Belfast boys Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry of The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog in the Financial District have the largest selection of Irish whiskey in New York. McGarry, 25, the youngest recipient ever of the Tales of the Cocktail International Bartender of the Year award (in 2013), will be making some special drinks for St. Patrick's Day -- but don't expect to find him or Muldoon anywhere near the parade. The partners talked by speakerphone about their party preparations and were so in agreement on everything it doesn't matter much who said what.
So why aren't you in Ireland for St. Patrick's Day?
Because we have a bar in New York City.
Your bar is probably the place to hit that day.
McSorley's might get that award but we'll give it our best shot.
No. And we're not increasing our prices like I hear a lot of bars do in Midtown. Stay away from Midtown and come down here.
How is St. Patrick's Day celebrated differently in Ireland?
Where we grew up in Belfast we'd close off the street. It was about the community coming together and celebrating. We'd be with family during the day and with friends at a pub that night. Over here it seems to be the green card for getting really drunk.
Did you ever go to the parade here?
Jack: The first year I was here Sean took me to see the parade and it was one of the most terrifying experiences I've had. It's not like that in Ireland.
Sean: I was shocked. These young guys were very, very, very drunk, looking quite crazed, just mad.
What do you think of Mayor de Blasio not marching in the parade because gays can't openly participate?
We hadn't heard about that. But we're not going either.
So what will you be doing for St. Patrick's?
The Second Annual St. Patrick's Day Whiskey Feast with traditional Irish music from 8pm to midnight. We'll also have complimentary corned beef sandwiches and a selection of Jameson cocktails that are normally $14 for $10. It's all on our Facebook page.
This seems to be a golden time for Irish whiskey. Are you surprised?
It's not surprising because everyone in New York seems to be discerning drinkers. We've got 80 Irish whiskeys at our bar and some of the ones we're tasting, like the Paddy from 1913, makes your heart skip a beat. In the past it was viewed as the drink of the old man in the corner but now it's very current.
The prices are rivaling the finest Scotches, like the new Redbreast 21 on the market for $250 a bottle. How much do you sell it for by the glass?
At the minute it's $78 for a glass but we'd rather sell it for less so we're trying to negotiate that. It's not something you're going to try to upsell to the average person on the street. It's aged in sherry and really well made but it's for the type of person who comes in with a predetermined mindset to spend that kind of money. We've also got the new Green Spot that came out this month that sells for $14 a glass.
You just got a book deal [with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt]. How will it be different from all the other cocktail books out there?
Sean: Part of it is a memoir and part is for cocktail geeks. I met Jack when I was 18 and he was 1, the kid on his father's back. It's the story of the world we grew up in, our motivation and how we got this bar open.
Sean, you were in Belfast during the Troubles, right?
Sean: Jack was born during the Troubles so he sort of missed out but I was born in 1971 and the Troubles started in 1969. The neighborhood we grew up in, North Belfast, was the worst. We were on the Catholic side of the fence, if you know what I mean. Every night I walked out the door, until I was 30, I didn't know if I'd make it home. All the peace talks in 1994 hadn't really finished and in 1997 I was working at a bar and people were being indiscriminately killed in bars and on the street every single night. I was a bar manager during the time and I told every single employee and customer I believed it was going to happen to our bar on New Year's Eve. I left the bar at ten past seven and said to the doorman, 'keep your eyes on the door.' I went out with my wife for dinner and during that time they came in and killed a customer who was there for the first time and the doorman, a lot of carnage. The next day the owner and I were literally cleaning brains off the wall. It really messed up my head. After that I started working in the city center of Belfast and got out of that mentality.
Do you feel any of that Protestant vs. Catholic strife here?
Jack, you missed all of that, but I read you had had troubles of a different sort in school because you were studying cocktail books instead of history books and a teacher told you, 'You'll never get a fucking degree in cocktails!' Have you been able to show that teacher the awards you've won?
Jack: My mum was the one who said that. She had an academic background. I started working in bars when I was 15 and got into the hustle and bustle of it, liked being challenged. Every single penny I made I spent on cocktail books and have three or four hundred of them.
Is there anything that's harder about living in New York than Belfast?
New York is tough. We left everything behind but it's fantastic, an amazing city. We've been welcomed with open arms.
The Dead Rabbit, 30 Water St., 646-422-7906