Every once in a while a job comes along that is that extra bit special. BlackTail is one of those. The partnership with Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry has already helped deliver the title of 'Best Bar in the World' on three previous occasions. Where could we go with this one?
Our involvement with BlackTail encompassed devising the overarching creative direction, naming, branding, story telling, interior design, menu design – and everything in between.
Situated at Pier A on the Hudson River in Manhattan, BlackTail transports its clientele to Prohibition-era Cuba – a time when the greatest American bars upped roots and moved from the ‘dry’ States to the ‘wet’ island of Cuba. Prohibition commenced in 1919 and with it dawned an age of 'Liquor Tourism'. In 1922 the Aeromarine Company commenced the first flying boat service from their Hudson River terminal.
Nicknamed the 'Hi-Ball Express', this fleet of flying limousines was tricked out with wicker chairs and mahogany veneers, each carrying around a dozen wealthy passengers via Atlantic City, Beaufort, South Carolina, Miami and Key West en-route to sunny Havana.
In 1922 the fleet was christened the 'Black Tail Fleet'. And over 90 years later, a new bar name was born.
The concept was to create a space that authentically mirrors the attributes of the great American bars that decamped to Cuba during the period 1920-53. Never a ‘themed’ space, it embodies a sense of the uniquely decadent feel of this era in Cuban cocktail history.
The interior design was obsessively researched, with every detail serving a purpose and enhancing the experience. Examples include the 11° angle (not 9°, not 12°) on the edge of the chamfered bar, to encourage relaxed interaction and engagement with staff. A 135"x85" museum-quality reproduction oil painting of John Vanderlyn's 'Columbus landing in the West Indies'. The bronze statue of the island's liberator José Martí juxtaposing the painting behind and the 300 original photographs commissioned from photographer Vern Evans that adorn the walls.
Here is a taster of what you can expect when you go there. (And you really, really should.)
The lobby has a distinctively different feel from the main bar. Think the study of a learned and well-travelled man during the colonial period. The room is filled with authentic antique artifacts and literature collected during a research trip to Cuba.
Following four months of image selection, we met and commissioned LA-based photographer Vern Evans to supply 300 original photographs of Cuba for the main bar, lobby and stairwell. The images were Giclée photo-printed on Rag Baryta paper (another nice touch).
Continuing with the motif of obsessive attention to detail, BlackTail has become possibly the world’s first bar to sport its own printed hardbacked brochure of its wall art – all 310 pages of it. The book and the forthcoming website dedicated to the Cuban imagery is named ‘BlackTail 300 – by Vern Evans’.
These images give just a glimpse of one small detail of the BlackTail design. To view the full collection as a PDF download book, please click here
The inaugural mixed drinks list for BlackTail continues our passion for beautifully executed menus. The moment customers remove the belly band and open the printed linen hardback cover, they’re taken on an 88-page voyage of Cuban discovery.
The cover features the painstakingly accurate illustration of 1920 New York and Havana linked together through the use of the migrating black tailed Oriole bird and the Black Tail flying boat.
Inside is a selection of postcards featuring stunning imagery of Cuba by Vern Evans. You can take one of the beautiful postcards, write whomever you want, wherever you want and BlackTail will mail it for you, free. Think of it as the social media equivalent in the 1920s.
The menu is divided into three core sections, with mixed drinks taking the lead. 40 drinks are on offer over five simple to navigate categories – Highball, Punch, Sour, Old-Fashioned and Cocktail – each category represented with the iconography of the accompanying classic glassware.
Running parallel to the drinks is the tale of a failed writer’s Cuban odyssey in search of famed New Jersey publican Ed Donovan. The 16-part story takes the lead from Basil Woon’s 1928 classic book ‘When it’s Cocktail Time in Cuba’, each section lovingly reimagined and painstakingly illustrated.
Cocktail historian, journalist and master distiller Jared Brown was commissioned to write the second section of the menu. This section carries on the theme of escape to Cuba in search of stories, characters and adventure and is a fantastic read for cocktail aficionados and newcomers alike.
The third and final section focuses on the BlackTail name and the true story of an aviation maverick that nearly made it. It’s a step back into the devil-may-care early days of aviation and prohibition. A time when luxurious flying boats delivered the thirsty into the embrace of tropical sunshine, of decadent cocktails – of Cuba...
Of course, there is multitude of other jobs required to run a truly world-class establishment – signage, food menus, drip mats, posters, manuals, events brochures, spirit lists, cheque presenters, postcards, stationery, website and much more. Yeah, we did all that too.