The only sign that a bar was hidden behind the door in the hut at the side of the 2nd floor East Village restaurant was the line that formed before 6 p.m., spilling down the stairs. Once the bar opened, groups of trendy hipsters flowed through the door, virtually unnoticed by the rest of the guests dining on sushi and ramen in the main dining room.
When we passed through the door, we stepped from a bustling Japanese restaurant playing pop music into a stylish bar with velvet drapes tucked at the corners of high windows, brick walls, and a mural of cherubs above the bar. Already full at 6:15 with people comfortably seated – no standing – at the bar and intimate tables in the main and side room, the place had a steady hum of conversation with the sounds of jazz and cocktail shakers in the background.
We were seated at the bar, which gave us the best view of two busy bartenders with their 20’s style vests and shirt sleeves rolled and tied, calmly but continuously adding dollops and tips of this and that to the shakers, and pouring out brightly colored cocktails.
The bar, officially called Angel’s Share, although it has no sign, has a decent whiskey collection, with many Scotch options and one of the more varied Japanese whisky corners I have seen. Two of their whiskey cocktails peaked our interest – Smoke in Your Eyes with Bulleit bourbon and John “Malted” Collins with Japanese whisky.
You have to love a cocktail where one of the ingredients is “smoke.” For Smoke in Your Eyes, they light a little fire on a little plate, then stick a brandy glass upside down over the fire, so it fills with smoke. When they bring it to you, the server turns over the glass and pours in the cocktail with smoke still rising. It’s a little gimmicky – you get a nose full of smoke while it doesn’t infuse much into the drink itself. But it’s a classy gimmick, and the point of visiting a secret bar when you are surrounded by a city of non-secret bars is to have a little fun with it.
I was actually more impressed with the John “Malted” Collins, which the server described is sweet and sour, and which ended up being very light, refreshing, and smooth. It was made with IWAI Japanese whisky, koji jam, citrus, egg white, soda, and dashi soy powder. Yeah, I had no idea what that would taste like, either, but it was a well balanced cocktail – a little creamy and a little citrusy – where all the flavors blended rather than knocked up against each other.
The main problem with the bar is how incredibly pleasant it is. Except for the light fading outside the window, time just sort of became irrelevant. I could have sat there well into the evening, but we eventually pulled ourselves out of our seats, past the line of people by the door, and burst into a crowded restaurant and out into the busy New York streets.