At 3 p.m. on April 20, Sparrow + Wolf is exactly what you might expect from an independent restaurant less than a month from opening its doors: a mixed state of calm and excitement. General manager John Anthony is unwrapping elegant, heavy bar stools. Chef/owner Brian Howard is whipping up sample bites and handing them off to anyone who will stand still long enough to be fed. The air conditioner is on the fritz … then it isn’t … then it is. No one is sweating it though; everything will come together. Howard has been working toward this opening for too long for there to be any other outcome.
Anthony sets out a brand-new barstool and suddenly I’m the first patron at the wide, still unvarnished bar. Lead bartender Cody Fredrickson—most recently of Bound by Salvatore Calabrese in The Cromwell—is still working from his temporary station in the large kitchen, just across from the huge central prep table that will serve as Howard’s pass for charcuterie, grilled meats and both small and large plates. The panel of glass allowing me to watch Fredrickson and Howard at work will eventually be tinted, as will the two massive semicircular arched windows that were uncovered when the orange walls of former tenant Jenni Pho Grill came down.
When it opens in mid-May, the 76-seat room (including a 12-seat bar) will welcome guests from 5 p.m.–1 a.m. Wednesday through Monday for starters. Package liquor purchases can be made from two hulking wine fridges that had once dominated Eat Drink in The Cosmopolitan (both scooped up at auction), and in the future, there may be prepared foods to go. Howard is also toying with the idea of an industry-friendly late-night menu for the culinary crowd that likes to scour Chinatown after–hours.
Designing the new space himself, Howard left only the slate floors and ceilings alone, and adorned the interior in a mix of sultry dark blue and charcoal gray—all the better to make a canopy of glass pendants over the bar and curtains of brass chains around the 12-seat private dining room (both also former Cosmo décor) pop. With a soundtrack of music Howard listens to in his car—everything from G. Love and Special Sauce to the Clash, Ramones, Iggy Pop and even Ethiopian drums—Fredrickson and I worked our way through the eight-cocktail menu ($12-$14 each) of “one-pantry” cocktails that, Fredrickson says, “flirt with that line between bartender and chef,” capitalizing on Howard’s involvement with Urban Seed and with Fredrickson working from the garnish backward. Here’s what’s in store:
Where There’s Smoke
In the glass: Pork fat-washed mezcal, spicy fire-roasted tomatillo puree, pineapple bay leaf syrup and lime juice with a garnish of a prosciutto wrapped charred tomatillo.
Fredrickson says: “This would be for someone who wants a rich, spicy cocktail, someone who loves the aggressiveness of smoke. It’s really rustic, a one and done, paired with Chef’s charcuterie.”
Xania says: If you’re gonna do something, do it all the way, right? Savory, tart, balanced—oh, hey, there’s the spice!—niiiiice. As Fredrickson says, this would be great with any of the house-cured or grilled meat dishes.
In the glass: London dry gin, Chareau Aloe Liqueur, black pepper syrup, lime juice, Scrappy’s Cardamom Bitters and fresh cucumber juice.
Fredrickson says: “A super refreshing cocktail for hot temperatures. It’s one of those cocktails I would describe as ‘crushable.’”
Xania says: Spiked spa water. It’s what spa water has been missing all this time: booze. [Makes “mind blown” motion.] But seriously, this is a great place to start a drinking sesh—“first base,” if you will.
Get Off My Lawn
In the glass: Served in a cedar cigar box, you get a snifter and, in a separate vessel, a mixture of Cognac and three amari blend, maple syrup, charred cedar cherry bitters. The bartender will use a hand torch to burn the food-grade cedar plank insert, invert the glass over the smoking wood and then pour the cocktail into the smoked glass. The whole affair is garnished with orange peel and maple cherry beef jerky.
Fredrickson says: “I envision a grumpy old man sitting on a porch drinking Cognac and smoking a cigar while reading his newspaper.”
Xania says: It’s a bitter cocktail with a backbone of smoke and a nice streak of sweet, ideal for Manhattan drinkers seeking a complex, spirit-forward cocktail. (It’s also dedicated, I’m told, to a “local curmudgeon food blogger.”)
Have Gun Will Travel
In the glass: Rittenhouse Rye, Calvados, Cocktail & Sons Spiced Demerara Syrup and house bitters (a blend of Angostura, cherry bark and vanilla, I believe), served over an ice sphere with a spiced brandied cherry and orange swath.
Fredrickson says: “I love the marriage of spicy rye whiskey with calvados. This is a drink I’ve wanted to create for a long time.”
Xania says: Based on the Old-Fashioned, this one, too, is spirit-forward; the alcohol heat keeps the sweet nicely in check. Mine was made fresh, but the version on the menu will likely be barrel-aged. As the ice slowly melts, the flavors integrate and soften.
Spring Mountain Sour
In the glass: Japanese whisky, yuzu juice, fresh lemon juice and simple syrup, topped with a plum wine and beet foam topped with a sprinkle of cabernet sauvignon sea salt.
Fredrickson says: “Out of all the foams I’ve ever made, I really love this one best.”
Xania says: An ode to the New York Sour—one of my favorite cocktails ever—the drink begins its life as a color block of yellow and hot pink, but after a momentary mingle, the whole thing becomes a riot of magenta in your glass. The salt smacks so good on that base of plum and beet. Don’t get any on your white shirt or dress.
In the glass: Irish whiskey, spiced rum, coconut cream and fresh carrot and ginger juice, topped with grated nutmeg and garnished with a carrot top.
Fredrickson says: “This is our frozen, blended carrot drink,” he says, deadpan, as if every bar has one. “It’s summery, refreshing and fresh—definitely something unexpected. It’s on the sweeter side, but it’s blended so … an oddball piña colada, maybe?!”
Xania says: The carrot is subtly earthy, not vegetal. A split base of Irish whiskey and spiced rum imparts a soft sweetness, yet with some solid oomph behind it. Nutmeg pulls the whole thing together, the overall effect being more carrot muffin than carrot cake. In other words, yes, please!
Jump the Shark
In the glass: Pineapple rum, peanut-infused Wild Turkey 101, Giffard Banane du Brazil Liqueur, lime juice, Angostura Aromatic Bitters and mint garnished with a banana leaf and a toasted dehydrated banana chip.
Fredrickson says: “Tropical and boozy, it’s the take-you-away drink, but not just loaded up with fruit juices, still complex.”
Xania says: Fredrickson’s one ode to tiki brings together all the industry darlings of the moment without a single ostentatious or out-of-place element. It’s a long, tall powerhouse with enough base booze to stand up to the crushed ice.
BONUS: Lead a Norse to Water
In the glass: Krogstad Festlig Aquavit, A. Hardy Le Coq d’Or Pineau des Charentes, fresh lemon juice, Crème de Violette, and house-harvested aquafaba (chickpea water that is essentially vegan egg white) with caraway-infused Peychaud’s Bitters atomized on top.
Fredrickson says: “It was Aviation inspired. I wanted a light cocktail that tied into the kitchen.”
Xania says: There are only eight cocktails on the opening menu; do you think I’d leave a single stone unturned? Winner of the best cocktail name I’ve heard in a long time, this one is a tall, leggy, stemmed drink in two shades of nude, is as silky as a pair of stockings, a slightly savory blank canvas on which to begin layering flavors. I can’t wait to pair it with the chef’s food menu.