One would think New York City didn’t need another rum-centric bar, considering our already oversaturated booze scene, but one night luxuriating on a bar stool at El Cobre makes all doubt fade away.
To begin with, the bar seating at this 2-month-old restaurant and cocktail joint proved hands-down the most comfortable I have ever experienced. The high chairs are cushy and offer enough space that even an ample bottom can easily perch along the Spanish-tiled counter. Pair this with some face-flattering candlelight and a classic drink in hand, and you have the trappings of a strikingly delightful evening.
It helps that the staff is accommodating, too. Especially since the bar is supposed to be the "bartender’s take" on Cienfuegos, the punch lounge upstairs which is also owned by Ravi DeRossi. At least that’s what El Cobre’s beverage director, Mayur Subbarao, said one night as he expertly concocted an agreeable and limey rum punch. Where the bar’s sister spot proves more accommodating to large parties, it’s easy to find oneself alone at El Cobre, sipping on the bitter, orange-candy-flavored El Sueño de Poeta (made with Carta de Cobre rum blend, dry vermouth, benedictine, Aperol and house-made orange bitters) and waxing poetic about Hemingway, Cuba and the art of a perfectly shaken cocktail.
Speaking of the famous writer and drinker, the bar’s Improved Hemingway advertises true, and one night I found myself eagerly lapping up the sticky (in a good way) citrus-tinged mixture of St. James Rhum, Aperol, absinthe and grapefruit bitters. Also not to be missed is the Very Special Old Plum, a shaken cocktail made with Clement Rhum VSOP and Averell Damson Gin, which gives off subtle notes of Riesling and has a clean, lemon finish that I found refreshing.
We were lucky enough one night to sample an oncoming spring cocktail, a thick, rhubarb-tinged drink called Mud Season, which tasted like the kind of cough syrup you can easily get addicted to. All concoctions run $14, which makes navigating the menu easy. It helps that Subbaraoon has also expertly arranged the beverages in categories like daiquiris, "all-shook-up," swizzles, rocks, cocktails and hot drinks. If you just want rum straight, he does that too, and with 81 different types to try, you’ll certainly be there a while.
Fortunately, El Cobre also serves an array of Cuban nibbles to go with the booze, like the choripan ($10), a buttery hot popover with strips of hearty chorizo and a springy white cheese melted inside. We also tried the albondigas ($10), a quartet of spicy, fluffy lamb-and-beef meatballs that get their kick from the addition of habanero to the tomato sauce. The plantain chips ($8) are fine, cut thin and crispy, but the "creamy avocado dip" (you know, guacamole), while fresh and flavorful, was so sparse it didn’t take care of even a third of the bowl. We liked the simple yet solid ropa vieja ($19), a combination of tender braised beef mixed with stewed peppers, onions and tomato, which comes with your basic black beans, rice and sweet plantains. You can get a smaller version of this dish if you order the sloppy Joe ($10) off the sandwich menu, which, in lieu of rice and beans, comes with soft rolls, a slathering of cheese and potato chips. Skip the croquettas de cangoejo con guava ($14); while the description of lump crabmeat with goat cheese fondue, roasted red pepper and guava paste sounds amazing, the dish lacked any real flavor. True, the crab was ample and fresh, but we couldn’t taste the goat cheese and longed for a creamier execution of the guava.
As the weather starts turning for the better (we hope), the lazy spin of El Cobre’s ceiling fans, the low light and the plaza-like atmosphere (yes, there is even a blessed Virgin Mary fountain) gives us a little spring tease for the rum-soaked bliss of a Havana night.
95 Ave. A (at E. 6th St.), 212-614-6818.