The first clue that Prospect Heights bar The Way Station isn’t your average drinking den is the giant blue TARDIS (the time-and-space traveling machine from the BBC’s Doctor Who television series) sitting there as soon as you open the front door. Also present: custom steampunk devices, Victorian décor, and great cocktails. We talked to owner/bartender Andy Heidel about creating new cocktails, Doctor Who fans, and why you should never, ever bring a baby into his bar.
How do you come up with most of your cocktails?
It can be a challenge. Last year, I was just making some of my signature drinks with some friends, and somebody mentioned a Flaming Moe. I just happened to have a bottle of Robitussin behind the bar. So I mixed Pernod, Jagermeister, Robitussin, and a Bacardi 151 floater that I set on fire. We all drank it and 20 minutes later … let’s just say we felt it.
Another one that I made up on the fly that’s actually on the drink menu is the Train Wreck. This girl said she wanted something gin-based and refreshing. So I grabbed a cucumber and muddled that up, put in some Tanqueray, and cut some fresh grapefruit juice with cranberry juice. She ended up drinking about seven of those and was a train wreck, and that’s why something so beautiful and refreshing has such a terrible name.
How did the TARDIS come about?
One day during the build-out, my friend Doc and I were looking at the exterior of the bathroom and thinking about how could we make it different. He just kind of said offhand, “What if we built a TARDIS?” We both kind of chuckled and said, “That would be awesome.” We had no idea that other people would think that it was awesome, too. Five to 20 people show up a day just to see the TARDIS. I’ve had people come here on road trips from Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Baltimore. People have flown here to see it from Texas and California. Most recently, a group of European backpackers dropped by because it’s on some travel site now.
What kind of crowd do you get in here?
We have such a diverse crowd. First and foremost, it’s a local bar. So we get lots of people who live in the neighborhood who are regulars. Then we get the steampunkers who come in, sometimes in dress, which is awesome. Then you’ve got the Doctor Whovians, who flock here from all over the city. I’ve got regulars from Astoria and the Upper West Side who come to this bar because it feels like home.
What do they order?
Steampunkers either love the absinthe or they’re teetotalers. The Doctor Who fans love to order from our Doctor Who cocktail menu. We’ve got two sonic screwdrivers: Absolut Citron with Blue Curacao and OJ, and Absolut Citron with Midori and OJ. That’s for the 10th and 11th Doctor, corresponding to the color of their sonic screwdrivers.
How did you get into bartending?
I’ve been bartending on and off since I was about 20. When I got downsized from my job in publishing during the recession, I fell back on bartending. It was then that I decided I wanted to open my own bar. Before that, the last time I was working as a bartender was in 2002. That’s when I wrote the Stroller Manifesto.
The Stroller Manifesto basically bans babies from bars. I was sick of parents bringing in their toddlers and letting them roam free and expecting me to keep an eye on them. People would bring in their babies and they would be crying and the parents wouldn’t take them outside. There was this one time when this was going on that three of my regulars just left because it was like a children’s birthday party in the bar. I mean, it’s a bar; it’s a place for adults.
After publishing it, I got a two-page spread in the New York Post about it and ended up talking about it on Fox and Friends. Even now, when the debate about babies in bars comes up, people always reference my Stroller Manifesto.
So, now that you own your own bar, do you allow kids in?
Well, being a business owner, I’ve made some concessions, like if it’s a private party before the bar opens, they’re allowed, but they have to be out of the bar before 4 p.m., when it opens to the general public. After about a month of being open, one of the first events I had here was a baby shower. I decided to post on Facebook something like: “Turns out the private party today is actually a baby shower. Believe me, the irony is not lost on me.” All my friends were cracking up.
The Way Station
683 Washington Avenue, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn