From the get-go, Juniper Tar was a quirky place in a risky location. But, under its original muse, Matty Gee, it had moxie. The rebooted JT, now under the ownership of Chris Erck and the direction of Esquire Tavern alumnus, the bearded Benjamin Krick, is a more approachable operation — for starters, the dress code that this writer once ran afoul of (a shirt with a collar was hastily produced) is no longer in place. But don’t take “approachable” as damning with faint praise. With a few exceptions (the odd-seeming stoplight has been removed, a gilded mirror relocated), the décor retains its essential over-thetopness. And the drink list may even be more challenging/rewarding.
I began with big, boozy and spicy. Burning in Effigy ($13) is composed of blanco tequila with Chartreuse, lemon, crème de cacao and Ancho Reyes, and it reconciles these type-A personalities with the deftness of a high-priced analyst. (Chartreuse can easily get overbearing in my experience, spicy-sweet Ancho can also be a bully and crème de cacao calls to mind bad chocolate martinis — all in lesser hands.) Equally as impressive is El Tule ($13), balancing the smokiness of mezcal with the raisin-y sweetness of Madeira, the floral bitterness of Amaro Montenegro and the dark heartbeat of xocolatl mole bitters.
Toning things down just a tad, the Bushwick ($11) brings spicy rye, dry vermouth, perfume-y maraschino liqueur and nostalgic Jägermeister (and its 35 herbs) to the party. It’s not the life thereof, but it’s hardly a wallflower, either. Rather, this is a mellow cocktail you could continue to sip throughout the evening. The fact that the Profumo Affair is served in a diminutive Nick and Nora coupe might lull the unsuspected into thinking that the drink is benign, but get a load of these ingredients — some of which are hardly household names: Armagnac (OK, that’s easy), Byrrh (not so much), Bigallet China- China (even less-so) and Benedictine. Only recently back in the U.S. market, Byrrh is what’s called an “aromatized” wine-based aperitif, with quinine as one of its more aromatic components. Bigallet is a liqueur distilled from both bitter and sweet orange peels. As made by the bartender, the cocktail was served not all that cold, which seemed appropriate, with a swath of orange.
There comes a time in every evening, however, when a little sparkling lightness added to one’s drink is a very good idea. Enter the Portuguese gin and tonic ($9); it will change your mind about that classic summertime quaffer — not the least because of the additional body added by white port.
Now, your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to search algarrobina and Amargo Chuncho bitters on Google, the better to appreciate the pisco-based algarrobina sour. While you’re at it, also look up kalimoxto. Never hurts to be prepared.