A group of us stopped by the much-hyped new restaurant/cocktail destination Tailor last night, where mixologist Eben Freeman's esoteric cocktails are the primary partners to chef/wunderkind Sam Mason's equally esoteric food. Esoteric how? Consider The Waylon, which incorporates Bourbon, smoked Coke, and preserved lemon. Yep, smoked Coke. Freeman was inspired by barbecue, he said from behind the bar, and decided to take Coca-Cola syrup and cold-smoke it in Tailor's kitchen over cherry and alder wood. And sure enough, the stuff turns out mighty smoky—Waylon himself might approve. I also sampled the Cascade Cocktail, made from dry-hopped gin and Martini Bianco, which is hoppy enough to make a double-IPA tremble in fear (and, honestly, a bit too hoppy to be entirely balanced, but still interesting to drink) and the Paprika Punch, with rum, red bell pepper and lemon. How Freeman's gets such intense red pepper essence into this drink I don't know, but if you like red bell peppers, you'll love it. If you hate them, stay far away.
What's particularly interesting about the whole list is basically how in-your-face it is. None of these cocktails are sip-'em-and-forget-'em concoctions; they really make you attend to what you're drinking. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your mood. But if you want to check out a good bartender who's exploring the boundaries of what cocktails can be, you'd be well served (so to speak) by stopping off at Tailor.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Mason's menu, too, which is composed of a short selection of dishes labeled "salty" and an equally short selection of dishes labeled "sweet." All are small portions, about $12 to $14 each, give or take. The winner of the salty side was a perfectly cooked small slab of pork belly served with a miso butterscotch sauce (radically better than it sounds); on the sweet, my vote went for a kind of compote of local blueberries served with yogurt ice cream and a moist, delicious black olive cake (the black olive cake worked oddly well with the berries). Like the cocktails, this is food that asks you to think about it as you eat it, somewhat the opposite of comfort food, say. For food geeks, this affords the opportunity to attempt to tweeze out individual flavors and figure out what the heck Mason is doing. Other people may walk away bewildered, wondering why they didn't go find a steak instead. Personally, I think Tailor has an appealingly uncompromised vision, which is to say that while I wouldn't eat there every night, I'm glad it exists anyway.
525 Broome St. (between Thompson and Sullivan)
New York, NY 10013