Posted on | February 18, 2015
Written by | Kristen Wolfe Bieler
Brass Monkey, Meatpacking District, NYC.
Before Manhattan’s Meatpacking District became the destination it is today—before the jam-packed Highline elevated park, the swank hotels, the high-end retail explosion, and the steady stream of supermodels—there was Brass Monkey.
As owner of the tri-level bar—one of the longest-running in the area—Sean Cunningham has been in the unique position of witnessing a neighborhood transform, and drinking patterns along with it. The Meatpacking club scene came and went, for example, and today there is a thriving post-work scene, lots more women, and a big increase in daytime drinking.
Interestingly, the Meatpacking District, like Jameson, has deep historic roots but earned its street-cred fashionability relatively recently. Jameson’s modern turning point was 1975, when parent company Irish Distillers Ltd. opened a new facility in Midleton, which promptly began producing the light, easy-to-love pot-still blend that set the stage for Irish whiskey’s comeback stateside. The Meatpacking District turned its corner in the 1990s; founded in 2004, Brass Monkey is actually one of the neighborhood veterans.
“We’ve seen a movement away from just shots, particularly when it comes to Irish whiskey,” Cunningham observes. While he is adamant he doesn’t want Brass Monkey to be a “traditional Irish bar,” the Dublin-born Cunningham is a passionate ambassador for Irish whiskey. Perhaps surprisingly, a growing percentage of the Irish whiskey at Brass Monkey is consumed in cocktails. “Jameson Ginger is a fall-back drink for so many,”
Bringing Irish to the Mix
Cunningham’s go-to pour for mixology is Jameson Black Barrel, which delivers “a little more intensity, slightly stronger flavors” to cocktails than Jameson original, he thinks.
Brass Monkey’s cocktail program is heavily seasonal, relying on maple syrup and chocolate bitters in the wintertime, citrus and ginger in warmer months. “Our Moscow Mule with Jameson Black Barrel instead of vodka is one of our best sellers all summer,” he says. “The whisky is brilliant with the lime and ginger.” Another house favorite is the Black Irish. Again, Jameson Black Barrel is the foundation, and the cocktail is built up with ginger ale, chocolate bitters and lime.
On the day we visited, Cunningham and his team assembled a Sazerac with Jameson Black Barrel, which showed beautifully alongside the fragrant anise lift of Pernod. An Irish bar it may not be, but I challenge any other establishment to make a more delicious Irish Coffee than Brass Monkey’s. “The key is dissolving the sugar in the coffee first, so the cream won’t sink,” Cunningham explains. “When one person orders one, it’s like an avalanche of other