Drinking is easy. Finding the right bar, not so easy. We’re here to help. As a public service to all of you thirsty explorers, every week we highlight the best bars in America and tell you what makes them so damn great. This week we’ve got the bar that won world’s best bar—yes, the best bar in the world—at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards.
NAME: The Dead Rabbit
LOCATION: New York
MUSIC: Daytime - The Clancy Brothers, Planxty, Pete Seeger; Nighttime - Van Morrison, The Clash, Lou Reed
WHY WE LOVE IT: On a typical night at the Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog—a downtown bar named after an Irish-American gang from the 1850s—you’ll spot a stack of backpacks against the wall. “Irishmen get off the plane in New York and take a cab straight here,” co-owner Jack McGarry says. “Everyone is talking about us back home.”
McGarry and his business partner Sean Muldoon are not only heroes back in Belfast, but their unique Irish-American bar is also getting all of the cocktail buzz on this side of the pond: At this year’s Tales of the Cocktail, the bar took home awards for World’s Best Cocktail Menu and the highly coveted World’s Best Bar.
McGarry and Muldoon opened the Dead Rabbit in 2013, modeling it after their two favorite places in Belfast: the Merchant Hotel cocktail bar, where they both worked, and the Duke of York, a no-frills pub where they’d drink a pint after their shifts. “Combining a cocktail bar with an Irish pub doesn’t really make sense,” Muldoon says. “But we wanted to do something that no one had ever done before.”
Dead Rabbit opened in the Financial District, the neighborhood where bartender Jerry Thomas started the cocktail movement in New York in the 1850s, and down the street from South Street Seaport, where Irish immigrants poured off of boats in the 19th Century. “People thought we were suicidal to open here,” Muldoon says, of the neighborhood more known for its daytime stockbrokers than its late-night beer guzzlers. “The place was tumbleweeds.” But everything in the neighborhood made it seem ideal: 200,000 people work nearby and nine subway lines intersect there. “It had everything except a cocktail bar,” Muldoon says.
They put the informal taproom at the entrance on the ground floor, and the cocktail parlor on the second floor. First-timers usually start in the bar downstairs and then work their way up. “Everyone feels welcome in a pub, but not everyone feels welcome in a cocktail bar,” McGarry says. “We wanted to challenge what an Irish bar could be.”
The concept worked: Its down-to-earth atmosphere and stellar menu pack Irishmen, Americans and everyone else in every night. The Dead Rabbit’s menu is actually a hardcover book, complete with history lessons from the mid-1800s and graphic novel-quality illustrations. “I wanted to be a film director, so this is a way for me to bring an exciting and fascinating story to life through pages,” Muldoon says. The bar used to have a problem with guests stealing the menu, but now they are politely encouraged to buy it for $50.
Every February they release a new volume, filled with 72 historically-accurate cocktail recipes and 175 types of Irish whiskey options. But the duo has a secret, non-historical concept in mind for the menu’s next installment. “We’re always thinking about ways to keep it exciting and fresh,” McGarry says. “We never rest on our laurels, because in New York, if you’re standing still you’re definitely getting left behind.”
Alyson Sheppard is the resident hangover specialist at Playboy.com. She did not steal a Dead Rabbit menu. Follow her on Twitter: @amshep