All I want for Christmas is a cocktail at Fort Defiance.
I’d call the open-all-day Red Hook restaurant one of the greatest places on Earth even if its owner, St. John Frizell, hadn’t written many of the best stories we’ve printed. If you’ve ever been to the Fort for eggs and grits, a muffuletta sandwich or a quintessential cocktail (Corpse Reviver, anyone?) you know what I’m talking about.
But when Superstorm Sandy gave Red Hook a brackish bashing, Fort Defiance took it on the chin. Frizell was still serving as the rains came down, but when the waters receded, Sandy had ravaged the restaurant. Insurance gave him nothing, still he vowed to reopen even as volunteers carried literally tons of destroyed inventory and equipment to the curb, embodying the bedrock of belief on which the place was built.
Frizell isn’t the only Brooklynite Sandy hit hard—nor is he the only resilient Red Hook resident getting back on the horse. As the storm subsided, I realized that three stories slated for this issue profiled businesses based in that neighborhood. Sorel, Cacao Prieto and Uncouth Vermouth—three innovative companies making excellent, interesting spirits—had all been flooded, and for a few days, I thought I’d missed my chance to tell their stories. But one by one, each announced they weren’t going anywhere.
“We’ve been knocked to our knees, but we’re not flat on our back,” Sorel-making Jackie Summers said, as generators pumped six feet of seawater from the building’s basement. “We’ll be back in production for the holiday rush.”
Let’s just say this Christmas, I know what I’m buying everyone on my list.
Back in 2009 when Frizell opened Fort Defiance, he explained its name to Edible, and I quote:
“Fort Defiance is named after a Revolutionary War fort built in Red Hook during the lead-up to the 1776 Battle of Brooklyn. The Continental Army built forts here in an attempt to control the entrance to the East River. The British never made it into the river, which allowed Washington and what was left of his army after a pretty crushing defeat to retreat, and live to fight another day. It’s generally thought that the tides and the weather had more to do with the British fleet’s inability to sail upriver than any silly little fort, but you can’t name your bar after a tide.”
The battle of Brooklyn. A vain attempt to control the East River. A fort’s insignificance in the face of the weather. Had Frizell been foretelling his future? Yes, our hero suffered a crushing defeat. Here’s to his recovery and ultimate victory. Now could someone please get me a Corpse Reviver?
Spirits infused with foraged fruits. Photographed by Marie Viljoen.