First Impressions: BlackTail

blacktail-at-pier-aBack story: Peter Poulakakos’s reinvention of Pier A included a second-floor bar, the Harrison Room, that didn’t take off. So he brought in Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry of the Dead Rabbit (a.k.a. the “World’s Best Bar”) to convert it into a bar, BlackTail, themed to the idea of Prohibition-era Havana. The name BlackTail comes from seaplanes that used to fly between New York and Cuba.

blacktail-barThe atmosphere: Never having been to Cuba, then or now, I can’t say whether BlackTail successfully replicates the feeling of 1920s Havana. The proprietors got rid of the stodgy carpeting and chairs, making it feel less like the bar at the New York Athletic Club, and added vintage photos and plants; the windows have been covered or blocked with shutters, so you won’t be reminded of present-day Manhattan; and the staff is dressed in guayabera shirts and fedoras. The Harrison Room is visible underneath the decor, and consequently, I thought that the room failed to achieve the same cinematic sense of place as, say Macao Trading Co. On my second visit, however, when I stopped analyzing the room and just enjoyed a drink, I found it more successful (or maybe I just ignored the theme).

blacktailThe menu: It’s literally a book, not just with drinks and food but also a short story. (Perhaps to get you through it, you’re given a dollop of frozen daiquiri as an amuse-bouche.) The drinks are divided into five categories—highball, punch, sour, old fashioned, cocktail—and keeping track of contenders involves a lot of flipping pages back and forth. On my first visit, my companion ordered the Mississippi Mule (“Tequila Blanco, American Gin, Italian Amaro, Blackcurrant, Lemon, Ginger, Chamomile, Rhubarb, Decanter Bitters”), but I found the endeavor so overwhelming—too many options, each with at least one befuddling ingredient—that I just had a classic daiquiri. (Pictured below; photo courtesy BlackTail.) We also split yucca and plantain fries and salmon tartare, and when our drinks ran out, a Celery Sour. On my second visit, I asked the bartender to choose, and I got a Nacional (“Cuban Rum Blend, French Bitter, Apricot, Banana, Pineapple, Lime, Yuzu”—and, unmentioned on the menu, a serious dusting of nutmeg).

Daiquiri courtesy BlackTailGold star: The beverages were delicious, but what really made BlackTail stand out for me was how civilized it was. The bar now has its own entrance on the Pier A plaza, with a dedicated staircase. You tell the host outside the size of your party, and he lets you know when a table or seats at the bar are available. I was delighted when he offered to let me go up alone, even though my companion had yet to arrive. But the big benefit of this set-up is that there’s no crowding inside the bar, and noise is kept at a respectable level. Service was excellent both times.

blacktail-corner-tableRoom for improvement: I didn’t mind waiting outside, because it was a beautiful night, and the views are wonderful in every direction (see below). But I do hope that, come winter, patrons will be allowed to either make reservations or wait somewhere inside, because the Battery gets bitterly cold. Also, while it’s unfair to judge a kitchen on two dishes, particularly one involving yucca, I’m not sure that I’d plan on eating an entire meal at BlackTail.

1wtc-from-south-daytime 1-wtc-from-south-at-nighttime Anything else? A cute touch: The menu includes a vintage-style postcard that the bar will mail to anywhere in the world. And there’s Cuban music on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting at 8 p.m.

blacktail-postcardContact: BlackTail is inside Pier A, at 22 Battery Place; 212-785-0153;

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