Monday, January 23, 2012

Absinthe at Otway's

If you haven't yet been to the William Barnacle Tavern at Theatre 80 on St. Mark's, go now. But not too many of you at once. The place is, as promised when it opened in 2009, "A quiet cafe where people can hear each other talk, and you can hear yourself think."



On a cold winter's night, wander in for a warming glass of absinthe. Bartender and life-long theater owner Lorcan Otway prepares the drink using a combination of the traditional and the "Bohemian Method."

He pours the liquor into a shapely glass imported from France. He sets a slotted spoon over the top, perches a sugar cube there and sets it burning. The blue flame is extinguished by drops of ice water dripped from an Art Deco absinthe fountain--a glass jar held by a silver goddess. The sugar cube crumbles. The drink turns milky.

You can stop there or ask Mr. Otway to mix it into a "Puca," his own invention. Named for a goblin of Irish folklore, the Puca is a combination of absinthe and Bailey's Irish Cream. Mr. Otway slowly pours the Bailey's down the inside wall of the glass so that it falls below the absinthe, creating a two-toned cocktail.



While he's pouring another, and while you're drinking, Mr. Otway will tell you stories about the theater and the bar, especially its history as a speakeasy. This is also the home of the Museum of the American Gangster.

If you're lucky, he will hand you a hardhat and lead you down into the basement where gangsters once hid their millions and rigged the windows with dynamite so they could make their escape through tunnels dug beneath First Avenue.



Back upstairs, the absinthe will make you very mellow very fast. Your fellow patrons all have a similar glow. No one is yapping on the phone. Everyone is talking to each other--about gangsters, strippers, the old East Village, music.

The tavern is other-worldly. You feel like you've come upon a weird oasis, as if you've slipped through the time-space barrier and landed in some alternate reality. It's not the absinthe, because you feel it the moment you walk in. Everyone else feels it, too. Newcomers step through the door with exclamations of relief--a quiet bar in the East Village!

21 comments:

marjorie said...

Oh hell yes. Sounds wonderful. Even to an absinthe-loather like me.

esquared said...

Been going there since last year, but haven't been announcing it since I want to keep it to myself before the douchebaggery of the weekends discover it. I have seen tourists and weekend revelers peering into the Tavern, but I guess they're intimidated or turned-off once they see it's not a "loungy" place or that there's no Bud or PBR, which I guess is good for me, but bad for the Tavern.

Absinthe is perfect to be soddened and benumbed, esp. to counter what has happened in NYC/EV.

I'd love to try the 100 dollar shot of 25 year old Talisker Single Malt Scotch Whiskey. Can I fund that thru Kickstarter?

Caleo said...

A wonderful post, but part of me fears it will disappear now that you've mentioned it.
Or get swamped by texting douchebags looking for the next "undiscovered" establishment to drain the lifeblood out of.
Some places are better left alone.
Great post, though.

Jeremiah Moss said...

true, i hesitated about posting it for that reason. but i think it's douchebag-proof. the music is Celtic folk and quiet. and Otway really chats you up. i don't think the DBs will stick around much.

BrooksNYC said...

"Bohemian" fire ritual aside (a concession, I'm guessing, to the woo-hoosery) the place sounds wonderful.

http://tinyurl.com/7onp6t2

Look forward to dropping by.

Anonymous said...

Lorcan Otway! Really? I used to read his Quaker blog years ago - he was something of a gadfly in the online community of Friends, and I always enjoyed reading what he had to say because he was one of the few people who would refuse to budge on his principles. Plus, he seems to genuinely enjoy people. So glad to see that this is where he's ended up. Sounds like the perfect thing for him (and the EV, too).

Marty Wombacher said...

This is a great place and esquared, if you start that Kickstarter campaign, I'll be the first to donate!

esquared said...

@ Marty -- I only take cash. But you'll get an associate producer credit and you'll receive a DVD of the event taking place PLUS you get a mention on the blogosphere. (I think I may have had one too many absinthe or I probably need one now.)

Melanie said...

Very cool..must check this out.

EV Grieve said...

A lovely spot, indeed. I appreciate all that Lorcan is doing with Theatre 80.

lauran said...

"J" do they have cell phone chargers? & will he ask people to leave when they behave like idiots?

Brendan said...

Now I am confused. You are all praising an expensive hipster spot. What gives?

Brendan said...

You're right, that was an annoying comment I left. This place seems cool and for all I know isn't expensive.

But you have to admit it's kinda hipstery, and not TOO far removed from some of the stuff that draws Jeremiah's ire.

Jeremiah Moss said...

if you went there and you knew Otway, you would not think "hipster" in the least.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

Thanks. Have never had absinthe, but this sounds like a good place.

Jeremiah Moss said...

you know what they say--"absinthe makes the heart grow fonder."

sorry, i couldn't resist.

lauran said...

i have been around new york a long time, i have 6th sense. the place is cool. have not been there but just look how nice it is inside. the music is low the lighting is good. i think if there were shrieking cell ring tones, the owner would stop that right away. i dont think he needs the additional business. AND i do agree w/anon 6:54pm. we also want to see places which may be expensive as well. this blog is not always new york on the cheap. & cheap does not always mean cool.

Anonymous said...

definitely not a hipster joint. but I do wish he'd do movies at Theater 80 instead of plays. Sorry, my prejudice - I think that would be a better use of the theater. I remember the classic double features they used to play there in the mid-80s - it was magic to see them in that environment. - BN

Eric Taub said...

They stopped showing movies? I need to get out more!

Anonymous said...

Interesting how when one of the old neighborhood characters (and I like Lor, a lot!) is serving overpriced drinks (some of his Absinthe is like $40 a bottle and he sells it at $20 a shot, or that Talisker - it's $180 a bottle, why is a shot $100?) and making up mostly bogus historical details (like telling you Trotsky lived upstairs, which is false as you can easily check) it's fine, but if it's a hipster then it's the end of the world. ;)

Why is nobody coming in? because the decor is horrendous (those tablecloths with the flower vase make you cringe, don't they?) and the signs look like they've been designed by a madman. If it's even open then the crowd at the bar (when there is a crowd) is always made up of older neighborhood crazies, or it's just Lor standing there like the ghost of Christmas past, which is even worse...

OWR said...

Thank Anon..Had a feeling there was a little (lot) of touchy-feely bullshit being posted about this place. The so-called LES hipsters chime in together en-mass as to hwat is desirable and what is-not. Talk about the antithesis of the whole LES spirit.
Thanks to you I probably wont visit this so-called hipster's tavern. A rip-off is a rip-off.