At Williamsburg’s Nitehawk Cinema, beverage director Matt Walker and bar manager Nick Dodge know they and their team have to come up with about one new cocktail a week. They’re keeping pace with the movie theater’s programming, whether it’s a brand-new release, a special event or part of one of their many series. “It’s a fun challenge,” says Walker.
This spring, they’re featuring a ton of locally made spirits, from Owney’s Rum to the rice whiskey of MÔTÔ Spirits. “Our menus are seasonal, so it’s always season first,” says Walker. “We try to work with things that are going to be fresh this time of year. We design with the season in mind first, and then try to incorporate some sort of film element.” Their dedication to tasting those new local spirits also serves as a major point of inspiration. “Often we taste something we love and that we want to work with, and the cocktail develops naturally,” says Dodge.
“We’ve been really making, like a lot of people, a move toward locality,” Walker says. “Sometimes that can be a bit cliché, but in the case of New York spirits right now, it’s a really exciting time, so we’re having a lot of fun.”
Dodge points out that working with the people who are hands-on in the spirits-making process brings them a lot more understanding of the flavors and history of the bottles—something you don’t always get when working with representatives from big brands.
Some of the stand-outs on this current menu are The Man Who Fell to Earth, a spirit-forward drink featuring Oaked Breuckelen Glorious Gin, which has remarkable depth of flavor all on its own but is made better with the addition of quinquina and orange bitters. “That really lets the spirit shine,” says Dodge. “I wanted the gin to be what’s really on display in the cocktail.”
That local rice whiskey by MÔTÔ is featured in the Vietnamese-inspired Thousand-Yard Stare, with Key Lime cordial, coconut milk, Oloroso sherry and matcha bitters—its smooth tropicality is the perfect choice for someone craving something luscious. My personal favorite is the Johnny Utah, made with Owney’s Rum, macadamia orgeat, rhubarb shrub, fresh lemon. It’s rich yet a bit acidic, the shrub and citrus rounded out and balanced by that macadamia orgeat.
You don’t just have to drink at Nitehawk, of course (though their downstairs Lo-Res Bar is an under-sung gem). New items on the food menu for the season include an eggplant sandwich with crispy eggplant, Mike’s Hot Honey, orange-herb ricotta, arugula, pickled red onions on organic ciabatta, served with salad. Octopus ceviche, risotto balls, a sriracha-sauced popcorn known as The Vince, and a New Orleans Coffee Float featuring Bayou spiced rum are also on offer for all your movie-viewing needs.