By Ron Fisher
At last, Rye has a <bona fide> craft cocktail bar, The Red Pony, on the corner of Purchase Street and Elm Place (yes, the old Smoke Shop). The building has been thoughtfully renovated, the retail space comfortably appointed, and for anyone who enjoys a well-made cocktail, the bar itself is a real find.
The Pony’s barman and beverage director, Clark Moore, grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson and has been bartending for twenty years. He is also an English professor who teaches poetry at Mercy College, and is himself a published poet, most recently with two works in the September 2016 issue of POETRY magazine. In his career, he has worked at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, as beverage director at Harper’s in Dobbs Ferry, and as a consultant in Manhattan. It was through a consulting assignment with Cai Palmer, proprietor of Wine at Five and creator of The Red Pony, that Moore came to Rye, and what started as an advisory role became a full-time gig. Wine at Five is right around the corner on Elm.
“It’s a good time for craft cocktails,” he noted. “Working at Blue Hill in 2005, we all thought the black-currant Cosmopolitan was on the cutting edge. Now, there are things we can use that didn’t exist a few years ago.”
Indeed, at the back of the bar an array of liquors new to most. The idea is not to scare people off, but rather to draw them in. In Moore’s view “There should be something exciting about ordering a drink, an experience you never had before”, and to that end, you won’t find the standard brands at The Red Pony. The type of Scotch they serve, as well as the gin and the vodka, are all there for a reason. In addition, the liqueurs are widely varied, and the syrups and juices are all freshly made in-house.
The Dragon Coaster, a new addition to the cocktail list (“Shouldn’t Rye have a drink called the Dragon Coaster?” Clark asks), is a prime example. It is made with Cachaça (a staple in Brazil, which like rum, is distilled from sugarcane); a naturally blue, bitter aperitif from Brooklyn called Uccelli; Mattei Cap Corse Blanc, a Corsican aperitif with a quinine zing; and — what else? – a tarragon liqueur called Dragoncello, and is flavored with honey syrup and lemon juice. As for the taste of the Dragon Coaster, it’s fairly exotic, with herbal and bitter elements offset by the sweetness of the honey and the tang of the lemon juice.
Even with choices like this, the drinks selection is not limited to the menu. “Sometimes, when a customer can’t decide what they want, I ask, ‘What do you like to drink?’ and we take it from there,” said Moore. Pouring a splash for tasting and providing information are all part of the drill. “If you want a drink that’s <decadent>, we can do it. And if you want something that’s <comfortable>, we can do that, too.” If you are worried about finding cocktail snobbery, put your fears to rest.
The wine list receives no less attention than the cocktails. You want a Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Noir? Of course, The Red Pony has them, but not surprisingly, they probably won’t have the everyday labels you find elsewhere. The rest of the wine list is an adventure in geography and flavor, with new additions coming on every week and others being cycled out.
Beer is not their focus, but that’s not to say that a beer drinker will be disappointed. The same rigor goes into the beer selection that the wine list receives, and the choices are ample and varied. But, if you want eighteen different beers on tap, The Red Pony is not for you.
The Red Pony opened the Friday before Christmas, and business has been good from the start. Ask Moore what his goal for the bar is, and the answer comes quickly. It should be a place where you can “get a really good glass of wine or a delicious cocktail and relax in an environment that is fun and exciting and has great music.”
Owner Cai Palmer spent over a decade building his reputation as a wine merchant before the Smoke Shop space became available and he could realize his dream of having a wine bar next door to his shop. Last fall, he moved Wine at Five from Purchase Street to Elm Place and The Red Pony followed a few months later.
“I had a long-range plan,” he said. “The town wanted an ‘adult education center’ where they could have a good glass of wine along with small plates of charcuterie and cheese.”
Palmer is happy to report that the other food and beverage destinations on Elm are excited to have him — “my business has increased their business. The Red Pony has attracted a whole new crowd to downtown.”
The Red Pony bears no resemblance to a saloon, but it is named for one close to Palmer’s heart, The Red Pony in the “Longmire” western crime novels by Craig Johnson that were made into a successful TV series.
So why is the sign outside Palmer’s new hotspot yellow? It’s a long story involving contrasting paint colors, and as the sun was setting we agreed to sidle up to the bar instead and paint the town red sampling a few of Palmer’s new favorites and Moore’s poetic concoctions.
The Red Pony is open daily, starting at noon on Saturday, and every other day from 5 until late.
Clark Moore shaking things up at The Red Pony