In September 2015 I had the very privileged, arguably very Millennial opportunity to plan my own bi-coastal bachelor party geared entirely around food and drink. One – with my Oregonian childhood friends – sent us carousing through Portland’s newest, trendiest bars and restaurants. The other – with my dearest colleagues, transplants, and East Coast family – was more focused: a Rum Punch Crawl through Brooklyn’s neighborhood of Crown Heights, drinking up the best takes on the island cocktail that the borough had to offer.
It has been a dream of mine since starting the blog that one day I may be able to recreate the crawl, with the newfound eye and equipment of a documentarian. And just a few weeks ago, pre-winter bomb, I was blessed to get another type of bombed and do just that.
Not all stops from the original crawl survived, sadly – Janelle’s, which offered strong, banging sorrel concoctions and an ideal location between two other crawl stops has since closed. But no worries, we have refreshed the list with a couple newbies, too. The result was in fact not a crawl exclusive to Crown Heights crawl, but a jaunt through Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, and Bed-Stuy pockets involving a lot of walking, but also you know, a lot of delectable tropical mixology.
So mark this as the first in a series of crawls the blog will feature, which you’ll be able to track as they’re posted in a brand new dedicated section of the site.
So without further adieu, let the crawling commence!
Tilly’s Rum Punch
1223 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11216
My first stop of the crawl was a new one, and one doing something very unique: Tilly’s. Established just eight months ago, Tilly’s is square in Church Central (not a real thing, but it’s a church-heavy neighborhood) and prevailing conservative sentiment prevented the restaurant from obtaining a liquor license. So how does one deliver people their beloved punch? Tilly’s solution was developing their own wine-based spirits: from tequila that I can vouch is probably better than the real thing, to of course, rum.
The resulting Tilly’s Rum Punch was a choir of liqueurs: passion fruit wine, lychee wine, and wine-based rum, served in a hurricane glass and garnished with fruit. The result was very (but refreshingly) sweet and not at all strong, as wine-based spirits typically don’t surpass 24% alcohol, compared to cane-based rum’s average of 40%. I’d describe it as a Breakfast Sangria but it was even milder than that. Could have ordered it in a juice bar (probably would have ordered six) and still kept ticking. Which was perfect because if you’re beginning your crawl as I did – at 11:30 a.m. on an empty stomach – this is just what you need to get your feet wet.
608 Nostrand Ave, Brooklyn NY, 11216
A quick 10-minute walk brought me to Sweet Brooklyn Bar on Nostrand, right in the shadow of the Atlantic Ave overpass. Served in a highball and garnished with a maraschino, the SBK Rum Punch struck me as classic as it gets, with orange juice, grenadine, and pineapple definitely shining through. It had that artificial, candied sweetness with only an echo of tart that while cloying elsewhere is eagerly welcomed in a punch. As riff on the classic, Kingston coconut rum was added, as well as cranberry juice. Cranberry, it turns out, would be a touch I’d never considered classic that was used widely across my crawl, and most often to delicious and colorful effect.
The only thing missing for me for the ultimate authentic flavor was the inclusion of Wray & Nephew (read: overproof) rum, which to be fair was listed as available for additional cost. But while my principles and tastebuds called for the harder stuff, probably for the best I passed – still on an empty stomach, remember.
Canchanchara Rum Punch
768 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn, NY, 11238
Glady’s was where I’d started my Crawl 1.0 all those (two) years ago, and it still held a special place in my heart. Held a special place in my stomach as well: this is where you’ll want to get your brunch if you’re keeping it 100% Caribbean. Glady’s is also a solid 15 mins by foot from Tilly’s, and much closer to the subsequent stops, so is a great jump-off point if you tire easily, get drunk easily, it’s snowing, or you know, don’t have all day to drink.
The Glady’s punch is actually a rotating one, changing every 2 months, and the one I had on this stop was certainly different than my vivid memories of my first. Like my first, though, the Canchanchara was sophisticated, crisp, and opted to forgo the scarlet grenadine. It’s passionfruit, Banana Wave, Rico Bay rum, and splash of mango were unique, offering more rounded, melony flavors, while striking an excellent balance of sour-sweet and strong-weak. Here again, Wray & Nephew would have been welcome, but was a small price to pay for a novel, inviting take on the standard punch. Ultimately, it felt the perfect compliment to the restaurant’s sleek, teal, Beach Contemporary interior vibe, as well as the Jerk Chicken bowl I eagerly devoured. If only they’d had festival (critically, they usually do).
