Smoking on the patio of a very posh whiskey temple in downtown Manhattan.
I once joked with my college buddies that we would open up a bar on campus and call it "The Library" to give it a collegiate air of respectability and confuse phoning parents, whose inquiries as to our whereabouts could be answered with, "He's at the library." We probably weren't the first geniuses under the delusion that this was a novel idea, but up until now, I had never actually seen it done. The Brandy Library in New York City is quite different in class from the vision of my college roommates and me, but if you need an excuse for a wife or boss, a response of "I'm at the Library," would still work.
My shoe soles echoed through the quiet cobbled streets of Manhattan's TriBeCa neighborhood as I walked among the grid of old factory building condo-converts that dominate the landscape of this little lower west side quarter. Here lounges the Brandy Library, an establishment that joined the neighborhood of film festival fame and rich history last year. I had heard of it late last fall, but held off checking it out until the weather was warm enough to smoke a cigar on the veranda.
Located at the base of a building similar to the area's surrounding hulking steel and stone structures, the Brandy Library is not meant to call out to the casual passerby looking for a place to duck in. Although the place is welcoming to a first-timer like myself, a visitor gets the feeling that this is a destination bar -- most people come because they live in the neighborhood or know it by word of mouth, either from reading or through a mutual love of spirits. You almost would have to because it is unassuming, and TriBeCa is not a pedestrian traffic jam as you'd find in other areas of the city.
You could easily pass by it if not for the burgundy sign over the front metal overhang. Stairs lead to a small seating area overlooking the street. Wicker chairs and mirrored tables greet you, and your eyes move to the big metal caldron in the corner that serves as the communal ashtray, which I felt appropriate, evident of the upscale ambience's blend with a casual bond among the patrons. Unfortunately, this outside area is the only place you can smoke at the Brandy Library, which is a shame, but admirable given that it's the only legal manner in New York State for a new establishment to cater to cigar smokers.
The inside, however, is quite spacious and would be bespoke to cigar smoking. The dim, inset lights along the ceiling and the elegant lamps on the tables and bar give the room an intimate golden brandy glow that permeates through the front windows and out onto the terrace, mixing with soulful jazz music along the way. The shelves lining the walls, where books would normally be, are instead stocked with spirits. There are even ladders on wheels upon which the bartenders can glide to the top shelves, acting as libation librarians.
The menu is hard-covered and bound and the catalog of spirits is quite impressive, especially the Scotch list, which has about 270 choices separated by region. Also featured are around 290 brandies, 55 rums and 70 Bourbons. With the increasing presence of small-batch whiskeys and various aged spirits on the market, these numbers fluctuate. A spirit sommelier is on hand to guide patrons through the vast assortment. I kept it simple and went with the Macallan 12-year-old. The Scotch was served expertly in a Riedel snifter on a silver tray with a side of ice cubes and a spoon.
The menu also offers a nice variety of light fare that goes well with strong drink. The selection of assorted cheeses served up strong, hard and soft cheeses from Artisanal, and the charcuterie (assorted meat dish) presented salty, cured meats with duck sausage and creamy country pâté sided by crunchy cornichons and Cognac-infused mustard. There were also house-made marmalades coloring the cheese platter as well as a few shavings of truffle, all accompanied with a basket of crosstini, which the staff had no problem replenishing, as we went through it in a hurry. There were three of us and we ordered the charcuterie for five, just enough for hearty pecking.
Afterward we had another round and sat back to enjoy the peace of the neighborhood and the comfortable atmosphere with a cigar. (A little bit of pop trivia -- if you look adjacent to the Brandy you'll see the familiar Ghostbusters-famed firehouse, which, according to the waiter, is still in working order as a fire station, not a phantom-busting facility.) I took out an H. Upmann Connoisseur No. 1 and one of my companions ordered an Avo from the cigar menu. Also available are Rocky Patel Vintage 1990s and Padrón 1964 Aniversarios. The terrace is only open to midnight. Because the area is so quiet, the proprietors want to respect their neighbors and keep the noise to a minimum -- unusual for the city that never sleeps. So you have to get your puffs in relatively early, but in fine Big Apple fashion, the kitchen is open until 4 a.m. The good part is that you won't have to worry about anyone being bothered by the smoke.
It's a nice little private corner of the city. Great for a casual drink, appetizer and conversation, and quiet enough, if you're so inclined, to sit and read a good book.
25 North Moore Street
New York, NY 10013
4 p.m. to 4 a.m. 7 days a week
Brandy Library runs a Spirit School, which starts in September. Call for details.