Thunder Jackson’s 169 Bleecker St at Sullivan St. Rating: 3L's
You rarely see hot girls in TV ads for forty-ounce bottles of malt liquor. In fact, you rarely see TV ads for forties at all. This is because your average forty-drinker knows that even a crap TV set is worth quite a few non-ironic forties.
Why, then, are forties poised to become the newest eau-de-vie of the Sullivan-Bleecker set? Especially when Thunder Jackson’s, the bar selling the bottles for $12 (roughly four non-ironic forties worth), also has some of the best specialty cocktails in town? Yes, as a self-confessed “urban road-house,” Thunder Jackson’s hems and haws, offering both forties and cocktails, of which the cocktails are, shocking as this is, a whole lot better tasting.
Yet, for all its up-market, down-home references, Thunder Jackson’s isn’t nearly as offensive as one might expect. In fact, after watching Michelle the bartender make impeccable Palmyras (a $12 mojito-martini hybrid) while simultaneously giving the crowd a lesson in chemistry, you realize you’ve rediscovered East Side Company Bar by way of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. This isn’t quite Faulkner’s Ole Miss — Mark Twain would storm out without a single Mint Julep — but, in the here and now, NYU locals should kiss Thunder Jackson’s sawdust-free ground (or at least feel quietly thankful). Sure, Thunder’s authenticity is reconstituted and occasionally ridiculous, but its cocktails are as well-crafted as any in bars with ten times more pretension and a hundred times less spirit.
Unlike NYC’s trendy, tight-lipped speakeasies, Thunder’s allows you to order a beer without inciting a mixologist’s ire; if you don’t have the palate for the homemade grenadine or the smoothest New Old Fashioned you’ll ever drink (shame on you!), Thunder’s has $6 pints of imported drafts like Bass and Blue Moon and $5 domestics, including Blue Point.
By the time Michelle mounts the bar to light a shot of liquor on fire (and, naturally, spit the trail of flaming liquid across the room — seriously), you may feel it’s time to try the bar food. Chef Ian Russo earned early buzz for Thunder’s ribs, steak and burger (served with truffle mayo). For the omnivore, try the phyllo-strewn Big Crispy Shrimp ($3 each) and the Apple Tart ($8).
This bar food will cost you a bit more at Thunder’s than at your ‘Bama dive, but then again, so will the forty. This way, though, you won’t have to pass out on the street to call it a night. But even if you do end up blacked out on Bleecker, Michelle will watch over you as you sleep, spitting a wreath of Southern Comfort flames to protect you. Well, not really. But it’s not impossible.