A few months back, when visiting Dwayne Smallwood’s excellent Bridge & Tunnel bottle and pour shop, I proposed the term “Duane Street Pentagon” to displace the “Duane Street Triangle” nomenclature that was being banded about to discuss the amount of good drink you could find within a two block radius in downtown Astoria.
Sure, it’s a triangular block, but there’s more than three ways to whet your whistle in this neighborhood of breweries, ciderhouses and distilleries. Google already knows this. Yelp too. Though, with the opening of Blaylock’s Whiskey Bar on 13th St., I finally have to admit that I’m just dead wrong.
Sprung from the bones of the former Columbia Travel agency, Blaylock’s has turned this nexus into the “Duane Street Hexagon.” Pollinating off the crowds at Fort George, I would be surprised if this area doesn’t at least end up an octagon at some point.
Speaking of surprise, it’s always interesting to walk into a new place and encounter an old face. Cory Teubner, the multi Coast Weekend Reader’s Choice-award-winning bartender at Astoria Coffeehouse and Bistro, is now cocktail manager at Blaylock’s.
To Teubner, this is a change. Going from the food-centric Coffeehouse, which appreciated cocktails that were “liquor second,” “fresh ingredients first,” to straight pours of barreled, sometimes historical, booze that boast character on their own.
He oversees a five-tier whiskey wall with an old-school library ladder. Things are quartered and quarantined and compartmentalized around region—Irish, Scotch, bourbon, Japanese…, but if Teubner has to get up on that ladder, things will get expensive.
If I ever decide to go broke in Astoria, it will be in front of that wall. This is well-curated by co-owner Seth Howard, who along with partner Michael Angiletta, has put together an obsessive collection of bottles, ranging from the known and necessary to the rare.
I had never before heard of Jefferson’s Ocean Aged at Sea, which is a Kentucky bourbon barreled on a boat that swings across the equator four or five times, from Antarctica to elsewhere, experiencing severe weather that allows the barrels to swell and release. It’s this kind of magical thinking that allows for a $22 price tag on a two ounce pour.
“We have 104 bottles now,” Howard said. “We hope to have 300 by the end of the year.”
The cocktail list is divided between New World and Old World cocktails, complete with pre-Prohibition whiskey sours properly served up frothy with an egg white. (And yes, there are other liquors in the cocktails for the whiskey-adverse.)
Blaylock’s has a number of three-pour flights based on region, with the Oregon flight of Burnside Bourbon, Ransom’s Whippersnapper Whiskey and Bull Run’s Single Malt being the most popular, Howard said.
They also offer a dangerous proposal: the whiskey passport, where as you imbibe through an entire region in their collection, you are offered a reward.
Seated in a handsome leather chair at a spruce bar harvested from Warrenton (all of the woodwork is from a single tree), I steered towards the Old World menu. Perhaps it was the toothy, smiling saw on the wall, the ladder, the fireplace or taxidermy, but classic seemed the way to go.
A Rob Roy is essentially a Manhattan made with Scotch. Not to be confused with a Roy Rogers, which is a virgin drink named after the American cowboy, this one’s named after the Scottish outlaw. Blaylock’s is exceptional because of the Cocchi, a floral almost spicy vermouth from Torino, Italy, which adds depth to the cocktail. This isn’t the kind of vermouth you just use to rinse a glass. Whatever vermouth you pour will really change the character of the beverage.
Though open less than a month at the time of this visit, I look forward to spending many soggy evenings at Blaylock’s Whiskey Bar near the refuge of their fireplace.
3 ounces Johnnie Walker Red Label, or preferred Scotch
1 ounce Cocchi, or preferred sweet vermouth
A few dashes bitters
Amarena Toschi cherries for garnish
Add all the ingredients except the cherry to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake it up, then strain into a cocktail glass. Enjoy and fall back in time with this beverage created in 1894.
—Recipe courtesy Cory Teubner, bar manager of Blaylock’s Whiskey Bar in Astoria.