Sunday in Brooklyn’s Cocktail King
Happy Hour. Warmer weather. Yes, and hell, yes. Spring is officially here and the Seaport’s sunny brunch and lunch spot, Sunday in Brooklyn, is giving you good reason to make plans, with the launch of a new Happy Hour as well as dinner service.
A spin-off from Sunday in Brooklyn’s original Williamsburg location, the Seaport is the perfect place to try the latest craft cocktails, perhaps paired with a burger or your dish of choice. Even better—their stint at the Seaport has been extended, so you can now swing by the corner of Fulton and Front Streets to enjoy Sunday in Brooklyn throughout spring and summer.
Here, the restaurant’s Director of Bars, Brian Evans, dishes on the latest cocktail trends, what’s fresh for summer, and what takes a cocktail from good to great.
How did you get into the cocktail game?
I started as a barista in my late teens at a coffee house in Fort Smith, Arkansas. I became infatuated with preparing drinks while engaging with guests in a rapid-fire, counter-service setting—and cultivating regulars. I then worked at some excellent, emerging restaurants in Austin, Texas, with a focus on wine. In 2015, I made an impulse move to New York City, and shifted my focus from wine to cocktails and spirits, bartending at Marta, Santina, and Leuca—before becoming the Head Bartender at Sunday In Brooklyn in Williamsburg, where I’m now the Director of Bars.
How would you describe your approach to cocktails?
Throughout my career, I’ve become more and more inspired by the ingredients and flavors put together by chefs. I’ve developed a cocktail style built on unusual flavor pairings and lively presentation, with a deep knowledge and respect to the classics. My aim is to develop wildly original cocktail menus that meet each space and concept pitch-perfectly—where each and every cocktail has a distinct personality that separates itself from the next.
What makes the NYC cocktail culture unique?
The roots of cocktail history and discovery are deeply embedded in New York. Some of the earliest cocktails were developed here; some of the most legendary barkeeps, past and present, cut their teeth at historical NYC hotels and bars; and it’s still, to this day, one of the front-runners of cocktail culture. The cocktail community here was such an exciting, magnetic force that drew me in almost immediately.
What attracted you to Sunday in Brooklyn?
After a few years of bartending in Manhattan, I was curious to explore how my talents would land in Brooklyn with an emerging restaurant. I came across Sunday In Brooklyn through a colleague in Fall of 2018. It had this sensational, neighborhood vibe that was flexing an inspiring level of creativity that I felt a connection with—and its clientele and regulars were awesome people to interact with. When challenged to design a new cocktail menu as Head Bartender, I jumped at the opportunity, and my creative vision had almost an immediate synergy with the founders. Four years later, it’s still a symbiotic and exciting partnership.
What cocktails are most popular at Sunday in Brooklyn at the Seaport?
Where Seagulls Dare, which is an herbaceous and complex take on a classic Margarita with Tequila, basil brandy, chartreuse, and kiwi, has been wildly successful. I see one on almost every table during brunch. Our precious Honeybear On Holiday cocktail, featuring Rum, Amaro Montenegro, pineapple, cumin-infused honey, and apricot, also has been making the rounds.
Dinner is now available at Sunday in Brooklyn at the Seaport. What’s your favorite cocktail-and-dinner-entree pairing?
We have a spirit-forward, Boulevardier riff called Year of the Tiger with Rye, Campari, peach, sesame oil, and smoky lapsang souchong tea. It’s inspired by Chinese flavors, hence the name, and has an intense campfire-smoke quality from the pinewood-smoked lapsang tea, but rounds out with a light dash of sesame oil. Chef Shon Shalit created a stunning trout dish dressed with a house-made chili crisp and oil inspired by the Chinese condiment that has a beautiful sweet smoke element as well. I feel like both would pair perfectly.
What’s your go-to cocktail?
I’m always looking to cocktail menus for inspiration so I usually try to order something I wouldn’t “normally” drink, to gain flavor perspective. Generally, I won’t turn down a rum or gin cocktail, but my death-row cocktail would be a split rye-and-cognac sazerac.
What separates a good cocktail from a great cocktail?
Balance makes for a good cocktail, but curiosity and vibe makes for an unforgettable cocktail experience. I like to associate a certain flavor with a specific time and place. When a cocktail blows my mind with a flavor or spirit combination I haven’t experienced before, and the atmosphere and service (which, believe it or not, affects the flavor of what you’re drinking) is unique and intuitive, I’m smitten.
What cocktail trends can we expect in spring and into summer?
Well, it looks like the Espresso Martini isn’t going anywhere. Also, slushy cocktails are a must. I’d really like highball cocktails to continue their momentum—there’s so much creative possibility in such a simple framework.
What is a perfect summer cocktail that may surprise people?
There’s a relatively obscure tiki-inspired cocktail from the 1960s called the “Saturn,” which Is one of the rare cocktails from the tiki realm that calls for gin. It’s mixed with almond, falernum, and lemon juice, and it’s as bright and refreshing as you’d want from a summer cocktail—but with an element of intrigue from the spiced falernum and almond orgeat (syrup).
Sunday in Brooklyn cocktails have notoriously fun names. How do you develop new additions to the menu?
Typically, our cocktails are seasonally inspired. I research interesting flavor combinations, and regularly schedule spirits tastings to stay in the “know” as any new products launch. I keep a running list of flavor ideas, including how I’d fit things into classic cocktail recipes. I dedicate a couple days to trial and error to see what sticks. Sometimes, the cocktail name just happens organically and easily, but they are oftentimes one of the most difficult pieces of this puzzle—I keep a lengthy list on my iPhone of cool names that stem from movies, puns, or cool song names. However we spin it, it’s got to be punchy, fun, and/or intriguing—a potential conversation piece.
Finally, what’s your secret to being a great bartender?
Humility, curiosity, charm, and confidence.
Sunday in Brooklyn’s new dinner menu and Happy Hour menu are now available at the Seaport location, along with lunch and weekend brunch. Make a dinner reservation or swing by for Happy Hour, Wednesdays through Fridays, from 4:30pm–6:00pm.