If you haven't yet been to the William Barnacle Tavern at Theatre 80 on St. Mark's, go now. But not too many of you at once. The place is, as promised when it opened in 2009, "A quiet cafe where people can hear each other talk, and you can hear yourself think."
On a cold winter's night, wander in for a warming glass of absinthe. Bartender and life-long theater owner Lorcan Otway prepares the drink using a combination of the traditional and the "Bohemian Method."
He pours the liquor into a shapely glass imported from France. He sets a slotted spoon over the top, perches a sugar cube there and sets it burning. The blue flame is extinguished by drops of ice water dripped from an Art Deco absinthe fountain--a glass jar held by a silver goddess. The sugar cube crumbles. The drink turns milky.
You can stop there or ask Mr. Otway to mix it into a "Puca," his own invention. Named for a goblin of Irish folklore, the Puca is a combination of absinthe and Bailey's Irish Cream. Mr. Otway slowly pours the Bailey's down the inside wall of the glass so that it falls below the absinthe, creating a two-toned cocktail.
While he's pouring another, and while you're drinking, Mr. Otway will tell you stories about the theater and the bar, especially its history as a speakeasy. This is also the home of the Museum of the American Gangster.
If you're lucky, he will hand you a hardhat and lead you down into the basement where gangsters once hid their millions and rigged the windows with dynamite so they could make their escape through tunnels dug beneath First Avenue.
Back upstairs, the absinthe will make you very mellow very fast. Your fellow patrons all have a similar glow. No one is yapping on the phone. Everyone is talking to each other--about gangsters, strippers, the old East Village, music.
The tavern is other-worldly. You feel like you've come upon a weird oasis, as if you've slipped through the time-space barrier and landed in some alternate reality. It's not the absinthe, because you feel it the moment you walk in. Everyone else feels it, too. Newcomers step through the door with exclamations of relief--a quiet bar in the East Village!