The (New) Newark Cocktail
When I moved to New Jersey from Pennsylvania as a kid, I remember being horrified when a friend’s mother told me that the whole state was built on a toxic wasteland.
I now know, of course, that there isn’t a sea of radioactive sludge trapped under New Jersey, and as I continue my exploration of this underappreciated state, I am constantly amazed by the vibrancy it has to offer. Farmlands, forests, rivers and beaches are what jumps to mind, but I’ve recently become equally interested in the hidden treasures of New Jersey’s urban centers. That’s why, when I was offered the opportunity to travel to Newark from my perch in Cherry Hill in March to judge a cocktail competition on behalf of this magazine, I jumped at the chance to visit a city in the midst of a revival.
We started our day in the Downtown District at Cordobesas, which I can say with confidence served the most authentic Argentinian- style empanadas I’ve tasted outside of South America. Next, we wandered around the Ironbound, a working class section of the city that boasts a strong population base from the Iberian Peninsula, increasingly complemented by a Brazilian flair. We gazed at the elaborate azulejos (panels of ceramic tile) that adorn the houses and stopped in a Portuguese grocery store, which I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since. I mean, come on, they had a full aisle of olive oils and a whole section devoted to bacalhau (salt cod)! We sat, bellies full, in the packed Independence Park on the first warm day of the year, listening to the cacophony of languages being spoken around us.
This was the impetus for the cocktail competition: to help push the city’s food scene past the wine, beer and sangria staples that have dominated the landscape for decades, and in doing so, to help transform Newark into a city with a forward-thinking cocktail culture.
Our next stop was All Points West Distillery, named after the now defunct railroad that connected the ports of Newark to the rest of the United States. The distillery is making some delicious products using water sourced from the protected Newark Watershed in the Appalachian Highlands. Gil Spaier, founder and head distiller, explained with tangible passion and pride how the company is reviving the industry of alcohol production in Newark, and that he hoped for the dining community to join him in his enthusiasm. This was the impetus for the cocktail competition: to help push the city’s food scene past the wine, beer and sangria staples that have dominated the landscape for decades, and in doing so, to help transform Newark into a city with a forward-thinking cocktail culture.
The winning cocktail was Paco’s Passion, created by the Iron-bound’s hometown hero Spanish restaurant, Casa d’Paco. The drink was a tropical ode to the city’s Brazilian population, combining All Points West’s Black Bone Vodka with coconut liqueur, fresh passionfruit and lime. (See related story, page 28.)
Following the competition, we finished our trip to Newark eating tapas at the recently crowned Casa d’Paco. After way too much food, we tried the restaurant’s Licor de Hierbas (an herbal liquor) recommended to us as a digestif.
Oddly enough, my favorite drink to recommend to guests after a meal is aptly named the Newark Cocktail. Invented by the bartenders at Please Don’t Tell, one of New York City’s most intriguing speakeasies, the drink is a riff on the Brooklyn cocktail, which itself is a spin-off of the well-known Manhattan. Though it’s usually built off a base of Laird’s, I’m swapping in All Points West’s Malt and Grain Pot Still Whiskey to keep it true to its namesake city. The result is incredibly delicious, and I’ve since adopted it into my arsenal in a drink I now call the (New) Newark Cocktail. Head to the distillery, buy a bottle and turn it into a day trip to explore the up-and-coming city of Newark.
AND THE WINNER IS ...
Casa d’Paco owner Angel Leston (left) and Todor, the bartender who created the drink. Trophy by GlassRoots, Newark.
PACO’S PASSION NAMED NEWARK’S SIGNATURE COCKTAIL FOR 2019
Looked at a cocktail menu recently? Fueled by the popularity of handcrafted local spirits, cocktails featuring creative names, Instagram-worthy presentation and artfully blended spirits now garner the same interest once reserved for restaurant entrees.
Cocktail culture has taken hold in cities across the country, and Brick City is no exception. With this trend in mind, the Greater Newark Convention and Visitors Bureau (GNCVB), Ironbound Business Improvement District (IBID) and All Points West Distillery teamed up last fall to host a competition to determine Newark’s signature libation. “[The inaugural event] kick-started our efforts to keep Newark’s corporate workforce in the area after business hours,” says Karin Aaron, who is CEO of GNCVB, “[while also] highlighting all of [Newark’s] exceptional dining and entertainment experiences.”
The initial field of 15 contenders was narrowed to 5 finalists selected by customer voting: Burger Bound, Casa d’Paco, Mompou, NICO Kitchen Bar and the Station Bar. Bartenders from each establishment were on hand at Clement’s Place in March to shake and stir their cocktail entries for judges Danny Childs of Edible Jersey, Amanda-Kathryn of Metropolis Nights and Rashaun Hall of the podcast Shot Caller.
The roar of excitement that erupted in the room when the winner was announced seemed to indicate that Paco’s Passion is clearly the people’s, as well as the judges’, choice for 2019. Cheers! —N. Painter
TOUR & TASTE
All Points West Distillery, founded in 2017, offers small-batch, hand-crafted brown and white spirits. The best way to understand the evolution of their products, such as the botanically rich Cathouse Gin, is to plan a visit. The distillery is open to the public for tours, tastings, cocktails and bottle sales on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 5-9pm, and on Sundays, 1-5pm. 73 Tichenor St., Newark. 646.251.3176. allpointswestdistillery.com