“We Take a Lot from Ireland” – Seán Muldoon and Jack McGarry from The Dead Rabbit
Seán Muldoon and Jack McGarry run the multi award-winning bar The Dead Rabbit in New York, named the World’s Best Bar in 2016 and awarded the accolade of Best Bar in North America on four occasions.
We had the opportunity to meet them during the last day of their Dublin residency at The Sidecar within The Westbury Hotel, where they took over the bar between the 28th of September to the 2nd of October to share their world famous cocktails.
Regarding the idea of organising this collaboration, Seán points out that it was Paul McKenna from the Doyle Collection who came up with the plan after a successful pop-up in London.
“We take a lot from Ireland”, says Jack McGarry, explaining that every time they visit the country they take inspiration and incorporate it into their bar.
Seán and Jack (pictured right and left in the image above) are no strangers to the rhythm of a five star hotel bar, The Sidecar offered an open-mindedness that allowed them to create an experience with an edge. “To host something like this, you have to be brave and take chances”, he adds, noting that “there’s a certain type of customer that comes to the bar of a five star, and this was a bit more out there.”
“I don’t think any other five star would have worked this well”, Jack said.
One of the reasons why a bar needs a sense of adventure to host them was also the element that both Seán and Jack acknowledged as one of the highlights of the experience: “Seeing the Dead Rabbit character coming to life at the event was great”, explains Jack.
It was the first time the Dead Rabbit was seen in flesh and bone and “initially, people were unnerved, but soon they thought it was pretty cool”, adds Jack, remembering the attendees’ look of surprise upon encountering the event’s doorman.
Sean explains that while they were originally planning to get all the waiting staff to wear the Dead Rabbit masks, they finally decided to have just one. “We had the idea and we sent them to a 3D printing company, we got about ten of them”, he adds, but once the doorman wore it that was it, the Dead Rabbit was facing them, looking slightly intimidating and positively cool.
“It takes a certain type of build and swagger” he adds, and both Sean and Jack were so impressed with the way the masked man embodied the character that now they can’t imagine anyone else impersonating him. “If people want the Dead Rabbit, it has to be that guy.”
While the residence was a most welcome activity for cocktail aficionados, they highlighted another important reason why this type of exchange is relevant. “A lot of bartenders can’t afford to travel and visit The Dead Rabbit in the States, so this is a way of bringing it to them”, says Jack, who mentions that many of the attendees were Irish bartenders keen to watch them in action.
“We’d like to think we’ve helped bartenders to improve their techniques” he adds, recalling how important the exchange with guest bartenders was to him when he was working in Belfast.
Perfecting the Irish Coffee
Talking about which cocktails they feel more identified with, Jack takes a moment before choosing their Irish Coffee. “I genuinely believe our drinks program is the best in the world and I think our best is the Irish Coffee”, he says, adding that their version of the drink has become so popular that it’s now copied by several other venues.
“It’s very flattering but it’s also very frustrating”, which has motivate them to further bespoke the experience by sourcing special custom-made glassware as a way to make sure the experience of sipping on an Irish Coffee at The Dead Rabbit remains unique.
Timeless Taste Instead of Trend Chasing
When asked what cocktail trends they consider more influential in their bar, Sean says they just “keep it simple, keep it boozy.”
They are not overly concerned about trends, in fact Jack adds that “we don’t care much about them, we just want to do something special. In New York, a lot of bars are just mixing the same things, we want to do something that has longevity.”
The Biggest Strength of Irish Hospitality
The Dead Rabbit is known for its distinctive Irish influence. Sean and Jack merged the upscale experience of the bar at The Merchant Hotel with the relaxed and friendly vibes of popular working class favourites such as The Duke of York, both in their native city, Belfast.
But one of the most important elements they’ve taken from Ireland has nothing to do with the decor or even their menu. It’s the Irish hospitality, which they describe as “authentic and natural.” Jack points out the contrast with places “where you step in and twenty people say hello to you but it feels fabricated.”
“The thing that Ireland has better than anywhere else”, adds Sean, “which I’ve only seen too in the south of the United States, is that you see a very happy person that’s glad to see you. It’s very welcoming and it brightens up your day. People are friendly.”
After completing the residency at The Sidecar, Sean and Jack went on to visit a series of bars, pubs and distilleries across the country, something they have the fortune of being able to do relatively frequently. It’s a great way for them to stay in the loop on what’s going on this side of the Atlantic, and to share ideas and inspiration with the people they meet along the way.