Nestled at the Southern tip of Manhattan deep within the City’s FiDi, as it’s known, lies the Fraunces Tavern Block Historical District. While this name is not as recognisable as the Big Apples countless other attractions the District was the setting for some significant moments in American history, from American Revolution peace talks with the British to the site of General George Washington’s farewell speech to his troops. The area is distinctly different to much of Manhattan and the Tavern itself is believed to be the oldest building on the Island.
On a recent layover in Manhattan I took a late morning stroll round the entire Wall Street area, enjoying the stark difference in foot traffic from Midtown & the picture perfect views of the Brooklyn Bridge that the adjacent waterfront provides. The -7 on dry land temp was enough to convince me not to ride the Staten Island Ferry but to instead take a short walk up Water Street, perhaps so called as long before the land reclamation it was on the water, stopping by number 30. Of course this address was always my destination.
As I stood across the street from 30 Water Street, NY, I couldn’t help but picture Mr Fredricksons house, that old cantankerous balloon seller from Disney’s Pixar Movie, UP. It’s A five story red brick building in a short terrace standing bravely in the shadows of surrounding skyscrapers. The Architectural equivalent of David & Goliath, an analogy that speaks perfectly for the success of the business within when compared to its current size.
The building itself is almost 200 years old but the bar it shelters has just turned 5. Yet although its only moving into long trousers, in those short 5 years The Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog has already garnered more awards than most boozers ever manage & certainly more than I can be bothered to type out. It’s safe to say it’s somewhat successful but then ever since the creative masterminds behind the rabbit got together back in Belfast, their skills of drink mastery has laden them with more accolades than the Old Trafford trophy room could carry.
Of course plenty has been written about this Bar and generally by those bestowed with better penmanship than I will ever have. But now with vast expansion plans at the construction stage, it’s never been a better time to drop by. So to take a fresh approach this post is less bar review and more in-depth focus on what it’s like to spend 11 hours in the Dead Rabbit. That’s right, my aforementioned stroll was in fact 45 minutes of freezing, time killing hell that were spent pounding the sidewalks in an attempt to keep my core body temperature from shattering, all while waiting for opening time. It was bloody cold in New York the day I was there & being from a part of Ireland where we have one train an hour, I misjudged the subway schedule, arriving the best part of an hour early for a drink. So, cue walking about like an alco who is waiting for Lidl to open!
Finally 11am hit & much to the relief of the 4 Port Authority Police Officers who had been eyeing me warily as I dry humped a radiator inside the Ferry Terminal, I jogged the short distance to this!
After a quick snap of the sign, I bound my frozen joints up the steps & made for the door! I thanked the doorman who was on hand to welcome me inside, I later realised he was not actually a doorman but had merely been coming down the stairs as I got to the door, instantly the icy day was burnt off by the welcoming heat of the Taproom. With sawdust on the floor & traditional music wafting on the warm air, size is the first thing my rapidly defrosting eyes acknowledged. I had studied plenty of pictures online but only when you stand within do you realise that this really is a small, cosy intimate spot. A plus of always being is having the choice of the seats, sliding onto my stool midway along the bar I ordered a Guinness (the quality of an Irish bars, well any bars Guinness is an indicator of the overall quality of the establishment) & took in my surroundings.
Narrow in width, the Taproom is a well adorned slice of Ireland. The walls are dressed with distinctly Irish pictures and mementoes, yet there is nothing garish, nothing that over eggs the pudding by screaming Irish bar. No neon leprechauns beaming from the ceiling, instead Photographs from home litter the beams above your head while uniquely a framed copy of the 20 year old “Good Friday Agreement” stares down from its position not far from pictures of George Best & Martin McGuinness, amongst others.
As my perfectly poured Guinness settled in its glass, Annie, who had just finished pouring it introduced herself, offered her hand and asked my name, instantly making me feel as if she was glad I dropped in.
At 1105 and with only two other punters seated In Henry’s corner, Annie had plenty of time to host me & in spite of my sober social awkwardness the conversation was unforced and genuine. As I sipped the black stuff, I was enthusiastically regaled with stories of the bar, expansion, regular trips back home & even glitter covered Dr Martens.. no lie, it’s the latest must have work shoes that Annie’s daughter was describing via text from Belfast. Despite what I was thinking, it was later confirmed that despite the footwear she doesn’t infact work for the Circus.
Annie was so deep in our conversation that on two occasions she served me items requested by the two guys in the corner. My mistake came in pointing out her mistake and using two words of simple language she clipped my wings in a way that only a woman from the North of Ireland can. Suitably chastised It was then that I realised that yes the combination of the decor, theming, marketing & world class drink quality may have earned all the awards, it was the people who were the real attraction. Sure Jack & Sean has the public profile, but it was Annie & the rest of the team I was yet to meet who made the bar
As I made my way through a couple of different 9oz brews, I was joined at various stages by different Wall Street folk all dropping in for lunch before heading back to the office. Now having this as your lunch venue? That’s the definition of jealousy! Every dish I caught a glimpse of looked appealing so Ignoring my own rule of ratings cheating, I took the plunge, ordering the house Scotch Eggs & truffle fries. Unfortunately the Scotch Egg was excellent, which has totally ruined Tesco value never mind Marks & sparks version for me..
It seemed I had visited on an unusually slow day as after the lunch service the crowd stayed light for an hour or so. That suited me just fine as Open the doors of any Irish bar and Inside you will find a bunch of tourists visiting a little bit of the old country, sipping subpar Guinness, stuffing themselves with potato free Stew cos seemingly the famine never ended, or corned beef hash, another staple Irish dish that this particular Irish guy hasn’t eaten in over 20 years and even then it wasn’t hash but corned beef sandwiches in my school lunch.
All this occurs while genuine 1/16th Irish folk enquire if the solitary genuinely Irish staff member happens to know their great great grandmother who was born in County Kerry
But today, it was just me, Annie & one of her regulars. Before long I was invited down to the back of the bar to enjoy her company in what turned out to be an entertaining afternoon listening to tales of a rich life of adventure and exploration. In the greatest bar in the World I had found the company of the arguably the greatest regular in the World. Like a Long Island Lady Hemingway or Capt Tony of the Key West Saloon fame, this lady held court with effortless charm and humour, before sadly all to soon her visit came to an end.
She was shy about her connections to the bar, which go far beyond the usual regular customer backstory. To that end I won’t name her, but if you are ever lucky enough to end up in her company, you will know who she is. I may have also suggested she have her portrait commissioned, which I offered to paint, which should then be adorned upon the walls. Not sure how any Crayola masterpiece I may draw would look to be fair.
This is where the day gets hazy, as I settled into my new surroundings by the kitchen, with almost VIP access to the gentleman’s facilities, I was joined by Heinz, a German born English Hedge fund whizz kid who, having just flown in from Singapore or maybe it was Dallas, was drowning his over travelled Arsenal supporting sorrows in the first bar he found! Some people have all the luck. Heinz was like me, visiting with all his mates and it was Annie & her hospitality who hooked up 2 solo travellers to put the World to rights. As fate would have it this blossoming bromance would later choke early on as jetlag and beer combined to convince Heinz that the toilets which are adjacent to the bar where accessible only by a long staircase. In reality this wasn't the case, yet as the day got older Heinz swore he was having difficulty safely negotiating the phantom steps.
As the day got older the crowd got bigger, with those clocking off from the man arriving in for after work drinks, then every so often the serious drinking would be disturbed by a tourist with a camera, who with a desire to tick attractions off their vacation list came in to snap pictures of the worlds best bar before departing as quickly as they came. Splashing out on a drink and staying a while to enjoy the true appeal, atmosphere, of this bar, didn’t seem to be on their brass faced agenda. That’s no way to treat a bar!
By now it was around 6pm & the tab held truffle fries, scotch eggs, 1 Guinness, 1 sixpoint sweet Acton and 6 Weihenstephan.. & a secret halfun that was gifted to me only after I agreed to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement.
What was left to try in the Taproom? Well set down before Heinz & I were 2 perfectly poured Irish Coffees. It was explained how the current version, made with clontarf Whiskey was about to be changed & would soon be made with Bushmills. The Dead Rabbit is somewhat well known for this drink, which is patiently crafted backstage by bar back Ceaser long before it’s assembled for the customer. Both versions were incredible, but the Bushmills coffee pipped it, based entirely on geographical biase
Sadly Annie clocked off around 7, so with a couple of selfies taken, which in the light of day probably look like she is pictured with a beer bellied lamppost (there was a slight height difference) she left me in the capable hands of the evening shift. Around this time Heinz let those imaginary stairs beat him and he to disappeared into the night.
After a few hours of people watching the mixed crowd and topping off with some Blackthorn English Cider, which is the only black mark The Dead Rabbit conjures in my opinion. Where was the Irish Cider? A point acknowledged by the boss lady herself. I settled my tab, slipped a few bar mats into my pocket & braced by 11 hours of boozing made my way back onto Water Street for the short walk to the Subway.
My day at the Rabbit was done. The time spent within had passed in an instant and as I caught the 1 train back to Mid Town I knew I had spent my layover in New York the best way I could. I had intended to visit Black Tail a short walk across Battery Park at Pier A, the sister bar to Dead Rabbit, Black Tail is said to be an opulent cocktail venue and came highly recommended. Sadly I never made it on this trip, but it creates a great excuse to return to the FiDi, which after my long but warm day is now my favourite part of New York
This image of an empty glass had previously contained a serving of dead rabbit Whiskey, which was released on 12 February 2018, marking the bars 5th birthday. I was kindly allowed to try this prior to release. Sadly I cant remember anything other than it was bloody good
I visited The Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog on Wednesday 31st January 2018. All food and beverage consumed was paid for personally with the exception of a shot of Dead Rabbit Whiskey & 2 Irish coffees.
These items were not received in exchange for a positive review. Let’s face it, no one reads my scribbles!
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