“If the king of Norway were to pound this bar with his fist, nothing would rattle,” John McGill exclaimed to me as he brought his own fist down hard upon the stick. True enough, there wasn’t a ripple in a single one of the cocktails resting atop this solid piece of cherry, made even more so by the “81 biscuits” McGill used to join it all together. On the other side, calmly stirring the barrel-aged Red Hook cocktail I’d ordered prior, Henry Lopez (the owner of this joint and a long time collaborator with McGill) shot me a knowing look, like, You don’t mind our brilliant, excitable Irishman, do you?
Of course I don’t; the chance to listen to tales from guys like John McGill are why I drink out.
Lucey’s Lounge is Lopez’s newest project, having shuttered his first bar, Court and Spark, in June of 2011, due to rent conflicts. All for the best, I say: Gowanus on the verge of its Superfund boom is the perfect fit for Henry’s misfit style of mixology, gathering together artists and rabble rousers and believers in great cocktails served in odd places. Best yet, Lopez has room to grow; behind the curtain in the lounge area of the bar is another room, equal in size to the bar room, awaiting McGill’s magic touch. And still behind that is a tiny patio, perfect for a quiet smoke, drink in hand.
But the cocktails! I started with the aforementioned Red Hook, one of three house barrel-aged classics on Lucey’s menu ($11): it’s aged 5-7 weeks in American white oak, during which time white pepper and burnt orange slough off their aggressive natures, emerging mellow and more contemplative. Before the conversation could turn too serious I moved on to Hank’s Painkiller ($9), a nod to Henry’s formative years spent slugging Mai Tais behind dives off of A1A in Miami. The drink is reminiscent of those Coco Lopez slurpees of yore in name alone—using all scratch ingredients, including the coconut puree, Henry’s version dances between darkness and light and satisfies the umami palate like a bowl of oyster stew. After something so decadent and utterly delicious I needed a break but, obviously, didn’t want to weigh myself down with water, so I opted for an ice cold can of Schaefer beer ($3) that refreshed as required and made the perfect counterpoint to the wildly addictive popcorn I’d been scarfing for the past couple of hours. (I cannot wait to see what comes from the kitchen when full production is a go.)
As if all that weren’t enough, Henry came over with a surprise for my companion and me: he’d accidentally mixed up a portion of barrel-aged Negroni with like-aged Manhattan, tasted the results and deemed the result worth sharing. Turns out even the mistakes here are fit for kings.