Magic and Mystery at Cork and Kerry in Rockville Centre

Cork and Kerry is home to some of the best craft cocktails on Long Island—and its bar manager is a member of the Edible Collective.

“Hidden in plain sight.” That’s the year-old Cork and Kerry cocktail bar—in Rockville Centre—to a T. Like its older sister location in Floral Park, it’s become one of those enigmatic places you’ve heard whispers of, but have never seen.

Now, I typically hate surprises—but mystery? Right up my alley. I was intrigued, and became even more so when I arrived at 24 South Park Avenue looking for a bar and finding nothing to match that description.

My frozen fingers dialed Edible Collective member and beverage director Doug Brickel’s cell phone number. I felt infinitely foolish as I said, “I think I’m here … but somehow, I’m not.”

I could hear the impish smile in his voice as he laughingly assured me, “No worries! I’ll be right out to bring you in.” As he emerged from a nondescript dove-gray Victorian, it was as if Cork and Kerry had suddenly materialized like 12 Grimmauld Place. A discreet sign marked “Museum opens at 4” was the only hint that this seemingly empty house was more than it seemed; it so quietly escapes notice recessed from the street, behind a tall tree and white picket fence.

But just like that, I became a member of an exclusive club—one of the privileged few to know exactly where to find the forerunners of the creative cocktail movement on Long Island.

Despite the implications of its name, this is no Irish pub. Rather, it’s a craft cocktail studio set in a period parlor with velvet damask wallpaper, stained glass, heavy drapes and all. The original is even more of a true speakeasy; it’s hidden behind a fully operational—and well-regarded—coffee shop called Roast and accessible only through a false wall in a phone booth.

But it’s here that cheery Brickel works his magic behind the bar four times a week, alongside Dave Bletsch—“the best guy I know!” he says, with a hearty thump on the mixologist’s back. And by magic, I mean such a skill with spirits that he was promoted from bartender to beverage director within two shifts at the restaurant where he met partner Chris Corbett. And for only $12 a cocktail (brand requests may be nominally more), you’ll be hard-pressed to believe sorcery isn’t afoot.

Adding to that feeling, apothecary-style and dropper bottles hold a dramatically stocked bar’s accents. Other glass bottles house infusions from espresso bean-steeped bourbon to thyme-spiked vodka.

Bottles galore behind the bar at Cork and Kerry.

These secret ingredients are often the key to inventive potions designed to knock your socks off in the most elegant of ways. The house libations are not syrupy, sweet concoctions—they’re balanced and complex, every droplet as carefully considered by Brickel as a master chef would approach their own signature plates.

The Lucky #9 is a perfect example of refined technique and creativity. Winner of last year’s NY Craft Cocktail Expo and “Most Creative Cocktail” at the 2016 Yelp Cocktail Classic, it features a frothy milk-washed Hendricks gin (trust us—this is brilliant) broken with acid-adjusted orange juice and the slightest hint of sea salt for an unexpectedly light, refreshing, clean flavor combination and mouthfeel.

Old favorite house drinks like the Cucumber Cosmo (a good entry-level recipe), their reimagined Manhattan (featuring the intriguing Italian artichoke-family aperitif Cardamaro instead of vermouth), the Breakfast Old-Fashioned (smoky maple syrup complements coffee-infused bourbon) and dessert-y Before and After (360 Double Chocolate vodka, hazelnut Bicerin, Kahlua, fresh espresso and whipped cream) reappear on this year’s menu as well.

Don’t let the name fool you; Cork and Kerry is not an Irish pub.

Don’t let the name fool you; Cork and Kerry is not an Irish pub.

But like any good magic act, new tricks were pulled from Brickel’s sleeve. A phrase every Long Islander is taught to dread, “Change at Jamaica” finally gets a cheeky positive association! Featuring Smith & Cross Jamaican rum, that espresso bourbon again, Amaro Montenegro, Velvet Falernum and grapefruit, this is one of his favorite new originals.

The also hilariously named Fuego in the Pantalones—doubly funny when you consider Brickel’s former career as an Italian and Spanish teacher—mixes El Luchador tequila, Ancho Reyes smoked pepper spirit blend, demerara sugar and lime.

Mayor Tom introduces lighter notes, letting Rittenhouse rye, Amaro Cio Ciaro, Sfumato smoked rhubarb amaro, raspberry and lemon lead the way. Need even more airiness? Brickel and his team are now also offering carbonated cocktails that rotate with every month.

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In the highly unlikely event nothing on the menu speaks to you, the cocktail craftsmen behind the bar encourage you to let them whip up a custom, one-of-a-kind, bespoke libation. Three simple questions get you on your way: choice of spirit, shaken or stirred prep and sweet, sour or bitter flavors. Their answer? Well, it can be different every time, adding even more mischievous intrigue to every visit.

Of course, you can also expect the team to expertly provide your favorite classics … but a word of advice: don’t come to Cork and Kerry for anything “same old.” Even the whiskey list encourages adventure, with 500 types from across the world—many from Brickel and Corbett’s private collection—making appearances in their spellbook.

Ten taps here and 20 in Floral Park, plus up to 15 types of bottled beer round out the program.

“We just want to come from a place that is thoughtful,” muses Brickel. “Cocktail programs can come as afterthoughts, and we’re hoping to lead the charge of making it first and foremost, putting it front and center and letting everything else fall around it in the most fun way possible.”

So although snack selections like housemade pickles, Medjool dates stuffed with Gouda and wrapped with bacon, bourbon chicken nachos and quesadillas with maple-bourbon bacon jam and guacamole are available, the stars of your night should be your beverages … and the feeling you get the first time you walk in and find yourself the recipient of a juicy and delicious secret.

The magic word you’re looking for now? Cheers!