may be disappointed upon first sip. Even though it’s made with aged rum and overproof rum, the little bit of blackstrap rum dominates. Sure, it’s refreshing and molasses-y, but all you’ll taste is that blackstrap. However, if you dig the super dark rum, you’ll enjoy cuddling up to this pineapple.
The cocktail menu at Birds & Bees will be updated seasonally. In fact, Ham is already working on one for spring, mixing in more vodka and tequila cocktails for the warmer weather.
Not into cocktails? You can still drink in the Atomic Era-styled space thanks to a short beer list of period brews like Hamm’s Beer and ‘50s-reminiscent wine offerings of chablis, beaujolais, and clarets. And that’s just for starters. According to Template Consulting’s Marcos Tello, who worked on the concept and development of Birds & Bees, you can also look forward to fondue sets and scorpion bowls. Once it “gets the kinks out” the bar plans to roll out large-format cocktails and a reservation system for larger parties in the future.