Jamaican Rum Punch
236 Underhill Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238
Ah Cheryl’s. It’s an easy place to lose track of a whole lot of time, look up, and you’re three drinks in – even when their charming back patio is closed for the season. This neighborhood institution of over 11 years has a cozy space and super friendly staff that will have you ready to hibernate real quick. They even treated me to an extra (large) rum punch on the house. And just like the two I paid for, the freebie knocked me on my ass. Cheryl’s blend of spirit, tropical punch, and cranberry juice packs maybe the crawl’s best balance of sour-sweet, while also the most rum-forward thanks to the generous helping of Wray & Newphew.
Take your time at this spot and, if you’ll pardon the pun, soak it in. Not only is this where the sturdier day-drinkers among us will start to, if you’ll pardon a worse pun, get in the spirit, it’s also worth noting that CGS has some of the best non-punch cocktails in the area, and killer food to boot. So if you’re open to the slippery slope of entertaining other drinks, order the Stinger or the (strong-as-shit) Bare Foot for something memorable. Soften the blow with the Salmon Hash – it’s what the chef eats.
333 Signature Rum Punch
333 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217
Having emerged from the womb of Cheryl’s Global Soul, you’ll need a shot of energy, and boy, does 333 Lounge deliver. This Crawl 2.0 addition breaks up what was previously the longest walk of the day, and boy was I glad to find it. Located on the ever-popping Flatbush Ave just a stone’s throw from the Barclay’s Center, the big-windowed, black-walled interior was filled with patrons stretched across high tables and their mile-long bar, watching televised games or appreciating the live DJ while servers meandered gracefully between them, balancing crowded mimosa trays and tire-sized chicken and waffle plates.
Behind the bar, rum mistress Paige refused to divulge the secrets of the their fresh made punch, but humbly entertained my assertions that Wray & Newphew and coconut rums were clearly present. Forgoing the cranberry and grenadine to which I’d acclimated, the 33 signature offered a more crisp and fresh sweetness, returning to notes of citrus and melon. Between the drink, the energy, and the smiling staff, 333 Lounge was the perfect way to start what was finally the afternoon.
…I’m just joking, I have no idea what time it was.
Woodland Rum Punch
242 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217
I can never truly appreciate how spacious Woodland is. It is, in fact, colossal – practically a basketball gym with floor-to-ceiling windows and wooden high-top tables. But every time I arrive the venue is standing room only (if I’m being conservative) and I’m too impaired to assess in any case.
Woodland is even more reliably lit than you would expect from a place I wanted to visit since seeing on Love & Hip Hop. It was included on the original Rum Punch Craw by accident, funny enough: we arrived early to our last stop and it was pouring outside, so we squeezed inside Woodland and there on the menu: Woodland Rum Punch. This classic-flavored blend of cranberry, orange juice, house rum and Wray & Nephew added aromatics as well for an extra punch. As my photography got shaky and my notes misspelled, I nevertheless managed to note A) holy shit, there’s a downstairs to this place, too, and B) I will definitely be back for this incredible punch.
238 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217
Say “Caribbean food” in Brooklyn and you’ll hear “Sugarcane” about as much as you’d hear “Nike” for “shoe.” It is Brand Name island fare and flare that I’d had on my list for years before I finally visited as the last stop in my original Rum Punch Crawl.
As with it’s first time being last, Sugarcane – literally two doors down from Woodland – revealed a lot of signals that my body was rejecting the very premise of Rum Punch Crawl. A lot of slumping shoulders and sagging heads; placid empty-eyed smiles, and – this time – shitty blogging notes. Tastewise, though, Sugarcane’s Rum Punch was like the full circle return to the very classic punch of Sweet Brooklyn Bar: that syrupy liquid cherry of grenadine, the tartness of the cranberry and orange juice, with the color brightening benefit of the latter. Like SBK, Sugarcane’s rum wasn’t powerful but had a twist – this time not with coconut, but with a Trinidadian rum. A dash of angostura was added for good measure.
With the Crawl 2.0 completed, I felt a soothing sense of homecoming at Sugarcane, and an inner warmth I’m sure was only partially attributable to the alcohol. The recreated adventure – even with it’s additions and subtractions – still brought back such memories of good friends and a very exciting time in my life.
Though I was certainly finished both physically and on paper, the shamelessly sky-scraping height of my final drink of the night seemed in complete disregard for my dilapidated state, while also implying, hey, the future is boundless and you can do anything. It perfectly epitomized New York in that way, I thought.
For everyone out there recovering from 2017, perhaps it’s a great way to see the new year as well 🙂
Hope everyone is off to a great 2018 already, and in case your resolutions include rum punch and debauchery, you can find the full Crown Heights Rum Punch Crawl map below: