228 Van Brunt Street, Red Hook
The latest addition to Red Hook’s quietly thriving cocktail scene debuted in January behind a wall of clouded, glittering glass bricks. Above the new bar hangs an old burgundy awning that still faintly reads “Vern’s Kitchen,” a ghostly reminder of the devastating impact Hurricane Sandy had on several small businesses in the area several years ago. Seaborne’s opening is marked by a similar pathos: its original owner, Sasha Petraske (founder of Milk & Honey, Little Branch, and many other seminal New York cocktail bars), died unexpectedly of a heart attack late last summer.
Like the original Milk & Honey, Seaborne bears no exterior sign to mark its presence; inside, a handful of stainless steel tables shine in the low light; deep, burgundy booths feel intimate, not small. Perched next to recessed candles at each table is a built-in spigot, providing self-serve water.
It’s hard to imagine ever feeling neglected at Seaborne though, where Lucinda Sterling, long a presence at Petraske’s ventures, has, along with partner John Bonsignore, assumed the helm. Incredibly attentive and knowledgeable, Sterling even lent her formidable cocktail-creating skills to crafting several non-alcoholic versions off the bar’s menu to accommodate my self-imposed dry month. I adored a lush lemon and raspberry concoction packed to the top with pebble ice which gave the drink a fuller feel. I enlisted my brother Zach—a former bartender at another beloved neighborhood bar, Fort Defiance—to gauge the drinks. One standout he sampled was an Island Old Fashioned, a Tiki take on the classic that utilizes dark rum in place of bourbon. It was syrupy and velvety, fortified by a single enormous ice cube.
The menu includes about 15 cocktails that range from classics and standards to original recipes provided both by Petraske and his stable of pupils-turned-proprietors. There are also five beers on draft ($6), and two options for red wine or champagne by the glass ($9), but the cocktails are the undeniable stars of this menu. At $12 a pop, they’re reasonably priced and crafted with the finest spirits, including several local nods. One is the Italian vermouth Punt E Mes used in neighborhood namesake the Red Hook, a twist on a manhattan that nods to the area’s historically Italian roots. Another inclusion is the use of Uncouth Vermouth, a locally distilled spirit made just down the street, in the bar’s house martini. Due in large part to this herbal vermouth, my brother compared the cocktail’s taste to red clover, an edible flower that grew wild and prolific in our hometown in Oregon. It was the drink he exclaimed the most over, returning again and again to sip it throughout the night.
Though I was planning to make it an early night, the combined coziness of the bar and its extensive menu expanded our evening and our ordering. For obvious reasons, the Journalist caught my eye, so he willingly sampled the mixture of gin, sweet and dry vermouth, and orange juice. Zach noted that using fresh squeezed orange juice in a mixed drink is risky, since the flavor can change drastically from fruit to fruit, but the cocktail was perfectly balanced. An ideal beverage, he imagined, to decompress, think about events witnessed, and achieve a bit of a buzz before writing. Now I know what to order when the time comes to write my next bar review.