When conjuring images of legendary bartenders, you might be reminded of Tom Cruise doing the Hippy Hippy Shake in Cocktail. While their scene is more chic and the cocktails are more artfully crafted, the bartenders at The Regal in Williamsburg are having no less fun (and are arguably no less charming) than Tom Cruise’s character in that film.
We stopped by on a Sunday night a few weeks ago to meet and drink with Adam Lipiec, one of The Regal’s star bartenders. Adam’s a native of Poland and had bartended in Europe—in his home country, Ibiza, and London—before coming to New York. Aside from immediately noticing that Adam’s a genuinely friendly tall drink of water, you’ll spot him mixing drinks with incredible flair. He gracefully tosses a napkin and twirls it around to have it touch down delicately on the back of his hand as if it’s a butterfly landing on a flower petal. Drinks get shaken with a vigorous flourish, and shakers flip in the air and get thrown behind his back with the ease of a master juggler. Some of the cocktails require use of a blowtorch; if you’re in a fiery mood, get The Spitfire—sotol, pineapple, lime, jalapeño infused agave, for $10.
And it’s not just theatrics. After all, we’re not in Times Square, and if we were the drinks would probably cost more than twice as much. By design, the cocktail menu at The Regal pleases all tastes, and they not only nail the classics but also craft some purely delightful specialty beverages. The Ripper (barrel-aged bourbon, cynar, white grape syrup, orange, basil), the Hazel Grove (gin, crème yvette, lemon lavender syrup, soda), and the Clumsy Workman (dark rum, tia maria, raspberries, blueberries, cane syrup, lime) are a few of my favorites, but you really can’t go wrong with whatever you choose. And they’re all a reasonable $10. If a ten spot is still too rich for your blood, stop by any night between 6-8pm or weeknights midnight-2am; they have happy hours with $7 cocktails, a $7 beer-and-a-shot deal, $1 oysters and other affordable bites.
Many of their cocktails are served with a miniature clothespin affixing the garnishes to the glass. And this isn’t for show either. By keeping the garnish at the top of the glass, it evokes a fragrance when you take a sip, and in turn affects how the drink tastes. And obvi, it’s super cute.
Another thing they do at The Regal is create their own custom ice cubes by sawing giant blocks of ice into smaller pieces. We watched bartender Fabian Garcia slice into four cubic feet of ice by using a long, savage-looking hand saw. First he saws the block down the middle, then creates smaller strips of ice that then get broken down into cubes or longer stalactites. Each block creates hundreds of cubes, and they receive the ice delivery twice a week. So if you time it right, you could be perched at the bar when they’re carving into a block.
But is insisting on crystal clear custom-cut ice going too far? Not really. It’s been a hallmark of Japanese cocktail culture for years, and Americans were just slower to pick up on it. Bubbles and air in regular ice cubes cause the ice to melt faster and water down your drink. The same goes for smaller cubes of ice. When drinking an expertly-mixed cocktail, you’re usually best off having a single piece of ice that fits precisely into the glass. It keeps the drink cold while melting slower, and your drink will maintain flavor as you imbibe.
This post is all about cocktails, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention The Regal’s tasty elevated diner fare. After all, you’ll need some sustenance to soak up all those cocktails you’re gonna throw back. The French onion grilled cheese is unlike any grilled cheese I’ve ever had, with cheese on top and sweet caramelized onions under the bread. It’s so good I actually said, “Damn, son,” when I took my first bite. They also do a fine spicy fried chicken sandwich, hot wings and chicken and waffle sliders. That oughta set you right.
“The bartender is the aristocrat of the working class,” Tom Cruise’s counterpart says in Cocktail. And that’s especially true at The Regal, where the lords of the bev can sure sling a damn fine drink.
The Regal is located at 163 Hope Street at Union Ave. in Williamsburg.
They’re open for brunch, dinner and late night, serving food ’till 1am on Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday; Friday & Saturday ’till 4am; and Sunday till 11pm. And of course, cocktails at any time of day or night.
Follow them on Instagram.