Can you stock a bar with all New York–made booze? Sure, the craft beer and spirit booms have left us practically drowning in small-batch alcohol, and our state has always been famous for its Long Island and Finger Lakes wine regions. But can you stock a bar with all New York–made booze and have it be good? Yes, and Clinton Hill’s Cardiff Giant proves it.
Cardiff Giant—named for a famous 1860s hoax in which a Cardiff, NY-based man commissioned and buried a towering statue that some believed to be an actual petrified person—opened in March. When you walk in, you already feel that sense of release all the best bars have: You feel a bit looser, all without the aid of a drink. As you plop down on a stool and take note of the selection, though, you might become a bit dubious: There’s the whiff of a gimmick about the decision to only carry New York booze. But, as noted, this place does it well. When your daiquiri is made with Bushwick’s Owney’s Rum instead of a big brand equivalent, chances are good you’ll enjoy the difference.
“We don’t have necessarily a substitute for Jameson or Jack Daniel’s—the things that people call for all the time,” Baird says, “but I think we have something for everybody.”
Steven Baird opened the space as managing partner after working as a beer buyer at the Owl Farm. “More and more as a buyer, I realized that I really wanted a place where I could showcase New York State beer, because it gets better every year,” Baird says. After further tasting and exploration, he eventually realized he could build an entire bar menu. “It took a lot of digging, but I think we have a pretty well-balanced alcohol program,” he says.
The road to successful bar ownership isn’t simple though, and particularly at this scale. When you’re dealing with small makers, the majority of products are self-distributed. Most bars are stocked through four or five distributors; at Cardiff Giant, they’re going to nearly every distillery, winery, brewery and cidery in the state to organize deliveries, which can get quite complicated. “I can’t just call them and say, ‘Hey, I need something tomorrow,” Baird notes. “They need a long lead time.” Despite that, Baird has developed the entire list on his own, only getting help from his bartenders on the cocktail menu as that’s not in his background.
Having “weird ciders” has been a significant boon; ones that are less sweet and a bit funky are big sellers. “Right now, I’m a big fan of all the stuff from Blackduck Cidery in the Finger Lakes,” he tells me. He also thinks South Hill Cider is doing well, likely because of its novel approach: The owner leases abandoned orchards. “Let’s say that you bought like 20 acres in the Finger Lakes and there are five acres of apples on it,” Baird explains. “He [cidermaker Steven Selin] somehow finds you and says, ‘Hey, can I rent these five acres from you?’ or ‘Can I come and just take care of these trees for you in exchange for the apples?’ But some of these are a couple hundred years old and they’re varieties that don’t exist anymore, and he makes cider from them.” He laughs when I ask if those are hard to keep in stock: “I try to order a bunch at once.”
These curiosities make Cardiff Giant a destination for anyone looking to travel New York without leaving the city and simply a good bar for any old night or day. “We don’t have necessarily a substitute for Jameson or Jack Daniel’s—the things that people call for all the time,” Baird says, “but I think we have something for everybody.”
Want to check out some of the state’s best breweries, cideries and vineyards in person? Here are Baird’s recommendations.