In a stinging loss for Long Island’s cocktail scene, one of the area’s seminal cocktail bars, Cork & Kerry, will close in Rockville Centre on Jan. 16.
Known for innovative mixed drinks — many conceived by co-owner and beverage director Doug Brickel — it is the last remaining Cork & Kerry of a triumvirate that once included spots in Floral Park and Farmingdale, all of them concealed in one way or another.
"The numbers have been down for almost two years," said co-owner Chris Corbett, referring to the pandemic’s impact on trade. "December has always been our busiest month, and we had no idea how it was going to turn out."
Turns out, during omicron, not well. "The last two months have been abysmal," he added.
The Rockville Centre location opened in 2018 in a house on S. Park Ave. that was built in 1860 and is quasi-disguised as a museum. It was the second Cork & Kerry; the original (tucked behind a coffee shop) opened in Floral Park in 2015, and a Farmingdale location opened in 2018 and closed the following year.
The Floral Park location closed in the fall, and the partners had hoped to keep Rockville Centre operating — but a change in the building’s ownership and lease terms coincided with the chilling effect of the latest COVID wave. "I think people are afraid," said Corbett.
The inside of each Cork & Kerry felt like 1920s time vortices, with a living-room vibe of couches, easy chairs and vintage details, as well as bars stocked with hundreds of spirits, syrups, bitters and other accoutrements.
Among all of the industries buffeted by coronavirus, bars have had a particularly bumpy ride. In the early days of the pandemic, when indoor dining was shuttered, some bar operators pivoted to takeout cocktails while others closed their businesses for months, or permanently. Some had their liquor licenses suspended after inspectors from the New York State Liquor Authority cited them for capacity or masking violations, and subsequently paid thousands of dollars in fines for reinstatement.
As waves of illness came and went, bar owners adapted to mask mandates, curfews, capacity restrictions and requirements that food be served alongside alcohol. Supply-chain interruptions that impacted distilling — such as shortages of bottles or caps — had a knock-on effect on what spirits bars could and couldn’t get their hands on. In December, when Gov. Kathy Hochul reintroduced mask mandates for indoor spaces, some bars doubled back to vaccine mandates at their front doors (Corbett said that decision had been left to the bartenders at Cork & Kerry, who chose to ask for proof of vaccine).
Despite the pressures, Corbett and Brickel have been looking at spots for a possible reopening, once the climate is right, pointing out they will still have thousands of bottles of spirits in their possession, including 700-plus whiskeys. In the meantime, Brickel said he will continue to consult; he has worked the drinks menu at both Salted. on the Harbor in Northport and Plattduetsche Park in Franklin Square.
Cork & Kerry’s last service is Sunday, Jan. 16; the bar is open Wednesday through Sunday evenings at 24 S. Park Ave. in Rockville Centre.