AFTER THEIR CHIC EAST VILLAGE BAR CLOSED IN 2014, ITS OWNERS KNEW THEIR CONCEPT WAS STILL A WINNER, BUT JUST NEEDED A NEW HOME. THEY’VE FOUND ONE IN COBBLE HILL
BY MATT SCANLON
When the stylish East Village drinks den Elsa (its name inspired by Italian fashion legend and principal Coco Chanel competitor Elsa Schiaparelli) closed its doors in 2014 a victim, the New York Times reported, of skyrocketing rents owners Natalka Burian and Scott and Jay Schneider still had the modern aesthetic Ramona bar in Greenpoint to fall back on, but knew that the design-centric and unique cocktail aesthetic of Elsa deserved a redo. It took three years, but in the spring of 2017, they transplanted the bar’s philosophical and design essentials (the latter courtesy of Oliver Haselgrave’s Brooklyn based Home Studios) to Cobble Hill, to a site that, among other advantages, included a generous backyard space.
At first blush, Elsa might appear to present the classic Brooklyn elongated rectangle bar layout, and yes, there are some strongly articulated straight lines running front to back (principally in the ceiling), but finding hard angles here is tough. Haselgrave and company introduced curves everywhere, from the back bar light fixtures to the iron grates suspended over the bottles, to the bar racks themselves, which are elongated ovals, and finally to the back doors with their half circle tops and oval windows.
Inspired by the biomorphic furniture design of mid-century modernist Jean Royère, along with “the architectural forms of the Vienna Secession and the elegance of Art Nouveau,” a Home Studio project description reads, “custom elements include a steel and mirror backbar, steel and selenite crystal pendant lights, brass and marble tables, brass hard-ware, steel and leather seating, glass and marble votives, brass, steel, and glass pendants and sconces.” e owners were at pains to keep the painstaking cocktail crafting of the original Elsa, but also to expand its range, emphasizing ingredients that are “unavailable anywhere else,” according to Jay Schneider. “What sets us apart is that we try to have a long, almost over the top cocktail list…unique drinks that only we can make. Every single one of them has at least one house made ingredient, whether it’s an infusion, syrup, bitters, garnish…something is always unique to us.” the new menu also adds small bites like house roasted nuts, a cheese plate, and olives.
Even the backyard frozen drinks (the garden space officially opens in April), including the Salted Frozen Watermelon Rosé and the Frozen Painkiller, seem to have a mind of their own, and are a far cry from workaday frozen margaritas, but Scott Schneider seemed particularly jazzed about a new creation: the Hotel Danger!
“How a cocktail reads on the menu is really the most important aspect when it comes to making a best seller,” Scott explained. “In this case, I just wrote down all of the ingredients ahead of time [peach mezcal, chipotle agave, lemon, Aperol, grapefruit twist] as if it were already a drink on the menu. Peach mezcal seemed like a really great idea, along with smoky peach and some sort of syrup, most likely agave based, along with a spicy element and lemon a non-traditional zest that really says “spring” and also adds the prefect note for the nose when sipping.
“Keeping with that theme of smoky and spicy, I figured using dried chipotle peppers in the agave would taste great, and that ‘chipotle agave’ would read super well on a menu. I ended up with [the cocktail menu listing] ‘Peach Mezcal, Chipotle Agave, Lemon, Grapefruit Twist,’ which to me, sounded delicious. Just had to actually figure out how to make it [laughs].”
When discussing the bar’s enthusiasm for house made ingredients, Scott pointed to the Hotel Danger! as a spirited representative.
“This drink is a great example of that because the peach mezcal and chipotle agave can be made in such large quantities at a time without any variation in taste,” he said. “I am really into the idea of using dried ingredients like peaches and chipotle peppers. If you opted for fresh peaches in an infusion, you’d have to consider ripeness, season, and specific type. The main goal is to make something that will taste the same every time it is ordered, but still uses the best possible ingredients for maximum flavor. I liked the idea of not having bitters in the description, so I had an idea to use a very small amount of Aperol [an Italian apéritif made with gentian, rhubarb, bitter orange, and cinchona]…less than a quarter ounce. Using a few dashes after decanting into an empty bitters bottle, it was perfect.”
Asked how business was, Jay seemed chuffed by the reception so far.
“It’s only been a year, but we’re now combining the new crowd in Cobble Hill with an increasing number of people from Manhattan who recall the original Elsa, so that’s terrific. And if the backyard vibe is as good as last year’s, we’ll have a very happy summer.”
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