In the early 1970s, following the successful designation of SoHo as an official district of New York, residents in the Washington Market or Lower West Side area lobbied to have their neighbourhood renamed and sent their application to the Planning Authorities. In the same vein that SoHo means ‘South of Houston’, so this part of the city would be known as the ‘Triangle Below Canal Street’, shortened to Tribeca. A young reporter picked up on the zoning change story and thus the name stuck.
Once a grim dockland area servicing trade and commerce from around the globe and infamous for slum conditions, Tribeca which is glued between the Bohemian Greenwich Village and the wealth of the Financial District is now one of the most affluent neighbourhoods in America. It has become a trendy area for a night out, with some great restaurants and fantastic destination bars such as Ward III. Last week we took the chance to sit down and talk to the Head Bartender and cocktail master, Ken Gray.
Long before anyone dreamed up ‘Tribeca’, Manhattan was split into wards with a numerical designation and it’s from the old ‘Ward 3’ in the Lower West Side that the bar takes its name. The ward system was abandoned in 1938, but here a bit of 1930s New York nostalgia remains.
It was the age of the classic cocktail, and as Ken explains the move back to these iconic drinks is one of the biggest changes on bar menus in the last couple of years; a change that has also seen the shift from generic vodka cocktails to higher quality gin, bourbon and rye recipes. Complex cocktails need to be done well, and a level of expertise often lacking, and with the consumer becoming seemingly retro and sophisticated in equal measure it is important for any good bar to have the correct balance of menu listings and quality bartenders. The team at Ward III have blended just the right combination of both, which is why the popularity of this account across the city and beyond comes as no surprise.
Found on Reade Street (very handy for the multi-serviced Chambers Street Subway Station), Ward III opened its doors just over six years ago. Since then it has become a truly influential institution with a top reputation within the drinks industry. Ken has been head bartender for over a year and a half and weaves his knowledge, passion and personality into both the drinks list and welcoming atmosphere consumers have come to expect when they walk through the door: location is important, but a good team is key. This is how the consumer sees the venue, so we asked him how he would describe it – “essentially, a place where craft cocktails meets a traditional brown spirits bar”. And, there’s certainly a feeling of this in the décor where rustic and heritage meets modern and stylish.
As well as the shift towards classic cocktails, we asked Ken for any other trends he’s seen in the spirits industry generally from his perspective behind the bar. For brown spirits he suggests a shift towards exclusive and rare brands being promoted and an improvement in overall quality for sure. From a gin angle there is an increasing number of local brands coming onto the market as well as new names from other parts of the US and the UK making their presence felt on the back bar. Ward III now boasts around 20 gin labels, most of which are from small craft distilleries like Brockmans or from more niche London Drys.
As we head into the winter months, there is a definite drift towards brown spirit cocktails across the board, especially the Old Fashioned which is one of the top sellers at Ward III; but, Gin and Tonic and Martinez’s still prove popular and are firm favourites on the menu. We finished by asking Ken, that given the chance and unlimited scope what great drink he prefers to make with Brockmans; and, after a quick ponder he settled on that mainstay of any list – the French 75. We would find it hard to disagree with that.
Ward III is located at 111 Reade Street: right around the corner from the Chamber St Subway. As well as good company, great bartenders and classy drinks, the bar also offers quality food. In all, a worth-while destination for anyone looking for a fab night out – and don’t forget to ask Ken for a Brockmans French 75.