On a Tuesday night about a month ago, I was hanging out with a friend in the liquor industry. “We’re going to Featherweight,” she told me. I didn’t know what that was but I knew well enough to listen to Jen when she makes statements about where we should drink.
Behind an unmarked door off Graham Avenue in Bushwick, and at the end of a long hallway, two muscled young men stood behind a make-shift tiki bar, blending frozen rum drinks. It was the last Tuesday of the month, a Tiki Tuesday at Featherweight. This alcove was quiet, but to the left and up some stairs behind a cloth curtain, I could hear a real party in progress. A tall fruity drink was placed in my hand and I was escorted to it.
You know that scene in Dirty Dancing—the staff party—where Jennifer Grey enters an invite-only gathering filled with co-workers swept up in the current of a raucous party? And she’s just standing there with a watermelon? That’s what I found behind Featherweight’s second floor curtain. (I did not, though, bring a watermelon.) The small-ish room had a gorgeous square bar, snug booths, and a sort of Caribbean-esque tiki aesthetic. The gathering was also DJ’ed, and filled with industry people all interacting like family, and (professionally) raging. Another young man in a Hawaiian shirt was shaking icy drinks left and right, but he made it look fun and easy. In quick succession, tall frigid concoctions were plopped in front of merry drinkers. The DJ set was filled with recognizable music that was very good and made you wanna dance. What I’m saying is: This was one of the best parties I’d been to in a very long time, but I had the sense the rest of New York didn’t really know about it.
Johnny De Piper, who previously managed Weather Up in Prospect Heights, opened Featherweight with James Freeman and proprietors Matthew Maddy and Kathryn Weatherup in 2013. It wasn’t, however, the initial plan. De Piper says that when realtors showed Freeman the corner space that is Sweet Science, the partner bar and restaurant next door, they also asked if they wouldn’t want to see the second floor space that abutted it. Sure, they answered, why not. And with that Featherweight was born. The idea was to create something like Milk & Honey or Weather Up, only “a little more casual,” De Piper summed up.
On Sunday I returned, and the industry rager had left. It was shockingly—but delightfully—quiet and relaxed. Just a sprinkling of couples sat at the bar. Bartender Sarah Evans showered me with scrumptious tiki drinks, the kind of thing you’ll find there next Tuesday on tiki night, though the menu changes every time. She started me off with what turned out to be close to my favorite tiki drink ever, a black rum based drink called Muddied Waters, mixed with lime, orgeat and mint. The finish had a tangy zing that I could not get enough of. Next came a creamy number over crushed ice called the St. Croix Sling, with pineapple, lime, organic Coco Lopez, and black rum. If milky things mixed with alcohol and spice is your thing, you’ll find little better than what’s here. From the menu, Evans had me sample the Late Lunch, which she said tasted kind of like beef jerky. The combination of mezcal, Amaro Meletti, and medium dry sherry did have a meaty base, but was rich and pleasant, not as bad as you might think about a drink that tastes like dried beef.
A young man and his roommate sidled up to me, wondering what I was doing with my own personal cache of drinks. I shared the love with them. “What I love about this place is you can just kind of tell the bartender something you’re vaguely into, and they’ll come back with something perfect,” said the guy, Graham, who lived around the corner. Before I left, though Evans had to get up and write a paper the next morning, she offered to share two swigs of Cynar, which she graciously threw back with me.
Evans said most nights are exactly as chill as If I found it on Sunday, and Thursdays are especially filled with couples on dates. Regardless of when you return—and you should absolutely go next Tuesday, and glom on to the best kept secret tiki party around—you will be happy you made the effort.
“With no sign outside, I keep fighting with myself because we would be busier,” De Piper told me, “I mean, we always want to make more money.” But then he thought better of it, which I was happy to hear. “But I like the idea of a speakeasy, and when you do find it, it’s a really nice thing.”
Tiki Tuesdays, every last Tuesday of the month (next Tuesday!) at Featherweight, 135 Graham Avenue at Johnson Avenue, Bushwick; Sunday – Thursday, 7pm-2am; Saturday & Sunday, 2pm-3am.