If you’re looking for a place to wet your whistle next happy hour, you can always consult your phone, but who knows where that contraption will send you. For a surely good time, head over to the JakeWalk on Smith Street, which has just instituted its first ever happy hour, featuring an easy-to-calculate $3 off everything drink-wise. You’re likely to find bartender and partner Ari Form on one side of the bar or the other, depending on the day.
You finally have a happy hour. What took you so long?
I don’t know. Perhaps we were lazy.
What else is happening at the JakeWalk these days?
We just launched our new cocktail list. We’ve got 10 new cocktails, which are all original to us. We change the list three times a year. We let the fall one that’s very cold-weather centric go through January, then in February we launch one that has a bit more of a mix of a winter feel with a couple refreshing drinks, so that people can get into the spirit of spring.
What’s your favorite drink on the new menu?
I’m gonna pick two. I like one called The River. It has Bonded Applejack, Dolin Blanc (a sweet white vermouth), Benedictine, and Angostura Bitters, which we still have.
So, you weren’t too affected by the shortage?
We bought heavy. I don’t know how long the shortage will last, but we’re safe for now.
And the second favorite?
It’s called For Esme. That has Dolin Dry and Creme de Peche, lime juice, demerara syrup, Allspice Dram (rum), and sparkling rose. Now, that’s a good example of the way the cocktail list is working. The River is a little heavier, a little more bite to it, great for winter. And For Esme is refreshing with a spring feel, but the Allspice Dram gives it a little spice. So, it’s nice on a warmer day. Or if you’re just totally annoyed with winter.
You also have a pretty nice wine list there. Who’s more fun: wine drinkers or cocktail enthusiasts?
If you’re defining fun as somebody who really likes to engage flavor profiles from a palate perspective, I would say wine drinkers because their senses are a little bit more refined. But if you’re talking about wanting to experiment and generally having a more affable personality, I would say cocktail drinkers.
How did you get into bartending?
I’ve been in restaurants all my life. When I first moved to the city [from New Jersey, for college at NYU], I was waiting tables, and I had my first opportunity to be in a restaurant that had an actual beverage program as opposed to just slinging beers around. The bartenders there seemed very attractive to me. I just started asking questions, and within a year, I was behind the bar. You start with the crappy shifts, then you move to another place and get better shifts. And now I get to pick the shifts because I’m the boss.
You have the whole Prohibition theme going at JakeWalk. Are we seeing an overkill on that aesthetic?
I actually think it’s starting to slow down, which is nice. The cosmetic style is becoming a little cliched and people are starting to realize that what’s more important is the product itself. You don’t necessarily have to look a certain way to serve it. So people are starting to relax on the uniform aspect.
Do you have much of a focus on pairing at the bar?
It’s the most important part of our place. It’s what we hang our hat on. We have a relatively simple, but adventurous menu. We have a huge list of cheeses, about 35, 70 cured meats, and our small plates include lasagna, chicken pot pie, fondue. It’s not just a medium for you to keep a full stomach and drink more. We consider food and drink equally important. So, we encourage our patrons to ask us to pair things. We serve a lot of flights — both spirits and wines — which allows people to engage in the pairing experience.
What’s the best or most unexpected pairing on the menu?
Blue cheese and Laphroaig Islay Scotch. It has to be the right blue cheese, though. It can’t be super metallic, has to be more on the sweeter side. It hits your mouth and you’re like, “What the heck?” Then it’s like, “Oh, they’re shaking hands. This is great.”
What bar trend are you sick of seeing?
I gotta say I’m a little tired of hearing light jazz and bluegrass as the wallpaper for music everywhere. We change it up every night here. It’s up to the vibe. On weekends, we play — I don’t even know what the categories are — post rock? And punk. On a slower weekday, we’ll put on the jazz, like Sarah Vaughn or something a little more free like Miles Davis. And we have a bartender who’s 24, so he plays all the current hits. I’m not sure what they are, but they sound great.
Where do you like to go when you’re not at your own bar?
If I’m drinking in Brooklyn, I like to drink at O’Connor’s, which is a really old dive bar on Bergen and Fifth Avenue. In the city, if I want to drink wine, I got to the 8th Street Wine Cellar. And when I’m drinking cocktails, I like to go to Mayahuel or Death and Company. Actually, we do a special guest cocktail on our menu and one that we have now is by a friend of ours, Joaquin (Simo), who is one of the bartenders over there. It’s called the Carroll Gardens.
What do you like to drink at home?
I don’t really drink cocktails at home. I drink wine or I’ll sip on some whiskey. I’m a big Scotch drinker. For an everyday sipper, I like Cragganmore or Dalmore 12 Year. But the stuff I have around for a special occasion, maybe one of the higher end Ardbegs. I have a bottle of 21 Year Glenfarclas. But other than that, I drink light red wine. Like Beaujolais or Pinot Noir or a little-known grape called Grignolino.
What’s the biggest mistake you see bartenders making?
Technically, it’s when they don’t keep a clean station. I don’t know if I’m just OCD, but it just freaks me out. And not just because they’re mixing in a dirty shaker, but because they’re setting themselves up for disaster! My biggest pet peeve, though, is when they’re kind of douche-y and high-and-mighty. I can’t stand people in the service industry who forget that they’re in the service industry. Their no. 1 job is to provide a nice experience for people who have come in to spend the evening with them. I’m very democratic that way.
When can you be found behind the bar at JakeWalk?
I’m here on Monday, Tuesday, Friday nights. But I’m always here in general, running around fixing leaks, returning emails. And drinking with the neighbors.