Threesome Tollbooth

“Michelle!” John calls. I’ve walked too far down the alley. I revert and join him and shake the hand of our bartender for the evening. “Hello, I’m Jesse,” the man introduces himself. His getup is quite unique, this hair straight blonde and chin-length, donning long socks and shoes that remind me of a forgone era. Is this some form of a uniform? I wonder.

This personalized experience is called Threesome Tollbooth. It takes place inside a supply closet of an existing restaurant in Bushwick. And, yes, it is very Brooklyn.

We follow Jesse inside a door marked “Employees Only” and into the supply closet. I wonder if the experience is in this closet, surrounded by cleaning supplies, but he recommends I leave my bag before we enter. He gestures to the door knob, offering me the opportunity to turn it. I hesitate at the pushbutton code, wondering why I am being told to open the door without knowledge of the code. But there is no lock and the nob turns easily, ushering us into a tiny room with wood panels and just enough space on the pleather booth for the two of us. We slide in and Jesse folds down the bar top, a wooden plank on hinges.

“How was your ride?” John asks, but Jesse hushes him. The silence is ripe with anticipation. A hushed background of old time-y music indicates we are in for something unique. He hands us a stethoscope with two sets of eartips and gestures for us to put them on. We obey and the diaphragm is placed on the bar. He takes two tiny vessels from whatever tiny storage space in the room and an old fashioned soda canistor. He places one glass on the bell of the scope and fills it with carbonation, the beat of liquid floating to our ears as if we are underwater. He drops raspberry tincture atop the glass; each drip pulsates like a heartbeat. The second glass is filled in the same manner and we are instructed to drink. The refresher cleanses the palate, as bubbles do. Once each glass is emptied we are allowed to remove the eartips and Jesse says, “Welcome to the Threesome Tollbooth.” We are now allowed conversation; the air becomes casual, though still laced with curious anticipation.

“Now I know you like mezcal,” Jesse says, “but is there anything you don’t like?”

“Mint,” I reply. Because I am a little late to our reservation, we skip the stage John had experienced in his last visit – a beverage pathway curated through choices made on a map. This time the choices are Jesse’s and he begins by filling a beaker with Vida Mezcal, blackberry shrub, and ginger liquor. The beverage is sweet, as I expected, but balanced. Each cocktail is tiny, 2-3 ounces, so even if it is sweeter than I would generally drink, it is not overwhelming.

Our conversation flows and I divulge more of my own background, that I bartend and that John and I are opening a business, and the formula of the experiences melts into a something between an experience of getting to know a stranger and a staged tasting of beverages. Next is a drink called “Mustache Ride”  (Michters bourbon, lemon, apricot). It, too, is sweet, and I drink it quickly. Jesse tells stories of the various clientele in the Threesome Tollboth, including a woman who essentially fell asleep with her head on the “bar”, the tiny fold-down wooden plank that acts as a table. It ranges from those looking for an interesting experience, those looking for interesting cocktail, and those looking for a combination of both. I suppose we fit in the later.

In the interest of time, the next cocktail is begun. It is a flip, which excites me.

“No one ever orders these,” I say. It comes in mis-matched tiny coups, each delicate in its own way. Cynar, whole egg, citrus. It is viscous, rich, and gleefully only a couple of ounces lest it become too much. I don’t feel like I’ve had a ton to drink, but I feel the alcohol. Ah, I realize no water accompanies the drink. Ah-ha!

I look around at the details. Everything is intentionally nostalgic for a foregone era. The glassware is classic, the music is rag-time, the whole thing feels like that time when handle-bar mustaches were common and men wore vests. Or, maybe it just feels like Portland, Oregon.

The evening ends with a parting shot. John is presented with some aged bourbon I don’t care enough to recall (because lately I have found myself develop a strong aversion to brown liquor in general). My tiny copper shot glass is filled with Chartreuse green V.E.P., a limited edition liqueur with 108 proof. It is herbaceous, intense, and tastes like – chartreuse.

As we are ushered out of the booth we thank Jesse, our guide and what now feels like a new friend. He gifts us with a bottle of Underberg bitters, then another. He explains some event is happening in the usually vacant restaurant in which we entered and we are welcome to stay and have a drink there. We do, after de-briefing our experience with the other Threesome Tollbooth partner, Nathan. We discuss the merits of pop-ups and secret bars, of which he has facilitated many.

The event bar has only campari, sweet vermouth, gin, and vodka, yet somehow the girl behind it does not know how to make a negroni.  (What has she been serving all night?) I talk her through it, and it is served to me in a collins glass. I shrug, sipping the perfect meld of flavors that is always like a bitter candied medicine as live gypsy music surrounds us.

A short while later Jesse joins us at the bar, bringing the whole experience full circle. Part performance, part relational aesthetics, part bar, and a little bit of a scavenger hunt to find the location, the Threesome Tollbooth certainly provides an interesting night out.

 

[The New York Times states the bar opened last week, but the experience has been running on the sly for some time; our slot was back in June. I promised not to publish until the bar was public. No photos were allowed.]

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