New Bar! Boulton and Watt
All photos courtesy Ellie Tam
New York City has a dichotomous nature when it comes to turnover. It is the city that constantly reinvents itself, builds up, tears down, and builds up again. It is also fiercely defensive about neighborhood institutions. So it was a somewhat trepidatious undertaking for Boulton and Watt to open up in the space formerly occupied by East Village mainstay Nice Guy Eddie’s. But once the familiar mural of KISS’ Destroyer album came down, something had to go up in its place, and so was born Boulton & Watt, a curious but successful mix of neighborhood joint and nouveau speakeasy style cocktail bar that caters to the varied, eclectic mix that has become the East Village.
With food from David Rotter and a cocktail menu designed by Jaime Felber, B&W (named after a British steam engine manufacturing company) fits nicely into the “neither here nor there” area that is Houston Street east of Broadway -- and that’s not meant to make them sound indecisive. Too far south to truly be East Village, on the wrong side to be considered Lower East Side, Boulton & Watt draws crowds from pretty much every walk of life. The cocktail menu is well-suited for the bar’s nebulous location. They are good cocktails. Very good cocktails. They serve as an easy entry point for novices looking to order something more than a vodka tonic but aren’t so basic that a cocktail connoisseur can’t find plenty to enjoy.
As the name might suggest, the decor is drawn from the Industrial Age, though with considerably less soot. Wooden beams, old
mirrors, belt-operated ceiling fans, and knick knacks that might have been pilfered from a Jules Verne story combine to create something that is just short of being steampunk. The place gets crowded quickly with a mix of everything from old Alphabet City locals to office workers to party kids who wandered across Houston looking for something a little less meat markety than where they were before. The vibe is rowdy but friendly. There’s plenty on draft, and more in bottles, but I went for the cocktails.
The summer cocktail menu proved a welcome respite from the three-digit heat, and the bar’s industrial age decor was particularly
appropriate for weather that made it feel I’d been working the blast furnace all day. The Contraband -- Illegal mezcal, pineapple, jalapeno, agave, lemon, and orange bitters -- seemed a perfect choice for the heat, and
something that would cater to my current obsession with spicy mezcal cocktails. I wasn’t let down. Though it doesn’t quite measure up to drinks at Mayahuel -- the undisputed kings, for my money, of agave-based cocktails -- that’s like saying a martial arts star doesn’t quite measure up to Bruce Lee. Being a whiskey fan, I followed that one up with The Shelleycote -- Woodford Reserve, ginger, creme de cassis, rosemary, honey, and lemon. It tasted a bit like a creamcicle. Another good summer cocktail, but I thought the bourbon got lost somewhere in the mix and could have been a tad more assertive.
Since it was particularly hot that day, I figured I’d better be safe and insulate myself with a couple more before braving Hell’s winds outside. The Missing Link -- Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, apricot, maraschino, lemon, and Angostura Bitters -- pushes the orange and citrus flavor to the foreground without bringing along the bitterness often associated with orange peel. It’s lively and refreshing, like getting a buzz off Sanpelligrino Arancita. Finally, I took one of the odder looking cocktails for a test drive. A mix of Hendricks Gin, creme de violette, maraschino, Dolin blanc, cucumber, and lemon, the Deviation comes out a velvety lavender color and tastes like white sangria that got a kiss from some sour cherries.
If I had to level any criticism -- and I hazard to even use a word that harsh sounding -- at the cocktail program, it would be that the base spirits do not always define the cocktail . So begins the old argument between people who think cocktails should have their base spirit front and center, and those who feel a cocktail should cleverly mask it among other complementary flavors. I’m neutral in this battle, and I was just thankful for something that was strong without tasting strong, and that was refreshing without becoming overly sweet or cloying. Perched on the corner of Ave. A and Houston, B&W has an interesting balancing act to perform. I think the cocktails reflect that. I walked out the front door into summer’s merciless embrace and did not care, for I had been treated well by my libations.