For some of us who rushed to Chumley’s for its reopening last year, the experience felt much like a great dream. When the venue closed a decade ago, New Yorkers lost a legendary watering hole. Before its closure, generations of individuals had been drawn to the bar for its literary history, warm decor and an environment both intimate and exciting. It wasn’t a speakeasy akin to those of today. Devoid of pretense, a doorman with a list or a novelty entrance, Chumley’s welcomed everyone. When news broke of its return, anxiety accompanied the anticipation. Chumley’s has surmounted it. Today, under the ownership of Alessandro Borgognone, guests will find an impeccable, upscale menu by Chef Victoria Blamey with one of the best burgers in NYC. The present decor carries a luster in lieu of the decades of wear, but the spirit remains true. The ghosts have not ventured elsewhere. This isn’t a museum honoring the past. Simply put, Chumley’s is a great place to get a drink and, now, enjoy a meal.
Tasked with a revival of something beloved, bar manager Jessie Duré was aware that a menu needed to match the expectations of today’s cocktail consumers while also maintaining loyalty to Chumley’s last crop of clientele. Duré’s extensive knowledge of spirits lead to a particularly appealing back bar, including old tom gins and Boukman spiced Haitian rum. Ultimately, the menu features a blend of drinks either built from the ground up or as variations of classics. “In my training,” she explains to CH, “I’ve always been taught and encouraged to work with spirits that I have respect for. Therefore, never mask the flavors, but do things to bring out different notes that are inherent but don’t come across in a sip on its own. That’s a classical mind frame.”
All the while, she was aware of the food menu’s developments. “Victoria and I started doing tastings and collaborating in early June . I didn’t have a bar to work in yet. She didn’t have a kitchen.” Duré worked from friends’ office bars and developed the menu over the course of months. “Sometimes I have an idea conceptually, or of a flavor profile, she says of some origins. “In a few instances I wanted to take a lighter spirit and make a cocktail with a warmer flavor, versus turning a warmer spirit into a brighter thing.” The latter is far more common. Along the way she also developed two in-house vermouths, chocolate ice cubes (recipe below) and more.
Chumley’s, back in the day, also claimed to have their own house beers, poured out of branded taps. The now defunct Chelsea Craft Brewing Company may have done a few, but more often than not, the bar would feature one-offs and limited releases from other brands and just label them as their own. This time around, there is a dedicated beer called A Thinking Man’s Brew. Duré and Chumley’s partner Vito Ferraro worked with Brooklyn’s Sixpoint Brewery on its development. “We had always wanted an English-style bitter. Something sort of fashionable, just hoppy enough but an elevated pilsner, a bit more complex and full bodied,” Duré says. The result is delightful and weighs in at 4.3% ABV. The beer is worth a try, but below, we’ve highlighted some of our favorite recipes from the cocktail menu.
This is Duré’s variation on the Old Fashioned. “I had this idea of making an ice cube,” she begins. “The chocolate ice cube came from that. From there, I played around with single malts first, using a Bowmore, the 15 year which is super-bold and already has that chocolate note to it. I then went to the 12 year, which also works well. I was struggling between that and blends and found the Chivas to work best.” Rich and rewarding, perhaps the most fascinating attribute of the Chaplin is that the profile changes as the cube melts within.
2 oz Chivas 12
.25 oz Contratto Fernet
Bar spoon maple syrup
Stir all except chocolate ice in a mixing glass, strain into chilled cocktail rocks glass over chocolate ice cube. Orange peel garnish.
*Chocolate ice: simmer 2 quarts water with .25 cup cocoa nibs and .25 cup cocoa powder for 10 minutes, add 2 drops orange blossom water, half dropper each terra spice coffee and almond extra, stir, let cool, and freeze in 2×2’” ice molds.
You! You Can Never Tell
This cocktail drew our attention for a few reasons. Duré notes that this was the cocktail she was sure would sell the least, but has since proven to be a favorite. “The category of amaro is very big right now,” she adds. “Also, the plum attracts people. People have no idea what they’re about to taste.” This is another drink with substantial depth that unfolds with each sip. And with navy strength rum at its heart, the cocktail is rather potent.
2 oz Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum
.75 oz amaro Montenegro
.5 oz Averell Damson Plum Gin Liqueur
.75 oz grapefruit
.5 oz lime
.25 oz honey syrup (2:1)
Shake and strain into fizz glass over cracked ice. Garnish with lime wheel. Serve with gold straw.
Page two of the drink menu features a six-cocktail deep “Scotch & Soda” list. “I have been working with the concept of highballs for a long time,” she says referencing the idea of mixed drinks with minimal ingredients. “And then doing that with other spirits that are traditionally enjoyed on their own,” Duré adds. From there it came down to selecting the Scotch variations. “If I am working with a Highland Park, what comes out of the flavor profile when it is mixed with water? How can I elevate that?” she asks. Our personal favorite, below, is the resulting concoction.
Timmy’s In The Well
2 oz Highland Park 12yr
1 oz granny smith apple juice
.25 oz agave syrup (1:1)
2 dashes Angostura Orange bitters
Build all but soda in highball glass, top with fresh ice and club soda. No garnish.
For anyone still on the fence about Chumley’s new, more-upscale identity, they need only look to the back bar for insight on its value. There, a fresh beer rests untouched every night. “It’s for a fire fighter who worked here, Captain Drennan,” Duré says. “He died a few years before the [Chumley’s fireplace] collapse [in 2007]. After that they would put a beer up on the back bar for him, in his honor. We’ve kept this tradition intact.”
Chumley’s is located at 86 Bedford Street. Reservations are strongly encouraged.
Decor images courtesy of Chumley’s, cocktail imagery by David Graver