Cocktails at The Cardinal, After ‘Street Fight’ For Hard Liquor

cardinal signDaniel Maurer

A Southern-grub joint on East Fourth Street will finally begin pouring whiskey on Monday – an accomplishment its owner said was “no small feat.”

The Cardinal has been serving beer and wine since it opened last August – something owner Curtis Brown perceives as a handicap. When customers find out the restaurant doesn’t serve hard stuff, they often go elsewhere. “For brunch people just say, ‘Oh, you don’t have booze? Oh sorry, we really wanted a Bloody Mary,’” he said.

Now the restaurant will begin serving “a nice Bloody Mary,” in addition to specialty cocktails that will likely contain infused and small-batch liquors as well as ingredients made in-house (the onions will be hand-pickled and the Marsciano cherries will also be made on-site).

The road to a liquor license was a rocky one, due to the community board’s resolution against supporting license applications on side streets, said Mr. Brown. In order to be upgraded from beer-and-wine to full liquor, he and his partners had to re-hire a lawyer, re-take panoramic photos of the restaurant’s surroundings, re-secure signatures of neighbors who supported of the application, and file another application – all of which, he estimated, cost $35,000. They also had to once again win over the block association and the community board – something Mr. Brown admitted they barely managed to do (the vote, in June, was 4-3 in their favor).

“What you have to do, in their terms, is prove there’s a benefit to the community if you get a liquor license. That’s already such a subjective thing – it’s a difficult thing to prove for anyone whether they’re going to be a benefit,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to prove it won’t hurt the community.”

Despite signs that the Community Board 3 is loosening up about supporting licenses on side streets and other resolution areas, several community members, said Mr. Brown, were firmly set against his bid for full liquor. “Most of the people involved in ‘local activism,’ I guess you’d call it – whether it’s the block association or the community board – are typically anti-liquor-license because they think everyone is going to want to be a nightclub,” he said. “So even though we close at 1 a.m. and all that, it was a street fight.”

Mr. Brown probably won’t be celebrating his victory with a toast. He himself doesn’t drink.