The sky was a perfect lavender and the wind whipped with a slight chill as I set out towards the night’s destination. The directions I was given were vague: “a blue building with a red door” and a street name. I suppose I should have expected a certain amount of mystery — this speakeasy isn’t exactly getting reviewed on yelp by Sharon H. from Staten Island. No other instructions were given except to please be quiet as the kids were sleeping upstairs.
The Covert Cocktail Club is a speakeasy that our hosts create nightly inside their home.
To my surprise, the venue was hiding in plain sight, and, as the red door shut behind me, I was greeted along with six other club-goers, and invited to take a seat at this evening’s bar: our hosts’ kitchen island.
The evening was colored with small specialized details. Rare bitters, obscure spirits, and hard to find amari from around the world were the centerpieces of our cocktails. Drinks were accompanied by stories, and quick lessons in the history of each spirit. Of course, in true speakeasy fashion, our drinks were made with hand delivered soda water in antique canisters. If you enjoy sounding fancy (which I do) you might comment on the tight bubble structure, or the way the old thick glass canisters keep the water extra cold and carbonated, but I’ll give you an insider’s secret: it tastes like water with bubbles in it.
The real magic, however, is in the cocktails. The menu rotates seasonally, and our late winter options were a combination of heady, boozy, spirit-forward cocktails, as well as lightly fruity, fizzy, and fantastical concoctions — all dreamt up by one self-taught bartender with a twirly mustache and a knack for showmanship.
Over the course of the evening we all had four drinks and a snack (an intermission at the halfway point), and of course, some conversation — jolting and self conscious at first, but after a few drinks the eight of us found ourselves talking over each other, words glugging out faster than the generous pours of spirits by our bartender. My fellow tipplers came from all over New York, and all over the world, and as the evening wore on it became clear that the company was as integral as the cocktails.
There were many things for me to love about the Covert Cocktail Club. First and foremost, as a nosy person, I relish the opportunity to enter into people’s homes. I like to find out what kind of wallpaper they’ve chosen and judge their coffee table books and quietly take note of how they’ve organized their refrigerator (very orderly, incidentally). More than scrutinizing their bathroom reading collection, though, I’m fascinated by the faith our hosts placed in us, how they blindly welcome strangers into their home, and what they hope to achieve in bringing people together, boozing them up, and seeing what happens. They do all this to foster some kind of connection, ostensibly. It seems they’re in pursuit of that dwindling resource that is an authentic, shared experience. And in the end, the result is some kind of frothing mix of personalities and points of view that, when sloshed together (and sloshed, together) combine to become something greater.
Our mustachioed bartender held no secrets. “How did you get into this kind of…thing?” asked one imbiber during a lull in the chatter. “Sheer idiocy” our host replied mid-pour. Though he may joke, it’s clear our bartender takes pride in what he’s created.
And he should, too. The Covert Cocktail Club is mercurial and mysterious. Part treasure hunt, part performance, cocktails and conversation – the proprietors of the Covert Cocktail Club have created something that’s more than the sum of its parts. The night was carefully and thoughtfully put together for the eight of us, crafted and honed just as our cocktails had been, and, unfortunately, I thought to myself as the door closed behind me, just as fleeting.