Music is loud ambient, yet upbeat. Lighting is neither too dim nor too glaring. Around midnight, the bar has a few people, a few tables. The space smells like an apartment that has a cat, but not in a negative way.
I gaze at the small food menu marked by David Chang’s inventions -steamed pork buns, mason jar kimchi pickles, country hams. It’s a little bit all over the place, dabbling in many things without a cohesive direction aside from the category of bar snacks. Booker and Dax as a larger company is interested in food and cocktail innovation, such as the CUBE. It is, then, no surprise that cohesion is not the main focus while creative ingredients and processes rule.
The ambitious amount of items listed on the menu is impressive and yet the place itself is unassuming, almost unrefined. The wooden bar feels as if it could be in someone’s parents’ basement (not my parent’s basement bar – they don’t drink).
I order the “full metal jacket” – mezcal, activated charcoal, clarified lime, black pepper tincture having been intrigued by activated charcoal some time ago. The time now arose to try its properties in a cocktail. The drink is listed in the stirred category, therefore I ask for an explanation of clarified lime. Dressed in a casual black t-shirt with a logo, the bartender schools me on the use of a centrifuge to extract the pulp from the lime juice, leaving a clear essence of lime flavor without citrus texture. It allows the lime to be used in stirred drinks. This bar is known for its science-experiment ingredients — and the drinks are good. Some have tasting notes, others are accompanied by cheeky phrases. One called “Son of a Peach” has the tagline “canned peaches are always in season” (they are not wrong).
The base spirits are for the most part, usual. The variation of acidic and sweet components is what sets this cocktail experience apart from infused syrups or boutique bitters. With a menu that boasts consistent changes alongside mastery of flavors and innovation, this is a momofuku project I know I will visit again and again.
It is 5:00pm, just as Booker and Dax unlocks the doors. I meet Lizzie on the corner of 13th and 2nd. She has just finished her work day and I am an hour away from a closing bar shift. Knowing we will be the early birds, we wait a moment and enter the bar with enough time to maximize the just-under-an-hour allotted for a drink. I notice the Cool Runnings and read it as “Cool Rummings” (a drink on our cocktail menu). I point out the title and Lizzie notes the letter ‘n’ rather than ‘m’; I am amused at the mind’s ability to adapt information to the familiar. The drink is Jamaican rum, oloroso sherry, amaro, and oleo saccharaum with the tagline “the closest we could get to Jamaica this season”. Stirred, it is a beautiful expression of deep flavors. Lizzie orders something slightly carbonated – also on point, though not my preference with an aversion to bubbles.
With one eye on the time, we enjoy the late afternoon cocktail without taking notes before parting ways for our respective evenings. For me, it’s nothing like a good cocktail experience to set up a shift. I will return the favor to each person that sits on the other side of my bar. Cheers the the 5:00 cocktail.