Drinking Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Bloody Knuckles Cocktail at The Richardson

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Photos by Jane Bruce

Sorry to burst your bubble, but the inventor of the Brooklyn cocktail was a guy who lived in Hoboken and worked in Manhattan, and it never took off after he published the recipe in 1908. The Brooklyn, similar to a Manhattan but with dry vermouth instead of sweet (plus amaro and maraschino), was only recently accepted as a classic when the borough-of-the-moment became a popular place to open cocktail bars. But what about all those other drinks named after our fair borough? Don’t they deserve their own write-up? Well, maybe not all of them do, but there are some solid, and solidly named, drinks out there that deserve a shout-out. In this new series, we explore drinks named after Brooklyn and its many neighborhoods, expanding the cocktail canon of boozy Brooklynites everywhere.

Bloody knuckles, for the uninitiated, is a playground game where the objective is to make your opponents bleed. You can do this in two ways: by flicking a quarter at their knuckles so hard it breaks the skin, or by punching each other’s knuckles until someone calls “chicken.” At The Richardson, bartender Josh Levie puts that playful spirit into the Brooklyn Bloody Knuckles, a drink based on the classic Planter’s Punch. It contains lime and pineapple juices, house-made grenadine, bitters, and three rums: Smith & Cross (the navy-strength kicker found in the original Planter’s Punch), Gosling’s, and Denizen.

For a drink that sounds like a punch in the face, it’s actually pretty tame — red-tinted and lightweight, it’s more whimsy than burn. “It’s about the playfulness of it,” says Levie. “It’s innocent and a little sweet but also a little dangerous, like playing bloody knuckles on the playground.”

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Topped with a rum float and garnished with cracked pepper, the first sip is all “molasses up front,” as Levie describes it, grounded by the pepper and giving way to the sweeter (but not too sweet) pineapple and lime underneath. If you start with the straw, you miss the playfulness Levie is going for. Sip from the rim, and you get the game.

The Richardson is in that part of Brooklyn that could either be Williamsburg or Greenpoint, depending on who you ask. The bar is unpretentious and familiar, a neighborhood spot with a lot of regulars. Steven Spate, the bar manager, describes their cocktail program as “rooted in the classics.” He says, “We want to showcase the effort we’ve spent curating our spirits collection. We’re going to experiment and innovate, but classics endure. It’s been a long road for the martini and the Manhattan. There’s a reason they hold the status that they do, and it’s not Mad Men.” Levie adds, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The Brooklyn Bloody Knuckles may not be a classic, but it’s damn good. Will it land that coveted spot as the classic Brooklyn cocktail? Probably not. Still, its playful, edgy attitude holds its own and shows a side of Brooklyn that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Neither does Levie: When asked why he tacked the word “Brooklyn” onto the name of the drink, he leans back in his chair and says, “‘Cause we’re in Brooklyn, man!”

The Richardson, 451 Graham Avenue; Williamsburg

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