Rockville Centre’s Park Avenue is littered with glowing signs and wooden placards spelling out words like “Tavern” and “Cocktails.” Indeed, there are nearly a dozen establishments on a three-block stretch to find a mixed drink, yet only one foregoes the aforementioned “Booze Sold Here” indicators. It also happens to be the one that serves the best drinks.
Cork & Kerry is the brainchild of owners Doug Brickel and Chris Corbett. The duo opened the first location in Floral Park in 2015 with the idea of bringing craft cocktails to the forefront. “We wanted to focus on the cocktails,” said Brickel, who also works as Cork & Kerry’s beverage director. “We’ve seen a lot of restaurants try to up their bar game over the last couple of years but I don’t know that we’ve seen anyone else open just a cocktail bar on Long Island.” The concept quickly proved a hit, spawning the Rockville Centre outpost the following year.
The success is first and foremost centered around a top-shelf product. “Everything we do comes back to the quality and creativity of the drinks, making sure that we are using the best ingredients and making a consistent drink no matter what day or which location anyone comes,” Brickel said. “That’s something people notice and appreciate.”
But it’s the extensive amount of R&D that enables Cork & Kerry to stay one step ahead of the trend. “We spend a lot of time in the city. Bouncing around one of the best drinking cities in the world and going to some of the nicest bars, you see what other people are doing and have a really good opportunity to ask a lot of questions and compare notes.” The spirit of camaraderie is possible because unlike other cut-throat professions, bartenders are keener to take a macro view on the industry, a “rising tide lifts all ships” philosophy Brickel said. “Whether I’m doing the education, or one of my friends in the city or our other friends on Long Island, it’s going to make for a more educated drinker who’s going to drink more interesting drinks going forward.”
Just as there are layers of flavor in the cocktails, there are layers to the Cork & Kerry experience. Brickel wants the bars to be places where people become educated about cocktails. This is why all locations employ a speakeasy, hidden-in-plain sight theme. Floral Park’s entrance is through a false wall in an operational coffee shop, RVC is in an 1800’s Victorian house. You won’t wander into a Cork & Kerry—it’s (purposefully) a place you need to be looking for. “Nobody is going to come in here because they saw a sign outside that said, ‘Drinks.’ I don’t want thirsty people. I want people who want to be here and learn.”
Cork & Kerry is scheduled to open its third location early this year. The Farmingdale outpost will employ a different service structure. There will be no bar stools or standing room, a move designed to control the crowd. “It will mean that we’ll have just that much more time to focus on the quality of the drinks coming out, quality of the service.” Farmingdale will also cause a ripple effect on its sister locations. Floral Park and RVC had a menu of the same 21 house cocktails, updated once or twice a year. “We’re going up to 38 house cocktails and take from that pool of 38 and draw for each of the locations based on their strengths and customer preferences that we’ve noticed.”
With three locations in three years, it’s only natural to wonder how far Cork & Kerry can go. But the model can provide innumerable results. In lieu of depending on a new set of walls to provide an updated concept, the Cork & Kerry crew take it upon themselves to supply the requisite new trend. “Instead of updating our menus often, we update ourselves so the same bespoke request will yield a different drink. We’re always developing ourselves on that front.”