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 series, we explore drinks named after Brooklyn and its many neighborhoods, expanding the cocktail canon of boozy Brooklynites everywhere. So far we’ve tried the Red Hook Criterium, the Barrel-Aged Bushwick Cocktail, and the Brooklyn Bloody Knuckles; now, we head to the epicenter of Brooklyn’s cocktail renaissance, Clover Club, for a taste of Brooklyn.
Clover Club, the cocktail beacon in Carroll Gardens, is known as a haunt for bartenders when they’re not pouring. Drink writers, bartenders, and bar owners pull up stools and order off-menu, and on-menu, too–with the juleps, smashes, cobblers, and sours that are permanent fixtures, plus the seasonal and themed categories, the menu alone is entertainment. One of the first cocktails on the menu was the Park Slope Swizzle, a gin-based highball. With its comically-large kale garnish and green pallor, the drink is a nod to tiki and a poke at Julie Reiner’s neighborhood.
Julie Reiner co-owns the bar with her wife, Susan Fedroff, and together with the bartenders creates and curates a menu that meets her high standards. Reiner is one of the pioneers of the cocktail comeback, popularizing classics in New York and San Francisco in the 1990s and 2000s. Meeting Reiner, you’d never know it. With more cheek than arrogance, Reiner’s saucy confidence, loud laugh, and no-bullshit attitude is more authentic than the usual bar-owner bravado.
She came up with the Park Slope Swizzle partially as a throwback to her native Hawaii. When she was visiting Waimānalo eight years ago, she drank a lot of green smoothies from a roadside joint called Sweet Home Waimānalo. “I was drinking this green smoothie like every single day that I was there,” she laughs. “So when I came back and we were talking about our spring menu here, I wanted to do a cocktail that was inspired by this smoothie.” With almond milk, honey, pineapple juice, kale juice, and lemon, the smoothie inspired the gin-and-apple-brandy based cocktail. She juiced some kale and made a kale and honey syrup, and instead of almond milk used orgeat, an almond-based syrup also used in Mai Tais. Using gin as a base, the drink is shaken and served over crushed ice.
“I call it the Park Slope Swizzle, because you know the Park Slope Co-op? Where you have to, like, work there?” she asks. “I live in Park Slope, and I don’t go to the co-op, but I laugh at them because it’s so crunchy granola.” Fedroff jumps in with, “Oh my gosh, they’re like a mafia over there.” For those not familiar, the co-op requires members to work 2.75 hours every four weeks in order to shop at the store. Those without memberships are barred from shopping at the co-op, which is known for its stunning fresh produce and lower prices for members. “I was like, oh, three hours a month, I can do that, but [Julie] was having no part of it. She was like, ‘I’m not bagging groceries,’” laughs Fedroff. Reiner confirms this. “I just don’t have the time,” she says. “I’ll go to Whole Foods and pay for my vegetables rather than work grocery shifts.”
“We’ve lived in Park Slope for eight years, so I feel like we can talk shit about it,” Reiner says. She and Fedroff have a six-year-old daughter, and they find Park Slope to be just as kid-friendly as expected. Living there achieves, for them, a separation between their professional and personal lives. It’s close enough to Carroll Gardens that it’s easy to access, but they get to go home to a neighborhood with great schools, summer camps, and kid-friendly restaurants like burger and pizza places. “It is a little bit of a restaurant wasteland,” she says. “Take Terroir, which was great, but it closed because you can’t survive on just Friday and Saturday night business. And then you go to the Yelp reviews and it’s the Park Slope Mom Brigade, who are like, ‘I went in and they gave me stink eye because I had my baby,’ you know? I think sometimes there’s a lack of support for that kind of business there.”
She opened Clover Club in part because there was nothing else like it in area, somewhere “that felt classy” to Reiner, where you could pick among a range of options: just drinks, a drink and a snack, or have brunch or dinner. Somewhere Reiner wanted to hang out. The development of the Park Slope Swizzle was a small part of that process. The drink, with its thinly-veiled taunting and outlandish garnish, coupled with its part-Hawaiian, part-Brooklyn origins, is a bit like Reiner herself: lighthearted and bold, with one hell of a story.
Clover Club; 210 Smith Street, Carroll Gardens