PROSPECT HEIGHTS—Fittingly for a Brit, Kathryn Weatherup’s cocktail career began with gin. It was 2003, at the famously exclusive Milk & Honey in Lower Manhattan, where patrons once had to know both the address and the unlisted phone number to gain entry. She ordered a real martini, she recalls, and when it arrived, “I just lost my mind,” she says. “I thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever had in my life.”
Weatherup had drunk plenty of booze, even worked as a bartender both in New York and in Paris, where she lived before following friends to south Brooklyn in 2003. But those were vodka tonic–type joints; this martini was the real deal, patiently, painstakingly made by a master—Milk & Honey owner and cocktail guru Sasha Petraske. Like so many who sat at his bar, Weatherup was immediately smitten with the city’s suddenly serious cocktail scene.
Weatherup had met Petraske through her friend Matthew Maddy, who helped the drinks maker on a now-forgotten bar in the Soho Grand. Maddy, a construction whiz who helped found the Brooklyn restaurant design firm called Hecho, had befriended Weatherup back in France, where he was learning the ropes in a bronze foundry. In New York they realized they both wanted to do the same thing—open their own beautiful bar—and that they had complementary skills to do it together. “He builds them,” jokes Weatherup, “and I run them.”
Their first project was a Petraske-led place on Essex Street called the East Side Company Bar, a pretty little candlelit sliver that’s since shuttered. Their second wasn’t much bigger, but was much closer to their homes, and our heart: Weather Up.
They’d stumbled upon the space on a then-still-dusty stretch of Vanderbilt Avenue on Craigslist, a run-down drag just a few blocks from where Weatherup then lived, and transformed the former makeshift gospel church into an itty-bitty jewel box decked out with vaulted tile ceiling, copper-topped bar and leather-bound barstools the color of caramel-covered apples. Today that low-lit, modern speakeasy vibe seems de rigueur on a teeming strip blocks from the Barclays Center—there’s no phone, not much of a Web site and no sign on the skinny subway-tiled facade—but back in 2008, it was one of new Brooklyn’s biggest coups.
If Maddy is the designer behind what is possibly still Brooklyn’s most romantic bar—“I wanted it to glow,” he says—his co-owner sees to the details of the drinks, which four years on still rank among the best-made in the borough. (Petraske himself trained the opening staff.) Juices are freshly squeezed, liquors are scrupulously stirred or shaken and glaciers of crystal clear ice are cut by hand in the basement. (Science fans can drop a piece on the bar and watch it twirl, melting away in seconds thanks to copper’s high heat conductivity.)
While Weatherup develops a few recipes with help from bar manager Johnny DePiper—their Eastern Sour is made with bourbon, freshly squeezed juices and orgeat syrup—most of the drinks on her 10-item menu are classic or historic quaffs she dug up in old books, like the Trinity (gin, Carpano and vermouth) or the Roman Highball (ginger, Averna, lime and soda).
They’re so sublime, Weather Up now boasts two successful outposts in Manhattan and Austin. And while the nights are long over when you could slowly sip a Remember the Maine—it’s a 1933 concoction made with Cherry Heering and rye—with a few like-minded lovers of cocktail culture at the original here on quiet Vanderbilt, plenty of folks still bask in Weather Up’s golden glow, dreaming, just like its creators, of the drinks to come.