Under the rumble of the JMZ tracks, you follow vague directions to an invitation-only cocktail club hidden in the heart of residential Bushwick. This is not for the casual drinker: this is serious business.
With luck, you’ll spy the dimly-lit red door of Covert Cocktail Club (CCC). If you weren’t in the know, you’d never guess that an illicit speakeasy lies behind the door. And that’s the way The Bartender wants to keep it.
The Bartender, whose only rule is to not be “photographed or named,” has been running this cocktail club since November 2016. When it opened, the mysterious bar became so popular that The Bartender found his speakeasy booked through the end of summer. That said, we were lucky to get invitations for a recent evening.
We sat at a white marble counter and looked at the autumn menu. The Bartender had carefully curated a small menu to reflect his own tastes, pairing up interesting flavors such as strong jerky bitters and crisp vodkas or gins. “Clearish” and “brownish” cocktails comprised the list.
From the first sip of my aperitif, a swirled, frothy blend of batch apple cider and rye whiskey, I knew this was going to be very different from what I was accustomed to.
At CCC, you don’t have to worry about whom the bartender will serve next or if they will hear you shouting the name of your drink while you angrily count out singles to leave on the sticky countertop. By rule, there’s usually never more than a half-dozen drinkers allowed, The Bartender says; but tonight was a “special evening.” There were eight of us.
Repeat: you simply don’t turn up to CCC unannounced.
I looked around the table, sharing laughter and drinks with the other guests. The interesting thing about CCC is the intimacy, the singularity of the drink, and the hospitality of The Bartender. You’ll find yourself interacting with people you’d probably never speak to and The Bartender enjoys sharing his knowledge about spirits. He obviously wants his patrons to enjoy themselves and their cocktails.
After careful decision-making around the fall menu, a fellow guest wrapped her thin fingers around a cocktail, “Oh, I hate gin… but this is…” It was, no doubt, a sinful comment that truly hurt The Bartender’s gin-loving heart. But as his art dictates, he took the insult with grace.
The Bartender’s wife treated us to some delicious home-cooking as we drank. On this evening, the wife has served up a crunchy pani puri inspired from a trip to Mumbai.
That’s when I realized what the point CCC was: you don’t go there for just a drink—and trust me, the drinks are liquid ecstasy—you go for the experience itself.
Part of the experience is also performance, as The Bartender takes out some kind of smoke/flame starter to mix up his signature cocktail. The drink pour is generous, warm and as someone said, makes the room “smell like Christmas.” The cocktail, called “Up In,” starts with a strong smokey note that moves into a flood of cherry liqueur and whiskey. Once the smoke begins to fade, the homemade creme de cacao takes its turn to shine.
As with the entire night, the drink itself was an unfolding experience.
As the evening began to wind down, we settled into our final cocktail for the evening. The Bartender’s recommendation of the “Northeast Corridor” smells of clean allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon. I was bracing myself for something sweet, but instead found a dry, spiced drink that carried whiffs of nature in every sip.
The parting shot—or our departing shot—was a choice of either a sweet, bitter or licorice-flavored shot. Unlike most shots that have been taken by this writer, it did not taste strongly of lime and regret.
At a $80 per person, CCC is definitely a splurge. But when considering that it is an entire experience, it is a steal in comparison to other boozeries attempting to offer the same. After the club’s busy summer, we’re happy to report that bookings have opened up. Why not give it a shot?
Photo via Covert Cocktail Club Instagram