525 Broome St. (betw. Thompson & Sullivan Sts.)
Walking into Sam Mason’s Tailor is like entering an old-school bar featured on a highly produced HBO series. The bartenders, dressed in flawless gray pinstripe vests, cream-colored button-downs and shiny chocolate-colored ties, often fall into a trance performing a special dance called “The Shaker.” They mix the contents of a shiny metal canister and, suddenly, it could be contemporary choreography. Standing in front of rows of liquors—Pappy Van Winkle’s bourbon, Old RAJ dry gin and Rhum JM—Eben Freeman, the head bartender, drifted off into another world as he shook and then smoothly poured me one of his strange concoctions: the Mushroom Margarita ($15).
“People flocked here saying, ‘What’s the weirdest thing you have?’” said Freeman. So his main pick is the deep-brownish-black drink in front of me, which is made with in-house infused huitalacoche mezcal. Known as “the truffle of Mexico,” huitalacoche is a fungus attached to corn, and it gives this cocktail its sweet, earthy flavor that had me continuously sipping, trying to answer the question, “What is this taste exactly?”
“I gauge that as a good sign if people equally love it and hate it,” said Freeman, a New Yorker who has bartended for about 20 years and has a bit of celebrity status in his field.
While the Mushroom Margarita is new on the menu, what packed the seats at Tailor last week was the word-of-mouth tale of their new absinthe gummy bear, served with a shot of espresso. And no, you are not going to start tripping by eating one—or 10, for that matter. Freeman explained that a person would get violently ill if you downed tons of the little day-glo green bears, which will soon be part of Tailor’s solid series (Cuba Libre, Ramos Gin Fizz, White Russian, all $12) on their cocktail menu.
The bears taste delicious if, like me, you’re one for the pungent black licorice flavor brought upon by anise. Instead of fervently chewing the morsel like I would a simple gummy bear from a box in a movie theater, I slowly bit into the soft flesh and swished it around in my mouth. The texture proved more velvety then sticky as the bear dissolved on my tongue. With a sip of water, the remnants were gone but an unobtrusive flavor of licorice lingered.
Another new cocktail featuring absinthe is the Pastis Fraiche ($14), which also has vodka, anise hyssop and lemon. Of course, you can order just a shot of absinthe; but, my favorite part—watching the clear greenish liquid become cloudy and using a fancy spoon to melt a lump of sugar into the liquor—are not options. The good news: Freeman said the reason to skip these romantic rituals is because Tailor serves St. George Spirits’ absinthe, which doesn’t need sugar to dilute the taste.
Beyond the exciting world of absinthe, Freeman uses other unusual ingredients in his cocktails. The refreshing Lovage Sour ($13) includes lovage, an herb in the celery family, which gives the drink a healthy, clean taste. The Kumquat Caipirinha ($14) has soy caramel drizzled along the rim of the glass, and the sweet, crushed kumquat skin mashed into the liquor counteracts the slight bitterness of fruit itself, creating bursts of sweet and sour. Tailor also offers Beet Sangria ($13), which tasted more like beet juice then anything else and left me feeling guilt free, as if I had just had a health drink. One of my favorite concoctions turned out to be the Pumpernickel Raisin Scotch straight-up, which left me wishing the curry-coconut powdered popcorn Tailor gives out at the bar was instead a nice juicy ruben sandwich.
While these are all new to the cocktail menu, a couple of Tailor staples remain: The Waylon ($12), which consists of Coke that’s been smoked and mixed with bourbon, and The Bazooka ($13), a bubblegum-infused cordial with vodka and house sour. The Waylon has an oddly satisfying roasted pork flavor, and the bazooka tastes just like your childhood bubblegum fantasies.
When finally ascending from the basement bar toward the upstairs restaurant, I entertained the idea of trying some of Tailor’s food but quickly realized I had just had a full course liquid meal; and some of these cocktails had left me pleasantly shaken, not stirred.