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How 2 Long Island cocktail bars are adjusting after coronavirus shutdowns

Beverage director Doug Brickel presents the "Mayor Tom",

Beverage director Doug Brickel presents the "Mayor Tom", a cocktail made with Sfumato smoked rhubarb amaro, overproof rye, lemon and raspberry, behind the bar of Cork and Kerry in Rockville Centre. Credit: Daniel Brennan

After being closed for nearly four months, Cork & Kerry, the Rockville Centre bar modeled after a speakeasy and known for its first-rate cocktails, has reopened.

Moving forward, they may also be known for their shrimp cocktail, a snack the bar didn't have until now but has taken a creative approach to — at least on the cocktail sauce front.

"We serve boiled 10/13 shrimp — the big guys — with an Angostura [bitters] cocktail sauce that has horseradish, some maple syrup and clove," said co-owner Doug Brickel. "It's really tasty."

It's also really new. In July, when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued an executive order that alcohol sales needed to be accompanied by food, bars that were focused solely on drinks, whether dive bars or higher-end places, had to either add food to their menus or rethink existing snacks to meet the rules of the executive order.

In light of the other costly requirements of reopening — 50% capacity, additional cleaning and masks among them — Cork & Kerry tweaked its bar snack menu. "We got rid of things that took longer," to make, said Brickel, such as nachos and pastrami sliders. In their place, items such as the shrimp cocktail were added to augment long-term favorites like bacon-wrapped dates.

After the State Liquor Authority revised the original executive order to say that soup and sandwiches were acceptable bar food, but chips were not, Cork & Kerry added those to the menu, too — specifically, $1 Cup O'Noodles and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The tongue-in-cheek move has appeared at bars in other parts of the state. (In July, a Saratoga Springs bar added chips and salsa to their menu, calling them "Cuomo chips" and prompting the SLA revision).

Cork & Kerry (in a former museum at 24 S. Park Ave.) also has, for the first time, added outdoor tables on the porch and in the yard out front; hours have shifted earlier than before the lockdown, from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., Wednesday to Sunday. Brickel said the reopening of their Floral Park bar was imminent, as well. "It's been stressful, but it felt really good to be here yesterday [when the bar opened] — it felt like coming home," he said.

In Huntington, the almost two-year-old bar Repeal XVIII had also focused exclusively on drinks until bars were shut down on March 16. Owner Michael Matarazzo, who bought and renamed the bar in 2018 after working at its predecessor for 11 years, has spent the ensuing four months making renovations while the 4,000-square-foot bar is closed — refinishing floors, adjusting the décor and redoing his back bar. 

He's also actively planning a small menu that will meet state regulations while avoiding the expense of a full-sized kitchen. "I don't want to go through the whole nonsense of investing tens of thousands of dollars to provide our customers with some kind of food," said Matarazzo. 

Matarazzo — who before lockdown was already thinking about adding a menu — is considering an air fryer or a ventless convection oven and snacks such as truffle-dusted fries or perhaps pizza made at nearby Eatalia that can be reheated inside the bar. 

He had about 12 staff, between full- and part-timers before lockdown, he said, and expects many of them to return once Repeal reopens in the next few weeks with a new menu, as well as new tables and chairs. He didn't initially expect the bar to be as closed as long as it has, Matarazzo said. "I thought it would be in a few weeks, and then next month, and then we kept seeing curveballs," he said. "Only the strong survive. I'm going to be creative."