Williamsburg just seriously upped its cocktail cred. Mixologist Richard Boccato, a Sasha Petraske acolyte who owned the short-lived PKNY on the Lower East Side, just opened Fresh Kills on Grand Street, an offshoot of his popular Long Island City haunt, Dutch Kills.
We all know the drill by now–classic cocktails with impeccable provenance, fresh, premium ingredients and perfect proportional wizardry that somehow make you open your eyes and question if you’ve ever truly tasted an old-fashioned or negroni before. The menu here boasts Boccato’s usual puritanical emphasis on drinks from the history books and mania for detail, which means specialty ice and annotations on the historical inspiration behind each menu item.
“I thought it was very important that we introduce ourselves and our philosophy about drink making and cocktails in a way that was very straightforward and honors the tradition of drink making by which I was trained,” Boccato said. Spoken like a true pedigreed mixologist.
The cocktails might not all sound adventurous and weird (the Northside Special is mostly rum and fresh citrus) but they’ll probably taste way better than whatever absinthe-pink-peppercorn-pecan-bitter-unicorn tincture thing you choked down after thinking it sounded intriguing. Drinks are $11 to $13, and there’s an “approachable” happy hour selection Sunday through Thursday ($9 for something simple and satisfying, like the Whiskey Fix with whiskey, lemon juice, and sugar) as well as a lower-alcohol content section for your friends who can’t hold their booze.
And there are definitely some surprises, like a decadent take on a traditional fizz, but with vanilla ice cream instead of egg whites. One thing that caught our eye was the pickled walnut garnish on the Dragon’s Breath cocktail, an apricot-hot sauce concoction mixed with calvados and vermouth (ok, apricot liqueur + hot sauce also caught our eye). Apparently vinegar-soaked walnuts are a regular thing over in England, but they haven’t quite caught on this side of the pond. Boccato said he got the idea from reading about a drink called the Carrol, basically a cognac Manhattan, from the 1934 book 1700 Cocktails for the Man Behind the Bar. “It’s something that you would’ve found traditionally in many bars and saloons throughout the 19th and early 20th,” he explained.
Unlike the moody, dark interior of Dutch Kills, the “fresh” version (true to name) is much brighter and open– though in a decidedly non-abrasive way, as if every piece, from the rounded booths to the marbled bar and leather touches, was specifically chosen to lull you into a cozy, booze-fueled stupor. Soft, light-wood furniture, even on one of the curved walls, and red and nautical blue accents make it look almost like you’re inside a (very comfortable) barrel or a ship’s cargo.
“The idea was to create a room where the place itself was a thing of beauty and work of art,” Boccato said. “It wasn’t necessary to hang obligatory pictures or gussy it up with arbitrary framed pieces of media and artwork on the walls.”
Fresh Kills has been a long time in the making – Boccato said he began thinking about it four years ago. In Williamsburg we tend to think of a polished new bar or shop coming in and displacing long-time residents or mom-and-pops. But in this case, Fresh Kills actually displaced one of Boccato’s business partners, Garo Yellin, who used to live in the apartment in that space. Jesse Moore, the third business partner, designed the interior.
“This bar really represents the hard work of three individuals, not a large corporation,” Boccato said. “There’s no shadow investors here, it’s a real mom-and-pop shop. This has been a labor of love through the entire process.”
Fresh Kills, 161 Grand Street near Bedford. Open every night at 4 p.m.